Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents - Pho­tographed by MATTHIEU SALVAING

Kevin Kwan meets the next gen soak­ing up fashion fin­ery.

Iwas sit­ting on a min­i­mal­ist white bench in the mid­dle of a glow­ing white box pavil­ion that had been built amid the splen­dour of the for­mal gar­dens sur­round­ing the Musée Rodin in Paris. this was the ethe­real set­ting for the Dior haute cou­ture A/W 2018 show, and as I sat there think­ing I must be in heaven, a woman leaned into my face and im­pe­ri­ously de­manded that I move. She wore ca­nary di­a­monds the size of small lemons and a cham­pagne-coloured cocktail dress, and she looked like she had spent at least four hours in her makeup artist’s chair. “you are in my seat! You need to move more to the left,” she im­plored. I told her as po­litely as I could that there was no pos­si­ble way I could move an­other mil­lime­tre, as I was al­ready prac­ti­cally in the lap of the friendly Aus­tralian woman next to me. But this lady stand­ing over me, whom I sud­denly recog­nised as the wife of one of the rich­est men in Asia, wouldn’t take no for an an­swer. She had two planes, a dozen houses and her own pri­vate mu­seum, I be­lieve, and she wanted her seat. a flurry of at­ten­dants came to sort out the fra­cas, where­upon it was re­vealed that Madame had made a mis­take after all. This was not her seat; she was ac­tu­ally in the row be­hind. wel­come to the land of haute cou­ture, where even all the money in the world can­not buy you a front-row seat.

“Haute cou­ture,” yves Saint Lau­rent fa­mously said, “con­sists of se­crets whis­pered from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.” the leg­endary de­signer was re­fer­ring to the ar­ti­sans who cre­ate all the hand­sewn bits of exquisite­ness that go into ev­ery cou­ture dress, but his words could ap­ply just as well to the women who wear the gowns. Cou­ture oc­cu­pies the up­per­most strato­sphere of fashion. It is the holy of holies, as only about 2000 women glob­ally are for­tu­nate enough to wear th­ese pre­cious gar­ments tai­lored to their ex­act mea­sure­ments, mak­ing it per­haps the most ex­clu­sive club in the world. It is the women of Asia who are be­gin­ning to dom­i­nate this rar­efied mi­lieu.

When my first novel, Crazy Rich Asians, was pub­lished in 2013, many read­ers were as­ton­ished to learn that in Asia there were women who dressed in cou­ture from morn­ing till night. they were par­tic­u­larly cap­ti­vated by the char­ac­ter of Astrid, the beau­ti­ful heiress from Sin­ga­pore who was al­ways im­mac­u­lately at­tired in the lat­est cou­ture looks. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked whether women like Astrid truly ex­ist, but I would al­ways an­swer that, as a child in the late 1970s, I per­son­ally knew women who took the Con­corde from Sin­ga­pore to Paris via London twice a year for their cou­ture fit­tings and that Queen Sir­ikit of Thai­land had been par­tial to Bal­main since 1960. I have pic­tures of my grand­mother from the 1920s and ’30s in avant-garde dresses that looked like they could have come from the House of Worth or Lu­cien Le­long. She would never say if they were cou­ture, but I do re­call her telling me, “all my clothes and shoes came from Paris.”

My grand­mother’s be­hav­iour is sim­i­lar to that of many Asian women who come from fam­i­lies who have dressed in cou­ture for gen­er­a­tions: they tend to be in­tensely pri­vate about it.the cou­ture houses like­wise re­main as silent as the Sphinx, never dis­cussing their clients, so a fas­ci­na­tion re­mains.who are th­ese women who wear cou­ture, who would buy a dress that costs more than a Range Rover? In July, I was lucky enough to get a peek into this in­ner sanc­tum by ac­com­pa­ny­ing four dis­tinctly stylish women from Asia who are reg­u­lars at the cou­ture shows.

