“When I think of China I promptly think of the iron pavilions of the Canton Fair that I visited in the mid 1970s.
What comes to mind are visions of the pink and azure nuanced sky, the bustling figures clad in dark blue, gray, army green.
They are vivid memories that I hold within along with the eternal image of the magnificent China in red and gold emerging from stories I have read about a fantastical past that, through subtle reminiscences and echoes, leads to the heart of the East”.
Almost twenty years later, in May 1993, Gianfranco Ferré took part in a major fashion event: “Chic ’93” organized by the China International Fair for Investment and Trade at the China World Trade Center in Beijing, where he presented a synthesis of his style, a perfect balance of opulence and rigor, ostentation and severity in the thoughtful elaboration of a sophisticated idea of luxury for the Chinese woman.
“The ‘lesson’ of the East enabled me to finetune the principle of opulence and luxury, rethinking the concepts simply by focusing on doing away with the superfluous, redundancy...
... and this ‘mal d’Oriente’ resurfaces in my fondness for warm, bold colors and for pure materials - as in the vibrant reds and rich brocades of Imperial China...”
For Gianfranco Ferré color is very much a matter of memories and impressions, too.
In 1979, in front of the Chinese Consulate in New York City...
“I discovered color: against a perfectly vivid blue sky a gorgeous red flag flew as if in a dream. And I imagined a Chinese dragon in a fantastical Orient. The vision made a deep impression on me - and ever since, in my eyes, this shade of red has symbolized motion”.
Also through travel, Gianfranco Ferré finds inspiration for his reflections on color and shape: “Behind the use of a color - explaining and motivating it - there must be a specific function, a meaning”.
He uses red extensively when he wants to endow the female body with a sense of magic, modern beauty; sparingly, when he wants to assign to red the role of striking symbolic element.
The distinct linearity of the wrap dress with short train is heightened by the richly saturated shade of pure lacquer red. Adding to the beauty of the dress is the chunky gold cord soutache ornamentation. Complete with lacquering, it forms spirals that decorate the asymmetric armholes and edge the open back.
The qipao is a common Chinese type of dress first popularized by Manchurian women in 1644.
Gradually the style evolved and, thanks to the practical tube shape, took a solid place in the sphere of traditional clothing. Today women wear the dress on formal occasions. While not explicitly referencing the style, Ferré did keep a memory of its inherent sensuality: ideal for accentuating the feminine silhouette, here ennobled by the gorgeous red color and by the gold decors on sleeves that call forth the sweeping curvature of pagodas...
The traditional men’s garment - now worn in black for formal occasions, with only the original Korean collar intact - derives from the changshan, introduced into China during the period of the Manchurian Qing dynasty. Through the ages it evolved to the point of becoming the Mao jacket. As in: utter simplicity, exquisitely classic style, a cut above all fashion trends.
To exalt and ritualize the essence of black, as is commonly the case with the main female characters in Chinese theater, face and forehead of the models were whitened with a substance similar to ceruse. This tends to give the face a distinct oval shape - a “duck egg face” is what it’s called in China.
Across the span of two thousand years, makeup slowly and craftily came up with the concept of small lips in a brilliant shade of red. Here the same color gives definition to accessories.
Along with red, yellow, white and black, blue is one of the "orthodox" hues in that imposed by the rules of tradition. Once upon a time reserved only for imperial palaces, weapons and items of clothing, all of the five are pure basic colors. Now blue, which is obtained with the same cobalt aluminate that’s used in making porcelain, is a symbol of important social roles. It’s also a symbol of immortality, silence and the soul.
Blue is not one of the hallmark colors of Ferré fashion. Rather, it serves to reference that sense of "elsewhere in the world" linking the designer to places and things which were a precious part of his travel experiences. Not insignificantly, blue works wonders in enhancing the power of form, as in the exuberant swirl of this bias-cut fabric.
In the Land of the Dragon we can find a link between architecture and fashion, which is one of the "lesser" arts.
This connection emerges in shapes and colors... and also in the decorative motifs finely ornating fabrics, buildings and many other art forms underpinning the richness of China’s cultural heritage.
Steps in the historical evolution of traditional Chinese costumes often had the connotation of changes in fashion - yet not in the modern sense of the term, for mutations were clearly the result not so much of passing fancies as of practical motives and symbolic functions. According to official code rules, the costume had to correspond to particular standards regarding textiles, colors, styles, accessories and occasions of use.
Rich with symbolic signs and references, the fabric defined the true fashion element.
By pursuing keen textile research and by making the fabric the effective emblem of his designs, Ferré follows in the spirit of this tradition.
According to what Confucius wrote in one of his books, we can thank Empress Xi-ling-shi in China, 2700 B.C. ca, for the first silkworm cultivation and for the first spinning of silk.
Two friars from the Order of Saint Basil whom Justinian sent to China in 552 A.D. were subsequently the ones to bring the eggs of the bombyx mori back to Constantinople, hidden in the hollow of their bamboo canes.
The long story of the Silk Road intertwines with the history of China. The oldest commercial route between East Asia and the Mediterranean basin sparks images of caravans transporting valuable spices and precious goods. In Gianfranco Ferré mere mention of the legendary road evokes the idea of a dialogue between cultures, the same which we then find in his designs where fanciful moods and otherworld silks take on a modern-day allure.
From immemorial time, a powerful five-clawed dragon, with the phoenix, symbol of the imperial family, has snaked through ever fabulous brocade. Here it appears in blue camaieu form — or the monochrome technique which originated in France in the second half of the 16th century to imitate the decorations of Chinese porcelain.