The state of China’s economy is tied to great debate, but attendees at Wednesday night’s China Fashion Gala focused on what’s next.
Jason Wu, Vogue China’s Angelica Cheung, actress-model Shu Qi, Esquel Group’s Dee Poon and other honorees were swarmed by well-wishers before the seated dinner at The Plaza hotel in Manhattan. The masked musician Bing, “Crazy Rich Asians” actress Gemma Chan and a bevy of models like Xiao Wen and Shu Pei upped the wattage, while Yue-Sai Kan tried to help direct traffic on the red carpet. Presented by China Institute and Kan’s China Beauty Charity Fund, the event put a forward spin on China, but that involved acknowledging its past.
Kan said, “Before I started working for China about 40 years ago, China had no fashion at all because it was just out of Communism. No one was wearing fashion. Forget about designers — 40 years ago, there was no fashion, no nothing. There has been a huge change. It is simply amazing. Forty years ago, we never would have imagined having a Chinese Fashion Gala in America.”
Joined by his husband, Gustavo Rangel, and a clutch of friends, Wu had several reasons to celebrate — including the fact that the next day it would be revealed the Chinese fund Green Harbor had acquired a controlling stake in his brand.
“Being a designer was not a desirable or acceptable job especially for a boy in Asia in the Eighties. Now I am mentoring students at Otis and the majority of the class is Asian kids. It’s really nice to see that Chinese parents are accepting fashion as a career choice — anything in the creative fields has become allowed. I’m very happy to be playing a small part in paving that road,” he said on Thursday night.
At work on resort, Wu said he plans to be back on the fashion calendar in September. “For the last two years, I have really been thinking about my business in a new way and how to create the next generation of the Jason Wu brand. We have seen the industry change so completely. I think we all have to be really open-minded and think like a start-up again,” he said. “That’s the way forward for anyone in fashion.”
Recalling how Kan used her celebrity status in fashion for the benefit of China years ago, G-III Apparel Group chairman and chief executive officer Morris Goldfarb said, “The association of one of their own was really relevant and it’s going to occur again. What will happen is we have watched the transition of imported brands in Japan and in South Korea become less relevant than their own. These countries are very socialist. They care very much about their own population and the celebrity of status of their own so they will begin to populate fashion with their own. These countries are amazing. They can do anything, they’re resilient, they’re patient and it’s not the China of 20 or 30 years ago.”
Inveterate traveler Mary McFadden, who summers in China and spends her springs in India, said the Stateside stay-at-home crowd doesn’t understand that “the security is fine” in China, meaning visitors can move around freely and safely for the most part. Another fashion designer, Han Feng, divides her time between Manhattan and Shanghai. But in September she will be off to Europe to design costumes for “Madama Butterfly” at the Vienna State Opera. The performance is being developed by Anthony Minghella’s production company, whose namesake first had Feng design costumes years ago. After her friend, Minghella, died unexpectedly in 2008, his company has gone forward with his projects that embrace his vision.
Sipping a glass of chardonnay, architect Didi Pei explained the draw of the soon-to-be-completed Château Lynch-Bages winery in Bordeaux, France: “I love wine and it’s a wonderful client. You can’t do a good project, if you don’t have a good client.”
As for China’s drastically changing skyline, he said, “The architectural standards of the rest of the world are now becoming the standards in China, which is good,” citing Tadao Ando’s new opera house as a standout.
The event raised $850,000 to support an assortment of educational initiatives for young designers and to support creativity inspired by China. Just as everything in China — and the rest of the world — has a price, so does the China Institute. Corcoran’s Carrie Chiang told Pei how she had picked up the listing of the institute’s East 65th Street location to sell it for a second time. Five years ago she sold the Neo-Georgian house for $21.5 million and this time the price will be bumped up to $22.5 million. “I told a few of the board members tonight that I undersold it,” she said.