New York Fashion Week Gets Chinese Flavor

By Chiu-Ti Jansen

Myself during New York Asia Week, wearing Vivienne Tam’s ethereal floral silk long dress with operatic sleeves from her Spring 2012 collection inspired by the costumes of Tang lady dancers, which were the precursors of Japanese kimono. Photo by Tianyi Zhao, courtesy of China Happenings.

- The inaugural China Fashion Night gala during New York Asia Week, hosted by the China Beauty Charity Fund at the Pierre Hotel on September 6 to benefit the Chinese Scholars fund at the Fashion Institute of Technology, brought together two fashion designers of Chinese descent who seem to live worlds apart. Honoree Vivienne Tam works out of her New York headquarters for her ready-to-wear designs that reflect her love of travels and China’s past and now. Guo Pei, who staged a sensational runway show, lives and works in Beijing and dresses China’s most visible entertainers and fashionable ladies with her over-the-top, drop-dead gorgeous haute couture designs that often draw comparisons with Alexander McQueen’s.

But the two long-standing design careers converge on one spiritual affinity: persistent incorporation and intelligent reinterpretation of Chinese Elements from season to season. For them, China is classic.

China Beauty Charity Fund is the brand child of Yue-Sai Kan (left), pictured at the gala with Trudie Styler (British actress who is married to Sting). Photo by Tianyi Zhao, courtesy of China Happenings.

Canton China-born and Hong Kong-raised Vivienne Tam debuted her first contemporary women’s collection titled East Wind Code in 1994. In the following years, her “MAO” collection and “Buddha” collection firmly established her aesthetics of China Chic, the title of a book on Chinese style meeting Western style that she published in 2000. The late fashion historian Richard Martin described her designs as “tolerance, global acumen, and a Fourth of July faith in individual expression,” as well as an “idealistic globalism that transcends politics and offers a more enchanted, peaceful world.” In fact, Vivienne recognized the timeless chic of the Chinese Elements before China became trendy again and made them relevant with a modern sensitivity.

Guo Pei (left) and Vivienne Tam (right), each in her own design and in red. Photo by Tianyi Zhao, courtesy of China Happenings.

Beijing-born Guo Pei tells a Chinese fairy tale. Her style is unapologetically flamboyant. She is the go-to couturier for any show-stopping event in China and any Chinese star who wants to make an entrance on the international stage. Actress Zhang Ziyi donned a modified cheongsam with stylized Chinese Elements including dragons, clouds and cranes to the flame-lighting ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in Olympia, Greece. Chinese soprano Song Zuying dazzled in a dramatic piece comprising 200,000 Swarovsky crystals when she sang a duet with Placido Domingo at he closing ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Three looks from Guo Pei’s “Legend of the Dragon” collection. (left and center) courtesy of Rose Studio. (right) Photo by Tianyi Zhao, courtesy of China Happenings.

To an audience enlivened with overwhelming emotions and admiration, models paraded the most memorable pieces from Pei’s 2012 “Legend of the Dragon” collection as well as her legendary “blue and white porcelain” gown from the 2010 “One Thousand and Two Nights” collection. They were meant for a fantasy ball with spare-no-cost embellishments matched by sky-high dare-you-walk heels, drawing heavily on traditional Chinese embroidery and craftsmanship. A crystal-studded crimson gown with gold adornments walked down the runway with a long train that resembled the roof tiles of a glitzy imperial palace.

In 2011 I visited Pei at her Rose Studio, located on the North Fifth-Ring Road of Beijing. Pei’s studio is a creative extension of her uncompromisingly glamorous gowns. She told me at the time that making the most beautiful gown for a woman had always been her guiding star. For Pei, a dress is not a piece of garment, but a dream.

Myself, with Guo Pei, at her Rose Studio in Beijing in 2011.

The careers of both Vivienne and Pei, and their perseverance despite challenges along the way, show that making a dress for an international audience is living a dream. As I wrote in a previous post, young Chinese students often selected London as the destination for their overseas fashion education. This fashionable night, dreamed up by the China Beauty Charity Fund, will empower more Chinese scholars to come to New York and learn the art of making their first dream clothes, and was a terrific addition to New York Asia Week. 

Liu Wen (left), China’s most famous supermodel, confided in an interview during the gala that she aspired to a long career like Carmen Dell’Orefice’s (right). Carmen famously opened Pei’s “One Thousand and Two Nights” runway show in Beijing in 2009 when she was 78. Photo by Tianyi Zhao, courtesy of China Happenings.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's