In recent years, Shanghai has played host to a series of glittering international fashion events showcasing luxury brands from the West. But last week the city's fashionistas came out in full force for a different type of runway show.
Held at Lane Crawford's new store in Times Square, Runway Rocks Shanghai was about more than just clothes; models took to the catwalk wearing spectacular jewels and body adornments that combined creativity with art and couture.
A cheongsam was given a futuristic twist by thousands of Swarovski crystal embellishments which hung delicately off the dress like drops of dew.
A bold cape inspired by dramatic chandeliers featured heavy, sweeping chain sleeves and oversized necklaces and cuffs. Another rock-inspired look consisted of a unicorn headpiece covered in multicoloured crystals with a bold pink mane to match.
"It's been 10 years since we launched our first Runway Rocks collection in London, and we wanted to celebrate with a show in China's fashion capital," says Nadja Swarovski, founder of Runway Rocks and member of the Swarovski executive board.
"So we reached out to talents in the Asia-Pacific design community. We invited them to create new commissions to be showcased alongside our archive jewellery pieces from Western talent such as Christopher Kane, as well as new pieces."
Swarovksi's relationship with fashion goes back many decades: its first fashion client was Queen Victoria, who was followed by the likes of Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. In the 1990s, Nadja Swarovski resurrected this legacy by collaborating with Alexander McQueen. In 1999 she established the Swarovski Collective and since then the brand has gone on to support up-and-coming names such as Giles Deacon, Mary Katrantzou, Christopher Kane and Jason Wu, who all used Swarovski products to create daring designs.
Last year Nadja made the decision to look to the East, and began searching for talent across Asia to work with.
"We already had well established links with many Chinese designers. Masha Ma and Huishan Zhang have both been part of the Swarovski Collective for the past two seasons in London. Wang Peiyi has embellished many of his haute couture gowns with our crystals," Nadja says.
"Guo Pei, who is probably China's pre-eminent haute couture and wedding dress designer, has been working with crystal for many years. You could say that these designers were already part of the Swarovski family. Their heritage has resulted in some amazing craftsmanship, as well as cutting edge designs. They have pushed the boundaries of crystal innovation, yet added their eastern DNA to these new creations," she says.
While the show featured new commissions from Giles Deacon and Stephen Webster, the Asian talent was out in full force. Among the 12 commissions, eight were designed by regional names, including Korean jewellery brand Feverish and Antwerp-based Thai jewellery designer Ek Thongprasert.
Indonesian designer Tex Saverio (who designed a dress for Jennifer Lawrence in the new Hunger Games film) wowed crowds with a look that featured a couture gown encased in sculpted metal, crystals, and feathers meant to personify the mythological phoenix.
Swarovski also called on previous collaborators Huishan Zhang (recently awarded the Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize) and Masha Ma, who divides her time between Paris and Shanghai.
"These types of collaborations are so vital. It's nearly impossible to have your own brand these days, so you need to do collaborations like this. They bring awareness [to your brand], and give you the opportunity to discover things you can be involved in outside of fashion. Fashion isn't just about selling dresses; designers need to do other projects to create a world that represents who you are," says Ma.
Her piece, "Shining Tears" was inspired by the Northern Lights and featured a hand-embroidered skirt with chiffon, silk and crystals, and a Swarovski crystal star suspended behind the model.
"Swarovski to me is no longer a product, it's something that I can actually be inspired by. When you go see a new product, you feel very inspired. You have ideas constantly," says Zhang.
Alongside China's rising stars, Swarovski selected veterans such as Wang Peiyi (who created Atelier Swarovski's first capsule jewellery by a Chinese designer - see sidebar) and couturier Guo Pei. Pei is famous in her native China, and has dressed A-listers such as Fan Bingbing and Zhang Ziyi in her fantastical creations.
For Runway Rocks, she recreated an imaginary garden on the moon, which was inspired by childhood stories told to her by her grandmother. The look features a fully embellished ballet tutu and an elaborate headpiece adorned with thousands of crystals, representing an enchanted garden.
"When I started designing there was no such thing as a fashion designer in China. We had to start from scratch and learn how to express ourselves through our work. Twenty years on, it has developed rapidly," says Pei.
We have fashion weeks in some cities, and collaborations like this give us the opportunity to play with our imagination and create more. I appreciate new challenges. For designers and artists it's a great opportunity for us to express ourselves," she says.
To coincide with the event, Swarovski also invited students from Donghua University (where the brand opened a design centre in 2006) to create designs using crystal. The winners' works are displayed in the windows of Lane Crawford. According to Nadja this is just the beginning of many more projects within the mainland.
"Fashion has certainly been experiencing an eastward tilt, and Chinese designers have been getting more attention globally.
"Is China's creativity fashion's Next Big Thing? Many analysts believe that the global fashion industry will soon be driven by Chinese creativity rather than China's economic boom, and there's already a sense that catwalk trends are being driven more by Chinese design talent than by deep-pocketed Asian buyers.
"I think China's emerging designers will continue to surprise us, as they combine talent, training and a deep knowledge of the Western fashion world," she says.Topics: LIFE