East and West. Fashion and art. Designers and craftsmen. Past and present.
These are words that describe K11 Musea’s Savoir-Faire: The Mastery of Craft in Fashion exhibition. It showcases a series of fashion designs from 22 world-renowned fashion houses – including Alexander McQueen, Celine, Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Iris van Herpen, Loewe, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Schiaparelli and Tom Ford – displayed alongside 12 Chinese art pieces from the K11 Craft & Guild Foundation (KCG). Founded by Adrian Cheng in 2018, the Foundation is a registered charity of arts and culture in Hong Kong. KCG conserves and rejuvenates fast-disappearing Chinese artisanship.
This dialogue between fashion and art is the creation of Adrian Cheng, the CEO of New World Development, which owns K11 Musea; and Carine Roitfeld, former Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Paris.
The exhibition is divided into five sections – Atelier Tailleur, Bridal Couture, Modern Reinvention, Extreme Craft and Tales from the Runway. The show celebrates 30 years of iconic fashion design merged with more than 700 years of Chinese craftsmanship.
At the end, there are five themed drinks at the Artisan Lounge – matching with each of the exhibition sections.
Saint Laurent, Autumn 2020
Chanel, 2020/2021 Metiers d'Art
A guangcai porcelain plate
Presented in a black Parisian salon, this room focuses on the mastery of the tailoring workshops behind every couture house – from the detailed crafting of Saint Laurent's purple jacket to Chanel's classic tweed suit. Alongside both designers, works by Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier and Mugler.
Here, one can discover the start of cross-cultural innovation, explored in two waves: the evolution of the women’s suit through recent decades, compared and contrasted with the cross-cultural exchange between the East and West during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), resulting in intricate guangcai porcelainware.
Take the pair of guangcai porcelain plates as an example – a chrysanthemum motif is shown with a blue background.
This modern art piece combines old motifs and new techniques. Guangcai is the fusion of wucai (five colours), a style of decorating Chinese porcelain; and famille rose which has Western influences.
Each petal tells of the artist's novel composition of blossoming chrysanthemums in vivid colours like fireworks in the night sky. The millefleurs pattern with a blue background is rare, and further emphasises the craftsman's exquisite skill.
This chrysanthemum motif represents the Four Gentlemen in Chinese arts and traditions – uprightness, purity, humility and perseverance.
A pair of guangcai porcelain plates with gilt chrysanthemum
Close up of the floral motif
Chanel, Autumn 2017
Mugler, Autumn 1999 Couture
The wedding day is a significant day filled with symbolism.
In the West, the bride is in the spotlight with stunning couture on her big day. Designers in this theme are Atelier Versace, Chanel, Givenchy, Mugler, Oscar de la Renta and Valentino. Each offers an intimate ideal of perfection – whether crafted from silk, feathers, tulle and beads – all interweaving with their Eastern counterparts.
In the East, the wedding day is about showing social status, displaying wealth and sealing permission from parents and elders – expressed through meticulously crafted and precious gifts or ceremonial teaware.
A baibaoqian lacquer children at play two-door closet (top left section)
A baibaoqian lacquer children at play motif two-door closet (top right section)
One object that represents the importance of marriage is an elaborate baibaoqian dressing cabinet, blending motifs steeped in history.
The baibaoqian technique dates back 400 years ago during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). It refers to the intricate wood inlay work comprised of semi-precious materials such as jade, mother-of-pearl and amber.
The children at play theme originates from the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE), which represents the wish for a fruitful family life and many blessed offpsring.
There is a similar cabinet in Palace Museum, Beijing. The Museum says its craftsmanship is rare among the existing Ming dynasty (1368-1644) lacquer furniture.
Chanel, Spring 2017
Richard Quinn, Autumn 2020
Inspired by history, designers constantly come up with new reinventions – taking design and craft to a new level.
