HONG KONG — Choked with incense and a mystical atmosphere, the Man Mo Temple here welcomed two unusual visiting deities last week: fashion superstar Marc Jacobs and supermodel Gisele Bündchen.
"My eyes are burning," the Brazilian bombshell squealed as bell-shaped coils overhead released their pungent smoke.
But Jacobs, his crushing jet lag notwithstanding, had no complaints in the eye department.
"I'm a smoker, so maybe I'm used to it," he quipped.
A fashion shoot in the crumbling 1847 structure was among the whirlwind of activities for Jacobs, in town for 45 hours to help christen Louis Vuitton's new flagship in the Landmark here, the latest megastore to open in this booming Asian city.
But before he set off on a marathon of interviews, a ribbon-cutting and a gala dinner and party, Jacobs performed a tourist ritual: lighting three incense sticks and sticking them in the sand in tandem with a wish.
"I know your wish," Bündchen said. "I'm psychic, don't you know."
Jacobs wouldn't disclose it, instead sharing the incense lore he just learned: "They go for three months," he said, pointing at the massive coils suspended from the ceiling.
Told visitors can alternatively write down their wish and stuff it into a drawer along with a generous cash offering to the gods, both protested.
"Buy a wish?" Jacobs asked rhetorically.
"Wishes should be for free," Bündchen concurred.
Given the number of collections Jacobs has to design in the coming weeks, he just might have wished for time to slow down enough that he might explore and discover this vibrant, fast-moving city.
The Causeway Bay district, heaving with crowds of young shoppers, is a hotbed for the latest streetwear trends. Jacobs' schedule was such that he wasn't able to see the loose, boyish jeans tucked into flat boots, nor the short parkas that are all the rage.
After the photo shoot, he managed a brief pit stop at Plum Blossoms, a gallery on Hollywood Road specializing in contemporary Chinese artists like Zhu Wei. And he said a highlight of his brief trip was a guided tour of the artworks hanging in the China Club, David Tang's swank private club atop an Art Deco tower in Central that is now dwarfed by futuristic glass and steel skyscrapers.If only he spoke Mandarin, Jacobs said he would have loved to have conversed with painter Zeng Fanzhi, who had joined Jacobs and a small group of local glitterati for dinner the previous evening. The male figure in one of Zhi's paintings on the stairwell of China Club bears a likeness to Prince Charles, and the late Princess Diana is said to have smirked when she saw it and was asked about the resemblance.
Jacobs said he feels like a "bird in a gilded cage" on trips such as these, typically trapped in an interview suite rather than free to roam museums or shops.
"I'm not the best traveler in the world," he said. "But I don't think it hurts me to be in this environment."
It was the third time Jacobs had visited Hong Kong. The first was when he was working on the sales floor of Charivari and Barbara Weiser brought the then Parsons fashion student to find someone to manufacture sweaters for a class project. He also breezed into town in 2000 to cut the ribbon on an enlarged Vuitton store in Pacific Place.
Still, Jacobs said he does not feel any compelling need to better know the Chinese consumer, or the consumer of any particular ethnicity for that matter. He said he believes his job is simply about making clothes and shoes and bags that people everywhere and anywhere can't live without.
"I think of fashion as just being an international thing," he said with a shrug. "Information just travels from place to place. And if you do [fashion] with integrity and with passion and it's exciting, people will respond to it. If you make things that look great, then a fashion person wants them."
Not that he doesn't need to take his show on the road from time to time.
Jacobs, who traveled to Tokyo two years ago to help promote his collaboration with artist Takashi Murakami and recently was in Moscow, will return to Hong Kong in the summer to reprise his fall 2006 Louis Vuitton show. "We're going to do a really big show," he vowed.
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