The first show I at­tended was Schi­a­par­ I ar­rived at the Palais Garnier to meet Heart Evan­ge­lista, a swarm of pa­parazzi de­scended on us like lo­custs. Heart hails from a Filipino-chi­nese clan that founded the Bar­rio Fi­esta food em­pire and is mar­ried to Fran­cis Joseph “Chiz” Gue­vara Es­cud­ero, a mem­ber of the Philip­pine Se­nate who was a lead­ing can­di­date for vice-pres­i­dent two years ago. But her il­lus­tri­ous so­cial stand­ing isn’t the only rea­son the pho­tog­ra­phers were click­ing away: Heart also hap­pens to be one of the most pop­u­lar ac­tresses in the Philip­pines. It didn’t hurt that in her round tinted sun­glasses and se­quined om­bré dress she looked like a mod­ern-day in­car­na­tion of Au­drey Hep­burn. Im­ages of her went vi­ral be­fore the fashion show was even over, with her fans fu­ri­ously spec­u­lat­ing about why she was in Paris and whether she might be in the Crazy Rich Asians film.

As the mod­els came bil­low­ing down the cat­walk be­neath the opera house’s glit­ter­ing chan­de­liers and Belle Époque fres­coes, I could see how Heart con­nected in­tu­itively to the fashion with an artist’s eye. “ev­ery time I go to the cou­ture shows, it in­spires my art,” she told ac­com­plished painter who has hosted sev­eral sold-out ex­hi­bi­tions, Heart landed on a sur­prise hit when she be­gan paint­ing on Her­mès hand­bags. “i had an or­ange lizard-skin Birkin bag and I was eat­ing french fries at Chili’s, and I didn’t re­alise I was get­ting grease all over the bot­tom,” she says. “i tried to clean it, but it was just im­pos­si­ble to fix, so I thought, Why don’t

I paint on it? I sketched a yel­low bird on a branch of flow­ers, and peo­ple started rav­ing about it. A lot of women have their bags stained some­where — one woman’s daugh­ter had scrib­bled all over her Birkin — so all th­ese clients started com­ing to me and ask­ing, ‘Can you paint on my bag?’” Heart’s be­spoke Birkin bags now have a cult fol­low­ing.

Speak­ing of cult fol­low­ings, few de­sign­ers have es­tab­lished a group of fans as de­voted as Gi­ambat­tista Valli. “Cou­ture is at its essence about the fan­tasy, and Gi­amba re­ally brings it to life,” Feip­ing Chang said in the car on our way to his show at the Pav­il­lon Gabriel. Feip­ing epit­o­mises a cer­tain breed of in­ter­na­tional Asian that is a hy­brid of East and West. A na­tive of Tai­wan, she grew up in Syd­ney and Sin­ga­pore be­fore mov­ing to New York, where she worked as an in­vest­ment banker after get­ting a de­gree at NYU’S Stern School of Busi­ness. when a friend in­vited her to join her fashion in­vest­ment fund in Hong Kong, Feip­ing jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with her true pas­sion. “Fashion has al­ways been in my blood,” she says. “My grand­mother only wore Chanel and Es­cada, and as a lit­tle girl I would play around in her closet. She was su­per in­tim­i­dat­ing and had this mys­ti­cal aura about her, so I al­ways thought, Wow,

I want to look like her.” Feip­ing’s ar­rival on the Hong Kong scene co­in­cided with the rise of fashion in­flu­encers on so­cial me­dia, and be­fore she knew it agents and brands were ap­proach­ing her.

To­day, Feip­ing is one of Asia’s top In­sta­gram fashion stars. Her wed­ding on Capri to fi­nancier Lin­coln Li be­came one of the most talked-about nup­tials of 2017, as fashion and wed­ding blog­gers alike went wild over the breath­tak­ing pic­tures of Villa Ly­sis blan­keted in wild­flow­ers, with Feip­ing pos­ing on the mar­ble stair­case in cas­cades of white tulle by Gi­ambat­tista Valli. Feip­ing com­mis­sioned sev­eral cou­ture gowns for her wed­ding, and at to­day’s show it looked as though she was about to com­mis­sion a dozen more. As a model in a ma­jes­tic ex­plo­sion of pale green tulle stalked slowly across the stark, airy space like

“Wel­come to the land of HAUTE COU­TURE, where even all the money in the world can­not buy you a front-row seat.”

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