This blend of old and new is most prominent in Chanel's robotic figure dressed in its iconic tweed jacket, Richard Quinn's outfit calls to mind that of medieval fashions and Iris van Herpen's polished black dress reminisces of Victorian gowns. Alongside these three designers, works by Balenciaga, Loewe and Schiaparelli are shown as well.
KCG brought three antique pieces spanning nearly 500 years – showing the different interpretations of traditional luodian craftsmanship in various periods.
A luodian lacquer circular box with figural scenes was made during 13th to 14th century China. The cover is inlaid with a scene of a pavilion on a mountaintop, amongst the shades of pine trees, showing an ingenious composition. There are very few box-shaped antique pieces from the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) that are preserved until today, among which are mostly square-shaped instead of round, as superior craftsmanship is required.
A luodian lacquer circular box with figural scenes
A four-drawer cabinet from the 17th to 18th century is inlaid with thin luodian, which indicates this piece originates from Yangzhou – a city renowned for this artistic thin luodian craft. On three side panels, the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar (qinqishuhua) motifs are depicted – playing musical instrument (qin), playing Chinese chess (qi), exhibiting calligraphy (shu) and painting (hua). At the top of the cabinet features a picture of children at play, which embodies the auspicious marital blessing to continue the family line, eternity posterity and high hopes for children to grow up successful.
Another work of art – a pair of carved luodian octagonal boxes – is assembled with gilt frames. This has been a common design in ivory carving in Guangdong Province, but rare in seashells. In the 1760s, the British invented the Spinning Jenny – the multiple-spindle machine during the First Industrial Revolution in Europe. Judging by the fact that these workboxes were exports made by the Thirteen Factories in Guangzhou, it is believed that these workboxes were made around the 1760s.
A luodian lacquer Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar cabinet with qianli inscription
A pair of carved luodian octagonal boxes
A pair of carved luodian octagonal boxes
Richard Quinn, Autumn 2021
(Left to right): Valentino, Spring 2018 Couture; Celine, Spring 2019; Matty Bovan, Autumn 2021
Tales from the Runway
Through the mirrored walls, viewers can feel as if they are enveloped in the immersive worlds of art and fashion in the fantastical designs and hand-painted illustrations alike.
Creativity is limitless, and can come from different types of concepts. From Tim Burton-esque visions to sci-fi fantasies, the works reflect a transformative and abstract journey. Designers presented in this theme are Celine, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Matty Bovan, Richard Quinn and Valentino.
A guangcai porcelain wardrobe island with scenes from Tao Yuanming's The Peach Blossom Spring poem
Left section of the wardrobe
A guangcai wardrobe island featuring paintings that tell the story of the famous Chinese prose poem, The Peach Blossom Spring, is another highlight. The poem was written by an Tao Yuanming, a Chinese poet and politician from circa 4th to 5th century CE.
This is depicted in a contemporary version of the famous poem, where a modern man finds utopia in the beautiful landscape and discovers the joy of a hidden village. It is filled with different animals, people of all ages, imposing houses, fertile fields, mulberry trees and ponds.
Collectively, these works are a vehicle for illustrating the designers' manifestos – they become the canvases on which the designers paint their creative visions. Here, through various materials in different cultures, great artisanship is expressed in multiple ways.
Central section of the wardrobe
Right section of the wardrobe
Plaster moulding lion replica and Viktor & Rolf's designed dress, Spring 2019 Couture
Tom Van Der Borght, Autumn 2020
Tom Van Der Borght, Autumn 2020
This section represents how a designer pushes the boundaries of beauty norms and use of materials when creating a work of wonder.
Visitors can admire the level of craftsmanship, patience and dedication it takes to make each masterpiece – the designer or artisan’s ingenuity in using versatile everyday materials, natural fabrics or the latest manmade materials to articulate their vision and aesthetics.
