We asked Cyril Duval (aka item idem, a French conceptual artist living in Tokyo), to give us a diary-style report of Fendi's unprecedented fashion show—the second part to its spring collection last month in Milan—on the Great Wall of China...
I knew my second visit to the Great Wall of China would be totally different from the first one, and indeed it was, considering the magnitude of the event. After all, a large-scale, $10 million LVMH project in an emerging superpower would be all about showing off, and isn't that exactly what we love about fashion? Invited by music man Michel Gaubert, my great friend and collaborator (Karl Lagerfeld once took our portrait, making us out to be boxers), and knowing my good friend and artist Terence Koh would be there, I had no doubt it was going to be a trip like no other.
Arriving at the Grand Hyatt Beijing—where all guests (international press, Chinese VVIP's, New York socialites and various other jetsetters) were to stay for four days—was the first moment of awe. A human-sized, F-shaped sculpture was installed right in front of the entrance, which itself had been redesigned, making good use of the illustrious yellow and black double-F monogram. The result was a kind of Fendi Hotel, to the point one might think the whole country had been redesigned as the People's Republic of Fendi. Thank you, Mr. Arnault.
Friday saw an entire fleet of cars drive to the Great Wall to witness the unique fashion intrusion on China's most famous landmark. A cocktail reception beneath the marble archways of the Cloud Platform, built centuries ago during the Ming Dynasty, was only a hint at things to come. And as the press release emphasized, a lot of records were broken. Not only was it the first show atop the structure, but it was also the the longest runway ever, at 200 meters, along which 88 models walked (8 is a lucky number in China, a sign of infinite prosperity—here doubled by Karl).
The spectacle was indeed spectacular, with, as Michel told me earlier, "a lunar effect." Was it Karl's intention to transform the longest catwalk ever into some kind of mystical ceremony, playing off the idea that the Great Wall is the only human construction that can be observed from space?
As I expected from Michel, the sound design was original and a little challenging, ranging from Stravinsky and Scarlatti to the Love Boat theme song and Karl's favorite tune, Cervantes by Kreidler. Michel said he basically tried to do a musical translation of 20s-style chinoiserie. For fun, he wanted to use Pink Floyd's The Wall, but stopped short. Interestingly, the Chinese government had to authorize the tracks in early October, so Michel sent them all 700 possibilities, none of which were refused. In the end, the final track list was the perfect accompaniment to the long and lean Chinese beauties on the runway—sometimes with Caucasian girls mixed in—who walked with such majesty, particularly a pair of twins.
The show ended with an explosion of lights and white fireworks until, to a standing ovation by a thrilled audience draped in furs, the final bow by the maestro himself and Silvia Fendi, responsible for the house's famed accessories. Fendi had just made history. Ask Kate Bosworth, her model beau James Rousseau, actresses Ziyi Zhang and Patty Ho, Nigo, former footballer Hidetoshi Nakata or Miss Universe Riyo Mori of Japan if they think any differently.
After the exhilarating moment, I decided to avoid the armada of journalists and fashionistas trying to crack the backstage citadel and went straight to the dinner portion of the evening, which took place at a new and unfinished shopping complex called the Village in the popular nightlife area known as Sanlitun. Terence stayed and later regaled me with the great fun he had meeting Karl and how they ended up talking for hours about their mutual passion for rings and jewels. In particular, he said the Kaiser was very enthusiastic about Terence's right wrist, with its many Chanel watches, comparing the mass of gold to the way Ndebele tribeswomen of South Africa wear piles of necklaces. And Terence, formerly known as asianpunkboy, responded in that reverential off-color way of his that he was born a Nigga Supa Woman.
Now on to the after-party. Amazing? Most of it was, especially wall-climbing dancers, but at times it felt more like an onslaught of cliches, from projected images of Italian classicism and Fellini's La Dolce Vita to scenes meant to evoke The Long March, which led to Mao Zedong's rise to power (remember, he's still officially venerated in China). The message that the Chinese, increasingly rich, should indulge in all things Fendi came through loud and clear.
The next day, while Terence headed to the contemporary art district known as 798 to meet a gallerist, I took Michel Gaubert and his crew of Noise Boys out with me. We went to the Military Museum, so big it could be the Louvre Museum of Weaponry, where we took pictures of yours truly in front of an authentic and perhaps armed Chinese nuclear missile while wearing a Munch mask (The Scream) I had brought from Tokyo .
The last event of the trip was a "rexclusive" dinner at the gallery of Korean art dealer Pearl Lam (not to be confused with the band, which I did at first). I sat between the fun, not to mention beautiful, jewelry designer Zani Gugelmann, who helped me polish off a bottle of dear Pearl's private-reserve tequila, and the very charming and clever Bettina Zilkha, who asked all about my upcoming "very last first solo show ever" called DISPLAYSTHETICS. We all then jumped in our Mercedes, boogied a little and dove into our beds. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.