Opening China to fashion
Published: Nov 29, 2018 07:18 PM

Fang Fang Photo: Li Hao/GT

French model Maryse Gaspard dances along the Great Wall in a colorful gown during her first visit to China in 1979. Photo: Courtesy of Pierre Cardin

As French model Maryse Gaspard danced along The Great Wall in a colorful gown for a photo shoot 40 years ago, she was surrounded by a group of Chinese onlookers eager to catch a glimpse of foreign fashion.

"You couldn't tell who was a man or woman, because they were all dressed in the same black or blue clothing," said Fang Fang, China region chief representative for Pierre Cardin, the fashion house named after the key figure who helped bring some color to Chinese fashion after his revolutionary visit to China in 1978.

In 1978, the first year of China's reform and opening-up, Pierre Cardin finally stepped foot in the Chinese mainland, a land that had long entranced him.

During his trip, he met with French Ambassador Claude Arnaud and Foreign Minister of France Louis de Guiringaud, who both told him: "You are a great designer admired by many, but you have to realize that China is a communist country and your capitalist style and methodology will never work here!"

Nevertheless, Cardin persisted in his goal to bring foreign fashion into the mainland. During his trip he began to observe the nation and capture its exotic traditions and customs through his camera and sketchbook.

Upon his return to France, he started to integrate the Chinese elements he saw during his trip into his designs. 

With the help of Song Huaigui, the key figure behind the brand's development in China, Cardin held an internal fashion show attended by industry professionals in 1979 at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities in Beijing. As models flown in from France and Japan took to the catwalk, the monotony of black and grey uniforms that shrouded China back then was forever shattered by the brand.

"Thanks to Song, we have been able to hold fashion shows in Beijing's landmark places including the Imperial Ancestral Temple in 1990 and the Temple of Heaven in 1993," Fang recalled.

Fang Fang Photo: Li Hao/GT