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China: Through the Looking Glass

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China: Through the Looking Glass

Cristina Soriano

Last week Ellie, one of my dearest friends, and I ventured up the grand stairs of the Metropolitan Museum to catch the last remaining days of the exhibit – China: Through the Looking Glass.

A spectacular dress made by Guo Pei

A spectacular dress made by Guo Pei

The exhibit was this year’s show (ended on September 7th) at the fabulous and new Anna Wintour Costume Center, and as to be expected, it did not disappoint. More than 140 haute couture ensembles were juxtaposed between ancient oriental artifacts like Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain, centuries old sandstone Buddha’s and ebony screens with oyster shell inlay . Needless to say, the incredible mix of patterns, colors and fabrics quickly satiated my thirst for Far Eastern inspiration.

An all beaded piece by Valentino. 

An all beaded piece by Valentino. 

The fourteen exhibition rooms “explore the impact of Chinese aesthetics on fashion, and how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries” (Metropolitan Museum of Art). It was incredible to see how the designers of haute couture, from Jeanne Lanvin, to Valentino, John Galliano and Tom Ford, were so inspired by dragon motifs and lotus flowers, Chinese silk and scents, calligraphy and oriental architecture.

Look at this intricately carved headpiece made out of cork!!!  

Look at this intricately carved headpiece made out of cork!!!  

And then it got me pronouncing: the allure of the Far East cannot only be attributed to the field of fashion, but to the world of interiors, as well!

East meets West is a concept that is very personal to me – heck, my ENTIRE life IS East meets West! – and growing up in the center of Makati, I remember my parent’s English-country home adorned with chinoiserie: oriental decorative accents like gorgeous rugs, outdoor ceramic drums, intricately carved wooden chests and luscious silk curtains.

For those looking for some inspiration, a peek into fashion designer Valentino Garvanni’s home in Rome is the quintessence of East meets West. The home encapsulates Valentino’s long standing love for China.

“Each of my houses has a difference personality. This one is most influence by my love of China.” - Valentino

 

So, for those looking to employ some Far Eastern inspiration but do not envision wearing a cheongsam or a blue and white porcelain long gown, you can easily incorporate some orientalism into your… home!

 

– Blue & White –

Inspired by the insanely delicate dresses seen at the Met, incorporating blue and white elements into the home is one of my favorite ways to meld beautiful design elements from the East into the West.

 

– Silk & Typical Motifs –

China exported silk for embroidered shawls and for painted garments, curtains and tapestries. You can easily bring the world of China into your home by using beautiful Chinese silk as upholstery, but I especially love the traditional motifs originally used on exported silk. These motifs, like birds, lotus flowers, cherry blossoms and butterflies, remain part of Chinese history, especially in Canton – now Guangzhou.

 

– Pagoda: Moon in the Water –

The exhibition room, Moon in the Water, was the most breathtaking room in the entire exhibit. Lit only by an enormous (digital) moon on the ceiling, mannequins were positioned in the middle of what looked like a serene pond, while visitors walked through pagodas and narrow corridors typical of the Ming Dynasty.

 

–  Scrolls & History Illustrated –

Scrolls, like calligraphy, are rich in history and tell a story intended to be passed to future generations. Chinese calligraphy's shapes and fluid lines, rather than the actual definition of the words, inspired fashion designers, and the beautiful narrative imagery of the scrolls inspired the world of interiors.

 

– Manchu Robe –

The world of fashion engages in a kind of romantic orientalism with Chinese culture, in particular with the Manchu robe and its motifs. Bats, clouds, ocean waves, mountain peaks, and in particular, dragons, are represented as reflections on the spectacle of imperial authority.

 

– Bamboo –

I can’t fail to mention the importance of bamboo in Chinese culture, and although there was not an exhibition room dedicated to the perennial evergreen (but rather the Wuxia – the martial arts hero who’s combat practices are so highly developed that they can access their qi, or life force), I absolutely love incorporating it into the home.

 

 

The Costume Institute stated that the “West often distorts fanciful representations of Asian influences in fashion,” and I would say that it is not only pertinent to the world of fashion but to interiors as well. For me, to be surrounded by a mix of cultures, of customs, of traditions, colors and flavors is imperative – it makes life interesting, even if it is slightly distorted or exaggerated.  

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