No limit to Shanghai's appetite for brands
Sun Hung Kai Properties brought the delights of the IFC - the building and its mall - to the banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai with the opening of the Shanghai IFC Mall last year. Both towers and mall are almost identical to the Hong Kong IFC and were designed by architect Cesar Pelli.
Big international luxury houses have battled to get into the Shanghai buildings. Gucci and Louis Vuitton secured prime spots. Bottega Veneta and Panerai are there, and Bulgari's Shanghai IFC store is its largest in eastern China - yet another sign of Shanghai's luxury gold rush and Pudong's speedy development.
I was there last Friday to celebrate the latest label lured into the building - Italian brand Sportmax, part of the giant Max Mara group. It is Sportmax's first boutique on the mainland - a cause for celebration for any European luxury label these days. I've always found Sportmax's modern, chic, bold aesthetic pleasing. Its sportswear-inspired offerings have, since its inception in 1969, coincided well with the pioneering focus on ready-to-wear that Max Mara's founder had.
At the opening there was a play on both the label's modernity and its history - an important element in the 'currency of cool' in this part of the world. An exhibition laid out a time line for the label and Hong Kong pop star Kelly Chen Wai-lam, Taiwanese celebrity Patty Hou Pei-tsen and Hong Kong fashionista Hilary Tsui Ho-ying were all flown in as special guests.
The huge press dinner was held in Isola (yes, there is one in Shanghai IFC as well, with a similar outdoor terrace). Hundreds of guests then made their way into the Ritz-Carlton hotel, also part of the complex, for cocktails and a bizarre display of body painted dancers swaying to electro remixes of romantic melodies.
Heels stomped down the runway as the models showed a strong autumn-winter 2011-12 collection to the several hundred seated guests. Shiny patent leather trenches, masculine tailored pieces and sensual backless dresses stood out - in shapes complimented by the peplum belts for added silhouette. It was minimalist and bold in moody colours like teal and poppy with flashes of sequins. Six special evening pieces were debuted - exclusive to the new Shanghai store. Big fashion events like this are becoming almost a weekly thing in Shanghai - just the week before, I was there for Shanghai Tang's big seasonal show.
After the Sportmax show, I took myself up to the Ritz-Carlton rooftop bar and reflected on the changing roles of these two cities in Chinese fashion. Perhaps they are like competitive, squabbling sisters who are more similar than either like to admit. The glittering skylines are both impressive, but Shanghai's vast population obviously holds more allure for big brands.
Hong Kong will remain an important shopping destination for mainland shoppers whose addiction to luxury brands shows no sign of abating. But as the focus shifts north, I wondered what will become of Hong Kong's fashion industry? Little good ever comes out of philosophising about fashion. So, after a dry martini 58 floors up, I headed for bed and dreams about backless dresses, shiny leather and peplum skirts.