BEIJING — Donatella Versace was back in her element Thursday, overseeing a re-creation of the fashion house’s Milan runway show in the Chinese capital.
Versace spent a day earlier in the week with earthquake survivors in the muddy, remote mountains in Sichuan Province working with the Jet Li One Foundation to raise awareness of the plight of victims. The actor Jet Li and Versace capped off Thursday’s show with a high-energy live auction that raised an additional $100,000 for earthquake relief work. Fund-raising efforts will continue with specially designed Versace-One Foundation merchandise, with the goal of building another two or three schools from the proceeds.
“It’s been a wonderful experience and a privilege to work with Jet Li on this project,” Versace said after the show.
The fashion house re-created its Milan spring show, complete with the same black-and-white set and circular catwalk showcasing bold designs. But the version Thursday had a larger audience — 900 spectators compared with 600 in Milan — and used only Chinese models. The result was a uniquely Beijing look, marking Versace’s first show in China.
After the show, the crowd’s attention was pulled promptly back to Sichuan earthquake survivors with a swiftly produced video of Versace’s and Li’s trip Tuesday to a new elementary school funded by the fashion house through the One Foundation. The school, which is still under construction, integrates education with trauma counseling for six- to 11-year-olds who survived the earthquake when most of the town collapsed. The new school is located in Sanjiang, a town hard hit by the May 12 earthquake, which resulted in 88,000 people killed or missing.
“We’re all one family,” Li told the crowd Thursday, urging them to do more to help.
Sotheby’s then launched into a fast-paced live auction for items like a specially designed Versace watch and a day on a movie set with Li. A trip to Milan for exclusive runway show access with Versace fetched the auction’s highest bid — 300,000 yuan, or $44,000 at current exchange.
In addition to Li, several Asian celebrities including Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh, South Korean actor Lee Byung-Hun, Chinese actor Lu Yi and actresses Gao Yuan Yuan and Qu Ying were on hand for the evening.
Versace capped the night with dinner in the Forbidden City — marking yet another first among fashion and art events held inside the former imperial palace once strictly off-limits to all but the emperor and his court.
Versace chief executive Giancarlo Di Risio said the week’s work was about far more than publicity for the company. Di Risio, who Wednesday reiterated earlier statements that Asia is on target to become the brand’s second-largest market, said philanthropic work is an integral part of what Versace does.
Otherwise, “We would have just had a fashion show,” he said.