BEIJING — There was a mix of California and China at a fashion show Thursday night here as part of the Made in California Expo being spearheaded by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger is on a weeklong visit to China to build awareness of California’s products and businesses, which are being highlighted in the expo at the Beijing Kerry Center Hotel. Thursday night’s events included a speech by the governor, a buffet dinner and the 20-minute fashion show that featured four Californian and four Chinese designers and used 25 Beijing-based models, both Chinese and foreign.
The Californian designer contingent was headed by BCBG Max Azria Group chief executive officer and designer Max Azria, who was joined by Kevan Hall, Chan Luu and Louis Verdad. The Chinese designers featured were Lu Kun, A You, Gu Lin and Zhou You, all ranked among the country’s top names, although none of them have any connection to California.
Chan Luu was on her first visit. “I love China,” she enthused. “I especially love the old parts I’ve visited these days. I visited the Hutongs” — Beijing’s traditional residential lanes — “and around the lakes.”
The relative newcomer, who launched her New York showroom this July, is originally from Vietnam. “I’m really surprised at how big Beijing is. Flying in, it’s as big as Los Angeles.”
In contrast, Azria is now something of an old China hand, having visited some 10 or 15 times.
Azria has four freestanding boutiques in mainland China, and said the stores are doing well. BCBG is taking a cautious approach to expansion, he continued, because, “the market is changing so fast that it is very difficult to keep track of it. Some people come in very fast, but I cannot take that risk. Still, we are going to do something big here in the future.”
BCBG’s women’s wear is among the most rampantly pirated in China’s capital. “I’m waiting for some regulations, to make it easier to do something about it,” Azria explained. “In the meanwhile, it’s a compliment.”
Kevan Hall dressed California First Lady Maria Shriver for the evening’s event, outfitting her in a lacy white and black gown with a full skirt and sculpted neckline, reminiscent of the Fifties and Sophia Loren. Hall had been to China twice before, to do fittings in Beijing as he sources cashmere from outer Mongolia.
Hall said this had been the best of his China trips, as it allowed him to see Beijing and sights like the Forbidden City, plus the press coverage of the delegation has been a plus. “It’s good to have this exposure in the luxury market, and have the press here see what we’re doing.”
Although Hall does not yet sell to mainland China, he is looking into entering the market.
Likewise, Thursday night’s event provided the local designers participating with coveted exposure in the international press. “Chinese designers will definitely have their day,” predicted the Beijing-based A You, but added that it may be a while off yet. A You sells via distribution partners with Paris, Milan, Seoul and Toronto, and she is hoping to find a partner in the U.S.
“I started out as a computer designer, but I always loved Chinese traditional clothing,” she recalled. “A lot of Chinese designers draw on these traditions, but I’m one of the few to do a fusion of East and West.”
Along with California fashion, the Made in California Expo highlighted the state’s tourism, offered tastings of its wine, beer and fruit, and introduced companies including United Airlines, Motorcar Parts of America, Sunrider and GE Security. Schwarzenegger will next travel to Shanghai to attend the local launch of the latest Harry Potter film, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” today.
Schwarzenegger’s visit is attracting enthusiastic coverage in the Chinese press, despite limited access and a no-interviews policy.
Schwarzenegger previously visited China in 2000 on behalf of the Special Olympics. After that trip, his image and name were used, mostly without authorization, on dozens of local products, from apparel to beverages to electronics.