As the latest cultural center to move downtown, the China Institute personified the “Old China/New China” theme at its spring luncheon Sunday. Guo Pei and Yeohlee Teng were the more established designers mingling with supporters at the TriBeCa Rooftop. Away in Shanghai, Han Feng could not attend as planned, but her designs were represented, as were those of Lancy Style designer Lan Shi and Fashion Institute of Technology students Merry Wu and Jiyeon Lee.
Trustee Sophia Sheng spelled out the reason for the design-focused event. “We’re expanding downtown because we want to do things that are more cultural, more modern and more exciting,” she said. “We’re getting into design, fashion, food, music and sports. We already have a solid reputation for traditional things regarding history and art exhibits. We also want to help out students from FIT.”
The Chinese-born, Paris-based Pei, one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential people, will return to New York this fall to receive the China Institute’s Blue Cloud award at its Sept. 27 gala. On Wednesday, she will be honored at the United Nations for her innovation. Many may be familiar with her creations thanks to the canary yellow, staircase-sweeping gown Rihanna wore to last year’s Met gala. The pair are talking about collaborating for another memorable look, but it remains to be seen whether that will be for one of the musician’s performances or a red-carpet turn.
Beyoncé and Lady Gaga are also in line for some special attention from the designer, according to Pei’s husband Jack Tsao, who oversees the branding and business side of her label. “Usually, my wife wants to make a design for the person for the occasion. Usually, they like to borrow. In the past, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga borrowed. But my wife said to them, “listen, it’s better for a special occasion if I design something for you.'”
During their whistle-stop New York stay, Pei and Tsao planned to hit the museums with “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” at the Costume Institute being at the top of the list. Plenty of people watching and canvassing the stores were also in order, since the couple are trying to get a better read on the American market. Opening a store in Manhattan is not currently in the cards. “We need to understand what our next move in New York is,” Tsao said.
With the majority of her customers in China, Pei also has strong followings in Russia, the Middle East and the U.K. She will sit out showing during the next round of haute couture shows. She is considering developing a more accessible collection. “It would still be couture but easier for people to understand,” Tsao said.
Teng had two of her strongest supporters by her side — longtime models Sam Xu and Lexa Shevchenko, one dressed for spring and the other for fall. Ettore Sottsass and other architects are often integral to her design inspiration. She and other guests had the chance to talk shop with one well-known architect, Chien Chung “Didi” Pei, who is not only chairman of the China Institute’s board but also the partner of the firm that is designing its new 100 Washington Street location.