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Haute stuff (china)

Haute stuff (china) Source:
Date: 24-05-2012
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Fashions aimed at aristocrats, cold-shouldered in Paris, enjoy the limelight in China, reports Xu Junqian in Shanghai.

As Coco Lee walked out in the curvy, white, lace and satin gown at the Hong Kong designer Dorian Ho's debut fashion show in Shanghai, the Taiwan pop diva may not have known those few "small steps" made by her could be "a giant step" for the city, or perhaps the country's fashionistas.

"It's my first time to catwalk an haute couture show," said Lee, but this is also the first time for the city to feast on such a show featuring 48 flower-embroidered, beaded, handmade ball dresses. And the show makes guests impressed with Ho, who was honored as one of the top five Asian Fashion Designers at Moet and Chandon's Tribute to Asian Fashion Designers in 2006.

While the fate of haute couture is being debated in it's homeland, France, here in China the Parisian culture of extravagance and aristocracy is finding a new and fertile soil for rebirth.

Just hours after Ho's debut show, Bill Gaytten, the newly appointed creative director of Dior, wowed the country with his 40 "well-polished" outfits, the spring/summer 2012 couture show for Christian Dior, at the Roosevelt Club of the Bund in Shanghai.

Dior has been the first fashion house to bring haute couture from all over to China.

From the white-ribboned chairs to those "gorgeous slim-line chiffon and organza dresses", Gaytten played to the show's exclusive, by-invitation-only list of 350 guests, mostly celebrities and socialites in town, a world of fantasy and delicacy just as Christian Dior did at 30 Montaigne Avenue in Paris for his first haute couture show in 1947.

"Orders of last year suggested Chinese customers have shown an ever-growing interest in our couture," said Catherine Riviere, the directrice of haute couture for Dior, in an interview before the show. "Though they may not be very familiar with the procedure."
And last Friday, Jean Paul Gaultier, another one of the Big Four operators of haute couture, showed up in Beijing with his debut fashion show in China.

"Ready or not, haute couture is sweeping China," says Jumping Catwalk, a famous fashion commentator in China, who is known for his sarcastic observations of the industry.

"Everybody is talking about, or perhaps using the name of haute couture these days, though it's never for everybody and most of them didn't even know the meaning of the two words," he adds, insisting on using his pen name only.
By "using the name of haute couture", the Beijing-based writer and commentator refers to the growing number of domestic fashion designers following the trend to launch their own haute couture show.

Guo Pei, for example, one of the country's top dress designers, introduced her collections of "Chinese brides" early in May in Beijing with more than 50 extravagantly embroidered quaint-styled dresses that are "high sewed", or to translate to French as "haute couture", by her and other 30 designers for over 30 months.
"Were not the criterion set by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in France, it would be very hard to draw a line between haute couture and tailor-made, especially when it comes to high-end handmade dresses," says Bian Xiangyang, professor of apparel study from Shanghai Donghua University and an expert on contemporary fashion history.

To qualify as couture, as that arbiter draws the rule, a garment must be entirely handmade by one of the 11 Paris couture houses registered to it. Each house must employ at least 20 people, and show a minimum of 75 new designs a year.

The British Daily Telegraph says haute couture, "colossal in its costs, tiny in its clientele, questionable in its influence," rests on the whims of less than 30 immensely wealthy women. "Although the number may have grown in recent years with the new prosperity of Asia, the number of couture customers worldwide is no more than 4,000."
Ji Cheng, a Shanghai native fashion designer, however, sees the trend differently. "I wouldn't call my designs haute couture or anything close, but that's a benchmark for me. And ideally, I hope my offspring could reach it," says Ji, who has her own brand La Vie, which often subverted traditional Chinese style and mixed Chinese elements.

Dubbed one of the most talented and successful domestic fashion designers, Ji has her collection introduced at Shanghai Fashion Week every year, with one or two pieces labeled as "tailor-making" especially for brides.

Ji says that she is also seeing a rising demand for exclusively made dresses among her clientele, but she thinks it is still too early for her to tap into the market. "We are still at a stage of learning," she says.

And Ji believes Chinese haute couture, if it will be one day, doesn't have to be all about dragons, Chinese knots and rich red colors. But a good piece of clothing can show its cultural roots through the details.
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