Why now's a fashionable time to start learning Chinese
|Shu Pei is the stunning cover model for Elle HK September 2012 issue|
Two nights ago, 2.30am, ridiculously bored on Twitter and desperate for self-amusement before bed, I was rummaging the mountains of plastic bags that are a permanent fixture in my room – where I found something that didn’t belong.
An unopened, sealed September 2012 issue of Elle HK. I’d picked it up for a measly HK$10 (about £1.50 for two inches, plus you get Elle Health & Beauty for free) at Chep Lap Kok airport on my way back to the UK last August. Turns out I’d taken it back home and completely forgotten about it.
It’s interesting because I’m not one for conscious delayed-gratification. Patience is not my forte and I’ve never withheld the urge to rip off crisp polythene bags off anything for more than five seconds. In a strange way, it was like opening a time capsule of my own culture (I was studiously raised on a bilingual diet of local and foreign magazines). Yes, I know it’s a year old, but had the content, tone and reader in fashion magazines changed since I left Kowloon for Kent?
1. The ads
|Image source: http://awake-smile.blogspot.co.uk|
Advertising in fashion magazines fascinates me – both the model and brand reflect capitalist aspirations of readers. I have never met a Chinese woman in my life who would think twice on splurging on the latest It-bag or skincare, even if it meant living off stale bread crusts for the next month to pay rent. Chinese women are far more likely to be working high-flying workers than pram-pushing housewives, so owning the right brands is essential in portraying an ever competitive social image of success.
Timeless French and Italian houses like Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Versace and Armani are popular, as is the chic elegant European aristocrat look – Nicole Kidman, Sophie Marceau considered classic beauties in luxury ads.
I’ve picked my two favourite ads from the issue. The postcard perfect scene of Bally’s FW12 ad depicts Verbier’s famous Chalet d’Adrie in Switzerland, starring Hilary Rhoda and Caroline Trentini. I love the irony of selling winter ski coats to a subtropical region that will never snow. It taps into the customer’s wishful fantasy and I think it’s brilliant.
The second ad I loved was for Paul Smith featuring subsequent portraits of Suzie Bird, her eyes open in one and closed in the other. I’ve seen Kate Moss in similar versions of the ad but I think this one encapsulates British quirkiness and wit more – with a whiff of Magritte.
2. We’re starting to talk about SEX(and other taboos)
The liberal conversations and serious debates the western world take for granted, like sex, exploitation and body image are a relatively young phenomenon in conservative Asian cultures. I particularly enjoyed the frankness of Marky Lo’s discussion on the ethics of sexual images in fashion advertising. To quote, “I remember being shocked the first time I saw an American Apparel ad on Portobello Rd during a London visit. I went in, left with a new windbreaker and realised that’s how some companies make money these days”.
3. Our real-life office dramas
No, this isn’t a piece on the newest anti-stress boxing trend, but it’s office tensions caused by the increasing generation gap. It’s common for baby boomers, generation X and Y (which it fondly labels ‘The Evil Generation’) to misunderstand and be at each other’s necks – they’ve been raised in very different eras. Cue stories of horrified line managers fed up of insubordinate, spoilt ‘little children’ with ‘no manners’. It all sounds quite familiar but highlights the importance of keeping lines of communication open in the workplace rather than resort to bathroom bitching. Especially when we all use the same ladies’ room.
4. Chinese models working it
|image source: models.com|
With names like Shu Pei, Fei-Fei Sun having walked for every major designer in the last six years (Supermodel Liu Wen made history just daysago as the first Asian Victoria’s Secret angel), the rising prominence of Chinese models is hardly news.
Yet I’m pleased that after a good 20 years of idolising a specific Western look (especially in fashion, less so in beauty)- big eyes, fluttery lashes, delicate noses and impossible cheekbones, fashion brands are finally using women that look remotely like the customers unzipping their Miu Miu wallets. Fashion is embracing diversity more than ever and the world’s a better place because of it.
Check out 21 yr old Xiao Wen Ju in this striking neon club-inspired Kenzo ad and winter coat shoot. Known for her wide-spaced, tiny seed eyes on her porcelain doll face - Xiao is the epitome of the unconventional beauty that is new even to the Chinese.
5. We’ve finally embraced high fashion
This Maison Martin Margiela jewelled mask and jacket ensemble is an acquired taste (Read my comments on Leigh Browery’s dance costumes for MichaelClark & Company’s ‘Because We Must’). It’s unlikely to catch on anytime soon, but the mere publication of the image is mini breakthrough in its own right. The Chinese are finally acknowledging the avant-garde creativity of high-fashion, even though we still prefer to wear the rocks on our fingers.
6. We bloody love the Brits
16 years after the 1997 handover, the emotional remnants of Hong Kong’s British colonial heritage linger; there is still great fondness (perhaps 'fetish' is a more accurate term)for all things British – whether it’s their fashion, education or culture. I’d argue the word in itself represents quality, freedom and taste there (of course they haven’t watched an episode of ‘Shameless’).
This issue was published just after the London 2012 Olympics and features a lot of interviews with British designers like Vivienne Westwood. Like the Brits, the Chinese love a Dame - her orb logo as ubiquitous and has enjoyed a cult-like status for what feels like eternity. The article also previews her then newly launched Queen’s jubilee-inspired Red Capsule Collection, which still leaves a certain type of girl (and boy) dewy eyed.
Viv should watch her back though, as new talents like Christopher Kane and Gareth Pugh are gaining momentum with the younger market who don’t want to dress in head-to-toe Moschino like their mums.
7. We really, really bloody love the Brits (especially the ones we lost too soon)
|Shu Pei Image source: http://www.huayibrothersfashion.com|
Extract from interview with 23 year old Beijing cover model Shu Pei:
Elle: You mentioned being moved by something Alexander McQueen said?
Shu Pei: It was the last show before his death. We were wearing these extremely high and painful heels and models kept falling over during rehearsal. Moments before the show, McQueen looked at every single girl and told us to walk very slowly. “You must take care and not rush. If the girl in front of you falls, don’t walk over her, stop and help her up.” I was so touched; he was a really kind man.
All translation and scans have been done by myself unless specified otherwise.