China Fashion Week kicks off in Beijing on October 25th. And thought it’s taken as given these days that China is one of the most important fashion markets in the world, that was far from the case back in May, 1993, when Valentino staged a special fashion show in the once-Forbidden City. The show was part of Chic ’93, the first fashion event sponsored by the government of China, and it saw hundreds of fashion folk from around the world descending on the China World Trade Center in Beijing to hawk their wares and size up the Chinese consumer. At the time, as Sheryl WuDunn wrote in the New York Times, China remained “a country where individuality [was] a pejorative term.” But local mores were shifting fast, and Mr. Valentino was on hand at Chic ’93 to provide some high-fashion inspiration. He and Gianfranco Ferre were the two Western designers invited to show their clothes on the catwalk, with Mr. Valentino showing a clutch of black-and-white dresses and gowns on local models that Suzy Menkes, reporting at the scene, marked out for their particular lithe grace.
Prior to the show, Mr. Valentino was invited to meet with Jiang Zemin, then the Communist Party leader and President of China. After it, he was given a rock star reception, with fans thrusting T-shirts, books and scraps of paper at him to be autographed. “It is very flattering and very emotional,” Mr. Valentino told Menkes, when asked about the reaction. But he got more out of the trip than exaltation. Two months later, when Mr. Valentino debuted his Fall/Winter 1993/1994 haute couture collection in Paris, the supermodels on the catwalk wore pagoda-shaped hats, and jackets with mandarin collars. The China inspiration was hard to miss. And it’s totally unmissable at Wideville, where the décor pays homage to Mr. Valentino’s ardor for all things Chinese. Qing-dynasty ancestor portraits, a collection of Asian ceramics, 19th-century lacquer chests and various European chinoiserie are to be found at the chateau. And as Mr. Valentino recalled to Architectural Digest, when giving the magazine a tour of the home, his China obsession dates back to that first visit in 1993. “I saw a collection of old Chinese costumes,” he said, “and it was one of the great emotional moments of my life.”