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Fendi’s Great Wall Glamour in China
October 21st, 2007 @ 4:32 PM - Beijing
When Fendi and Karl Lagerfeld staged the first ever runway show on the Great Wall of China on Friday night, it was the slickest example of brand building many in luxury had seen in years.
In a brilliant execution of logo mania, giant arc lights “branded” football field sized Fendi’s double F logo on the hills around the marvelously atmospheric 5th century BC Juyongguan section of The Wall, where the world’s largest manmade structure twists north of Beijing.
The double F also covered velvet hand warmers given by the staff to fashion editors and celebrities that included Kate Bosworth, Thandie Newton and Singaporean It Actress Fiona Xie.
“Why are we in China? Because in the next twenty five years it will be become the world’s greatest economic power and we want Fendi to be very important in this country,” Bernard Arnault president of LVMH, the giant French luxury empire that controls Fendi, told FWD.
A six-foot-high double F in rusty metal, a la Richard Serra, (an artist Arnault collects) became the traffic island into the private entrance reserved for Fendi guests and media staying in Beijing’s Grand Hyatt. Facing Fs even featured on chocolates handed out at the show, the highlight of a weekend estimated to have cost Fendi 7 million Euros, or $10 million.
“It’s all about the logo: I first drew it forty years ago, when I wanted into inject in some humor and it meant Fun Furs. I never dreamt that one day it would illuminate miles of The Great Wall,” beamed Fendi’s designer Lagerfeld back stage as he posed for photos with actress Zhang Zhiyi.
“Fendi is such pure luxury,” commented Zhang, attired in one of Fendi’s geometrical marabou black and white coats.
Some 88 models advanced down the wall, appearing surreally from a tiny doorway of a looming guards house. The cast of local beauties and youthful Russians wore Fendi's cleverly avant garde spring summer 2008 collection, about half of whose looks had been unveiled last month in the house’s Milan runway show.
Karl only added one fresh look for China, a black clad Thirties “Last Emperor” cocktail that was the final passage.
“It’s our homage to Madame Chiang Kai-shek,” cracked Karl, attired in black tie, mega-high white shirt collar and gentleman’s frock coat.
In a brilliantly staged optical illusion, a “river” of crystal lights followed the wall up the mountain creating the impression that the models had descended from the dramatic peaks.
The experimental collection, inspired by Dadaist artist Francois Picabia and echoing the metaphysical dream world of De Chirico seemed an ideal choice of China, especially with its Art Deco semi-precious stone belts and swirl print gowns. One could not help noticing the similarity of the collection’s rainbow patterns and the giant broken rainbow bridges that span so many highways in Beijing, a city bristling with confidence whose citizens’ favorite building is the soon-to-be-finished broken arch that is the dramatic new, Rem Koolhaas designed, headquarters of China TV network CCTV.
Adding to the runway's mood was the subtly understated hair and styling and the moodily anthem-like music by DJ Michel Gaubert that included elements of Stravinsky’s Punchinello, Nina Rota’s Casanova and a great sampling of art rocker trio Von Sudenfed.
Above all, the hyper professional staging clearly laid down a marker that Fendi is going to be a major player in the booming luxury market in China, where the Roman label will have 10 boutiques by the end of this year, in its 110-store network.
“We don’t see much point in doing predictable events. Fendi is a remarkable brand, so it’s much smarter to do exceptional events once a year, which is why we loved the idea of a catwalk on the Great Wall,” explained Fendi president Michael Burke.
In a weekend that included a series of diners in Beijing’s hippest restaurants, from the Asian Gothic bamboo palace of People 8, to the remarkable, eccentric Chinese minimalism of the countryside banquet hall Green Tea House, one had to like Fendi’s post show bash the most. Staged in Beijing’s equivalent of the Meatpacking District, Sanlitun, it featured flag wavers, socialites like Tinsley Mortimer and Zani Gugelman, a slew of local groovers and a ballet performance, where the dancers were suspended like window cleaners in front of an exact replica of Fendi’s Rome Palazzo. It’s also the image and name of the brand’s latest scent – like we said it was a moment of consummate brand building.
This season also marked the 10th anniversary of the baguette bag, invented by its artistic director and family member Silvia Fendi, which became the key item in Fendi’s growth into a star international brand.
“I know in France that everyone lives on baguettes. But here in China the ladies are probably going to want us to make the chopstick bag,” cracked Lagerfeld.