Beijing blew out my consciousness .It truly did. Beijing decentralized me, in that it shifted my idea of what was central about modern economies, modern art, contemporary architecture, design, fashion and the consciousness behind all these forms of expression. It destroyed my Western world ego-centricism. It humbled my pre-conceptions of beauty and it recalibrated my sense of the term limits on latter day contemporary culture.
We've been trained to think that the production centers of the fashion world are New York, London, Paris, Milan and Tokyo. But it will not always be this way not if New York, London, Paris and Milan continue to organize their idea of fashion in these increasingly redundant concentric circles. Resort show...Men's Show...Couture show. Spring Sales. Break. Ready To Wears. Ad campaign cycles. Blockbuster magazine cover. Blockbuster gala. Break. Repetition reiterates the mythology but repetition also wears it thin.
We had been flown into Beijing, MDC Creative Director Stephan Moskovic and I, for the wedding of Chinese model Danni Li and Longteng Models, head honcho Dragon Tien. I expected the usual stolid fashion society wedding and dressed as stolidly as possible. Wrong bet. The convergence of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing fashion society came ablaze on that extravagant afternoon in their Hermes belts, their cobalt blue,in their Bentleys, in buttercup yellow, in bespoke, in Balenciaga, in Spring 2011 Chanel. It was an unabashed statement of fashion enthusiasm but the gesture I loved best was the 5 changes effect by Danni Li where she deliberately chose to highlight ( to the hordes of Chinese press), 5 young Chinese designers she wanted to publicize. That's the step ahead, because to walk into Chanel and Hermes and Balenciaga with buckets of cash and buy the big label is the obvious. But the idea of what China can do with its indigenous talent ; that is what looms on the landscape as the most exciting proposal of all.
For an outsider to testify that fashion in China is the future is to voice the tritest of statements. I said as much to Angela Cheung, the editor of Vogue China who was at our table at the wedding dinner party. Mrs Cheung had been querying the model selection process at the New York shows, wondering what could be done to create longevity for a greater body of Chinese models. The problem , I ventured , was that we all have to confront the idea that ideals of beauty are culturally programmed. New York , Milan and Paris , (as is well within their rights) , have been embracing breakout Chinese stars who fit into an obvious Western framework of beauty. But can those designers who have been stampeding to mine the fresh cash gushing from China's middle classes also educate their eyes to a specifically Chinese idea of beauty. I personally don't know how to do it yet but I appreciate that my cliches and stereotypes about indexes of beauty have been destabalized.
One of those aspects of being destablized was being forced to process the overwhelming physical scale of Beijing. The sense of space here is a totally different proposition that even the wide vistas of legend in New York. The whole time you feel dwindled, overwhelmed and de-individualilzed by the mammoth structures looming over and around you. Whether Tiamenen Square with flanking video walls that stretched two New York City blocks or The Great Wall of China with its mind-bloggling crawl across the Chinese countryside you have the determined sense of scale as spectacle.
The compression between the human and the monolithic, the ancient and the futuristic , epic architecture vs teeming mobs of people, the unexpected kindness you can find in that mob and the driven pace of a relentlessly organized society only make sense when you experience it. The young seems to have found a way to play in the shadow of the monoliths. Beijing right now seems to be exhilarating especially for the teens. At night you see them in their heels and mini-skirts, cigarette dangling, hopping motor scooters in streets crackling with energy in ways I just don't feel anymore in burnt out Paris or New York. Wheeling your way to the Park Hyatt by pedi-cab and being cycled past Koolhaas' CCTV monolith...only in Beijing. Art galleries the size of air-plane hangers...it just doesn't happen in the contained corridors of Chelsea anymore. I still remember the Japanese girl staggering down the streets of Sanlitun Village in white kitten mules fanning herself with a traditional Chinese fan on an incredibly humid night. As a stranger in a strange land I found myself at a swirling center of excited optimism. Kids kept insisting on snapping pictures at odd turns and they were eager to point out the hidden secrets of Beijing. It was all there, the kids assured me. " Mix is where all the best looking boys in China are and Suzy Wong is the club where all the most beautiful foreign girls can be found. And there are many rich men at the gay clubs," one model advised. I found her democratic attempt at matchmaking charming.
The haunting thought you take away from the many Beijings that presented themselves whether from the vantage of the 64th floor of the Park Hyatt Beijing or the haunting vista that is The Forbidden City at midnight is that this city's future is embedded in its past. The rigor of Beijing's historical and geographic center, that Forbidden City with its Chinese boxes of ritualized architecture in the form of temples and halls for everything from clock keeping to retreats for imperial meditation to audience halls for for government counsel, is a great a metaphor for a kind of historic consciousness . Again , the crushing scale of the spectacle, the distance of those courtyards to the temples, the acres of those vistas, the eerie shadows falling on a courtyard that has witnessed centuries of imperial executions.... Our fearless host was telling us that the night guards regard some sections of The Forbidden City to be too haunted with vengeful ghosts to be ventured. But there's a memory I have of the imperial throne room. I had only ever seen it in a movie, Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" And there I was at long last , staring at it as a reality. A scent came up from that room, a majestic one, the smell of old old incense,of varnished, lacquered woods from hundreds of years ago and the perfume of that. It was the most luxurious thing I have ever smelt in my life.