There’s no escaping the news that China’s massive consumer appetite and burgeoning wealth is having a significant impact on the rest of the world. That can be witnessed in no small way at this year’s World Expo held in Shanghai. Hovering between the old and new, China’s most dynamic city perhaps reflects the same path of development as cities such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, all of which are becoming global hubs of commerce and luxury. In the wake of this economic transformation is the trend for all things Oriental, propagated by the leading rank of luxury brands. Increasing their product’s presence in China, fashion brands are capitalizing by launching exclusive products that ring a note of familiarity in the east. Others are simply becoming more visible, with brands like Coach, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Hermès opening flagship stores on Huaihai Road this year.
Here in the Middle East, of course it means that many of our favourite brands are giving us a tantalizing taste of the Shanghai effect, with products and collections dedicated to the city. Chanel, for example, has launched an Expo collection featuring accessories and costume jewellery inspired by China and its historic legends. Chanel’s relationship with Shanghai is fictionalised in a film by Creative Director Karl Lagerfeld, which muses on a voyage Coco Chanel may have taken on the Shanghai Express. The heroine meets a clutch of extreme characters, from Chinese nobles to a young emperor, who influence her style. The tangible result is the Paris-Shanghai collection created by Chanel’s famous Métiers D’Art, a group of their most accomplished artisans. While the pieces are derivative of 1930s chic, Hollywood cinema and the opulence of the Chinese Imperial Court, they are distinctly modern, flamboyant and wearable.
As a location, Shanghai and its skyscrapers provided the backdrop to the collection’s debut and also formed the canvas of Dior’s third film with Marion Cotillard. It continues the narrative of the Lady Dior, this time in ‘Blue’ and shot in the city by cult director David Lynch. Following closely behind is Prada, who have released a short film set in Shanghai to promote their spring/summer menswear collection. Entitled First Spring, it is directed by Chinese artist Yang Fudong and represents a new direction for the brand, who have based their move on the success of art house movies from Chanel and Dior. Stemming from the Chinese proverb that ‘a whole year’s work depends on a good start in spring’, it features both international and Chinese models in a mix of Prada and traditional dress.
Other luxury brands such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Swatch and Gucci have created limited edition Expo-themed products. French jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels, aside from doubling their number of boutiques in China in this year alone – four new stores to be opened in mainland China with three arriving here in the Middle East – have already launched the wonderfully exotic Jardin d’Extreme-Orient, which echoes elements of harmony and tranquillity, characteristics of the Chinese garden. Using resonant stones such as Mandarin garnets, and evoking landscape symbols, they express the traditional spirit of the Orient.
2010 Shanghai Expo
Ferragamo working with contemporary artist Xue Song