October saw the zenith of stylish happenings in Shanghai: the biannual Fashion Week. Sadly, Shanghai’s offering isn’t really up there with the likes of Milan, Paris or London – despite an opening show by designer heavyweight/crackpot Dame Viv (and no, I didn’t attend. My invitation must’ve got lost in the post). This is largely due to the fact that it’s government-organised, so unlike the willing parade of celebrities, fashion editors and cashed-up buyers who’d normally make up the audience, you get a load of provincial suits forced into attendance. While a typical front row at New York Fashion Week, for example, might feature an established A-lister (Kate Moss, Anna Wintour, Gwyneth Paltrow), a bright young hipster actress thing (Emma Watson, Dakota Fanning) and someone with money and skinny thighs but zero taste (Paris Hilton, Nicky Hilton), its Shanghai counterpart would consist of a handful of surly officials sweating in shiny, ill-fitting suits and trying to work out what to do with their complimentary graphic-print scarf – plus someone who looks like your ayi. In fact, she probably is your ayi. Guanxi goes a long way in Shanghai, and in addition to washing your socks, she also scrubs the gold-plated toilet bowl of some local authority bigwig – who on that particular night decided sinking a bottle of bai jiu in his local KTV was preferable to getting a first peek at the new collection by Decoster Concept. Meanwhile, the people who actually care about this stuff and can provide new designers with the oxygen of publicity they’re so desperately seeking have to beg, plead, bribe or stalk the PR team for a press pass.
There is one nice thing about Fashion Week, though: the fact it’s held in Fuxing Park, a charming little enclave filled with little old people doing quintessentially Chinese things, like tai chi, walking backwards, clapping, getting into blistering arguments over mah johng and taking their fat, pop-eyed Pekes for a waddle and a wee. The arrival of several huge white tents, an army of photographers and a thumping bass soundtrack has little impact on the habits of a lifetime, hence you get bemused locals wandering into the VIP areas, popping up in the background of fashion bloggers’ ‘street style’ photos and standing round nodding solemnly to a bass-heavy remix of Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). Thinking about it, they’re probably the ones who wind up on the front row, too….
As a matter of fact, I recently have the chance to do a little modelling of my own. When an email from Shanghai’s foremost fashion blogger, a kooky Korean, pops into my inbox, asking me to appear in a street-style shoot (featuring ‘Shanghai’s most stylish people’), I get all excited – surely only a short step to The Sartorialist! Then I find out it’s a footwear shoot. Hmph. Presumably featuring Shanghai’s most stylish toes, ankles and knees. Mind you, it’s still one in the eye for the friend of M-O’s who once told me I shouldn’t wear shoes with ankle-ties, as they ‘don’t do athletic calves like yours any favours.’
The other ‘hipsters’ are a couple of leggy ex-models (which I thought was not at all in the democratic spirit of ‘street style’), Kooky Korean’s handsome Swedish lover, and the Carey Mulligan-esque web editor at a rival magazine, who’s all elfishly cool with a tousled blonde crop and dinky little limbs. I feel like Ugly Betty in my outsize specs, and am left wondering if I’ve been chosen for the jolie laide role. Luckily, Web Pixie is a friendly sort and we’re soon having a grand old time laughing at the mood boards and proposed outfit sketches. ‘What the hell is that?’ screams Web Pixie, pointing at an outlandish, pink feathered creation. ‘It looks like Big Bird having a hot flush!’
Gawking over, we’re driven down to the Bund and in no time at all being shoehorned into our outfits in the back of a van with blacked-out windows, while the surly driver sat in the front having a fag and pretending to read the paper, all the while slyly checking out Web Pixie’s gamine charms in the rear-view mirror. To my smug delight, my own threads are judged sufficiently hip for the first few shots, although they do rather spoil things by cramming a strange peaked policewoman’s cap (apparently very this-season Louis Vuitton) on my head.
The second round runs rather less smoothly. Web Pixie looks on with trepidation as Kooky Korean rummages around in the back of the van to produce none other than the Big Bird-esque creation. ‘This will look rrrreally great on you!’ she pronounces with a beam. I try to hide a smirk as Web Pixie gloweringly shrugs it on, but my triumph is short-lived when I’m suddenly handed a huge, heavy black cloak ‘which will make a great, flowing silhouette.’ Together with my high leather boots, heavy-framed specs and envelope clutch ensemble, the effect is distinctly – nay, unmistakeably – reminiscent of Harry Potter on his way to Potions post-Quidditch match. ’Late again, Potter! That’s 50 points from Gryffindor!’ barks Web Pixie, sniggering.
Suffice it to say that I doubt Scott Schuman will come knocking any day soon….