Even in a year of lavish fashion spectacles, Fendi pulled off a feat, staging a show on what is indisputably the longest runway in history: the 4,500-mile-long Great Wall of China.
The show-stopping event featured an 88-look runway show (8 being the symbol of prosperity in China) situated high atop the Great Wall of China on a 660-foot-long sloped runway. A river of crystal lights flooded the upper section of the mountain and larger-than-life double-F logos that flanked the runway up along the Juyongguan Pass were projected onto neighboring mountains, where the world’s largest manmade structure twists north of Beijing. “Listen, the Great Wall doesn't come to you--you better go to the Great Wall," quipped Lagerfeld of the portion of 4,000-mile edifice that he had utilized for the show. "The Great Wall is like a huge runway, no? To be honest, I never imagined that the Fendi logo would be cast onto the Great Wall, but the hardest part was for [Fendi chief executive officer] Michael Burke to get the permissions for this. I'm lucky in life that other people do all the hard work for me. In a way I had the easiest part; I just say, 'I see it like this, like this, like this.
“Why are we in China? Because in the next twenty five years it will be become the world’s greatest economic power and we want Fendi to be very important in this country,” Bernard Arnault chairman of LVMH, the giant French luxury empire that controls Fendi, told FWD.
A six-foot-high double F in rusty metal, a la Richard Serra, (an artist Arnault collects) became the traffic island into the private entrance reserved for Fendi guests and media staying in Beijing’s Grand Hyatt. The lobby of the hotel was furnished in Fendi casa furniture and accessories from Italy. Even the room cards for the hotel had been given the Fendi treatment and remade in the Fendi yellow with the company’s logo.
The hype surrounding the event was enormous (the fashion world has been abuzz for months) which probably explained the better than usual celebrity turnout for such an event in this part of the world. More than 500 guests and members of the media were flown to Beijing to witness what the company called a once-in-a-lifetime fashion show. Spotted among the VIPs were actresses Zhang Zi Yi, Kate Bosworth, Thandie Newton and South Korean Jeon Do Yeon (who recently won the best actress prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival). Joining these big screen stars were Ziana Zain and Singapore's Fiona Xie, as well as NYC socialites Tinsley Mortimer, Amanda Hearst, and Julia Restoin-Roitfeld – all clad in their finest Fendi garb.
As they passed under the giant white marble archway, guests were greeted by a phalanx of black-clad male attendants offering Fendi hand-warmers and black cashmere shawls embroidered with the words "The Wall" in English and "Fendi" in Mandarin. The group gathered at a charming courtyard where they sipped champagne and sampled delectable hors d'oeuvres, awaiting sunset and the start of the runway show.
The attendees -- many choosing spike heels for the occasion -- gingerly mounted the steep, uneven stone steps to the top of the Great Wall, often with the aid of male attendants in black Fendi outfits. They were stationed along the sides of the steps to the great relief of guests who teetered precariously in 4-inch heels.
"Despite the fact that I'm from Hong Kong, this is the first time I've ever done the Great Wall -- and I did it in heels!" said Hong Kong socialite Sharie Ross, who confessed she tucked a pair of ballet slippers into her Fendi bag for the descent.
Black cushioned seats, embroidered with gold Fendi logos, lined both sides of the wall while the catwalk snaked its way down the center. As the music began, the men in black flanked the catwalk and unfurled the black material covering the catwalk to unveil a pristine white runway.
Some 88 models (comprising of 44 from from China) advanced down the wall through an arched passageway of a tower looming above the runway, as if magically transported from another time. They floated down a series of steps to the sloped runway, which they carefully navigated, backs arched to counterbalance perilously high heels.
The show itself was a combination of select looks from the Spring 2008 collection shown in Milan and an entire mini-collection created specifically for the occasion. It opened with a vibrant red dress and closed 88 looks later with Chinese supermodel Du Juan styled as an empress in an elegant black cheongsam gown.
“It’s our homage to Madame Chiang Kai-shek,” cracked Karl, attired in black tie, mega-high white shirt collar and gentleman’s frock coat.
Karl explained that he "played with circles" to achieve a graceful, harmonious effect. Models wore sheer and semi-opaque dresses over shorts teamed with round-toe strappy heels which Bosworth had tested out the previous evening, declaring they were "phenomenal".
The experimental collection, inspired by Dadaist artist Francois Picabia and echoing the metaphysical dream world of De Chirico seemed an ideal choice of China, especially with its Art Deco semi-precious stone belts and swirl print gowns. One could not help noticing the similarity of the collection’s rainbow patterns and the giant broken rainbow bridges that span so many highways in Beijing, a city whose citizens’ favorite building is the soon-to-be-finished broken arch that is the dramatic new headquarters of China TV network CCTV.
This season also marked the 10th anniversary of the baguette bag (fendi’s it bag created in 1997), invented by its artistic director and family member Silvia Fendi, which became the key item in Fendi’s growth into a star international brand. Luxuriously made, these Mini Maxi Baguettes were unveiled for the first time during the show.
Bosworth, who was wearing a Spring-Summer 2007 shaggy black and white Fendi fur coat over a short black mini skirt, said: "I thought it was incredibly magical. Holding a fashion show at such a historic place, with all its natural beauty and mystery, is nothing short of amazing. I seriously doubt that there will be anything of this magnitude or anything this magical for a very long time."
"Beforehand, part of me was thinking, how can you justify using the Great Wall of China in this way?" admitted Newton, stunning in a yellow Fendi frock. "Seeing the show up there tonight—that is how you can justify it. You could see all of Karl's inspiration in the way he designed the clothes—the beautiful spheres, the belt that was reminiscent of the actual construction of the wall. It was all there, so I felt like it was Fendi's gift back to China…Is this the height of Karl's powers though? I think he should make a world tour of all the great wonders of the world: Pisa, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Sphinx!"
The entire production was said to have cost around $10 million, a huge sum for a fashion show, and a clear indication of Fendi's belief in its future in the country. No doubt Fendi is going to be a major player in the booming luxury market in China, where the Italian label will have 10 boutiques by the end of this year.
Following the runway show, guests were served mugs of steaming hot chocolate. Afterward, they were chauffeured to Beijing’s new shopping complexy, The Village at SanLiTun for a chic alfresco dinner and after-party. The rest of the weekend included a series of diners in Beijing’s hippest restaurants, from the Asian Gothic bamboo palace of People 8, to the remarkable, eccentric countryside banquet hall Green Tea House. Staged in Beijing’s Sanlitun, it featured flag wavers, a slew of local groovers and a ballet performance, where the dancers were suspended by ropes in front of an exact replica of Fendi’s Rome Palazzo. It’s also the image and name of the brand’s latest scent – as I said it was a moment of skillful brand building.
A month later and the fashion world is still abuzz over what was unquestionably the fashion show of the year. The only question that remains now is, what can possibly top this?