One highlight is Viktor & Rolf's dress, part of the Dutch brand's Spring 2019 Couture Collection called Fashion Statements. These extravagant dresses were printed with slogans such as No Photos Please, I Am My Own Muse and Less is More. Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Paco Rabanne, Tom Ford and Tom Van Der Borght are also presented in this theme.
Plaster moulding lion replica
The level of craftsmanship is further emphasised with a richly layered plaster moulded lion – a replica from the intricately decorated roof of the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall in Guangzhou, southern China.
The Hall was built in late 1894 during the Qing Emperor Guangxu's reign (1875-1908). It is the largest of its kind in Guangdong Province and is known for its preservation, vibrant colours and exceptional craftsmanship in traditional Lingnan architectural style.
Its roof is decorated with nearly 30 plaster moulding lions, symbolising respect and influence in Chinese culture. Having lion decorations on roof ridges represents the patriarch's high expectations of his offspring – bringing honour to the family and climbing up the social ladder.
But the lion is not simply for decorative features on the roof ridges – they serve a practical purpose. Due to materials used – such as plaster, paper, straw, brown sugar and glutinous rice flour; the plaster moulding structures are able to improve circulation by causing hot air to rise and keeping the indoor cool. In extreme weather, they are able to stabilise the roof by keeping the tiles stacked tightly beneath to withstand severe storms.
On 13 December, an opening gala of the exhibition was held – in front of a glittering evening view of Hong Kong Island. Gala guests, such as Wesley Ng (founder and CEO of Casetify) and Stephanie Au (four-time Olympian from Hong Kong), joined a silent auction powered by Open Heart. It featured handpicked pieces by couture houses and traditional artisans crafted in collaboration with KCG, and will remain available for public viewing until mid-January 2022.
The Ruinart Champagne x Guangcai painting skins called Five Balances, are inspired by a tiger travelling through five elements – mountain (bravery), air (relief), bamboo (combination of work and rest), water (state of peace and comfort) and fire (mental and physical trainings one has to go through). Each skin represents different encounters life might present us with and the state the tiger is in.
Proceeds from auctioned items will help UNESCO and KCG further develop global efforts in cultural preservation.
Five Themed Drinks
To further complement the journey of Savoir-Faire: The Mastery of Craft in Fashion, Artisan Lounge has launched five themed cocktails in collaboration with Fok Hing Gin, a locally inspired gin brand distilled in the UK named after a street in Hong Kong.
Delving into the fusion of tea-drinking culture between the Chinese and English, Fok Hing Gin incorporates jasmine green tea and herbal botanicals in its recipe. Each cocktail is specially created for each dedicated thematic room of the exhibition:
- Delicate Craft – Atelier Tailleur
- The Bold Step – Modern Reinvention
- Floral & Forest – Tales from the Runway
- The Red Glow – Extreme Craft
- Fairy – Bridal Couture
(Left to right): Flora & Forest, Fairy, Delicate Craft, The Bold Step and The Red Glow
Floral & Forest (left) and Delicate Craft (right)
K11 Craft & Guild Foundation (KCG) is a registered charity of arts and culture in Hong Kong. It conserves and rejuvenates fast-disappearing Chinese artisanship to create craft ecosystem. By incorporating Creating Shared Value (CSV) to bring crafts, businesses, and the society together; the Foundation makes crafts more accessible to the community, educate the public with research initiatives and curate collaborations with artisans, aiming to bridge the gap between culture and economy.
Exhibition Name: Savoir-Faire: The Mastery of Craft in Fashion
Location: K11 Art & Cultural Centre, 6/F, K11 Musea
Address: Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Date: 13 December 2021 – 14 February 2022
Time: Daily 12:00nn – 8:00pm (Last session 7pm)
- Monday – Thursday | HK$70;
- Friday – Sunday, Public Holiday | HK$100
- *Free walk-in entry for Full-time Students / Children under 18
Location: K11 Musea, 008 & 008A, G/F
Special Cocktail: HK$158 per glass