As the brand's first large-scale event in post-COVID-19 China, the traveling exhibition enlisted local artisans of the Yi ethnicity to reinterpret the Fendi Baguette.
Fendi "Hand in Hand" exhibition in Beijing.COURTESY
BEIJING — Axi Wuzhimo, a venerable 61-year-old embroiderer hailing from a village in southwest China, has dedicated her days to the meticulous art of needlework.
Clad in traditional clothing of Yi ethnicity of indigo-dyed cloth, featuring delicate embroidery and silver headdresses and necklaces, she is one of the two experienced Chinese artisans Fendi is spotlighting for its first large-scale brand event and art exhibition after COVID-19.
The “Hand in Hand” exhibition, named after Fendi Baguette‘s initiative that calls upon an array of artisans to interpret the signature bag by applying their local crafts, is being held in Beijing as the third stop of a world tour after ones inside the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand’s headquarters in Rome in 2021, and in Tokyo last month.
Now the exhibition, co-curated by Fendi, singer Ji Ke Junyi and art collector Kylie Ying, has come to Temple Beijing, a renovated Qing dynasty Buddhist temple that has become a trendy rendezvous near the landmark Forbidden City.
The 36,700-square-foot space brings together traditional Chinese elements and contemporary art, just like the exhibition itself, which opened Tuesday. Eighteen celebrities — including brand spokesperson Zhang Ruoyun and ambassadors Tang Yixin, Xu Guanghan, Xu Kai, Song Zu’er, and Tan Zhuo, as well as Chinese-American actress Joan Chen, and actress Angelababy — attended the opening reception.
The Fendi “Hand in Hand” exhibition is located at Temple Beijing, which opened on Tuesday.ANLEI
Open to the public until June 16 for free, the exhibition is a significant move to reconnect with local consumers and also engage in cultural exchange, experts say.
“[Luxury brands] in general haven’t done many branding activities over the past three years; Fendi has seized the opportunity to showcase these exhibits that exude sincerity,” said Angelica Cheung, the founding editor in chief of Vogue China who joined Sequoia Capital China as a venture partner in early 2021.
“The crossover between Italian and Yi ethnicity’s intangible cultural heritage yields a handbag that’s truly unique, which makes ‘Hand in Hand’ a great case that balances creativity and business growth,” she said at the opening event.
The Fendi Baguette recreated by Axi Wuzhimo of the Yi ethnicity in China.
China-Italy relations have always been controversial, said Andrea Fenn, chief executive officer at Adiacent China, which predominantly helps Italian brands enter the world’s second-largest consumer market. “Italy has a genuine fascination and admiration of Chinese history and culture,” he said, adding that he’s been seeing cultural exchanges happening on the ground in China, including exhibitions featuring self-portrait masterpieces from Florence’s Gallerie degli Uffizi in Shanghai and Beijing.
“However,” he pointed out, “there’s always some resentment towards China from Italy based on perceived threats in terms of manufacturing and immigration.”
China-Italy’s official ties also have soured with the election of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who may pull Italy out of China’s Belt and Road Initiative investment pact before 2024, as Bloomberg reported. It was set in place by her predecessor to increase exports to China.
But the congenial atmosphere and respect for mutual parties at the opening of the exhibition was the opposite of any broader tensions.
Wuzhimo and LeGushari, whose family is known for silver jewelry-making skills that have been passed down to the 14th generation, highly praised the Italian counterparts and vice versa. They communicated via two interpreters: from local dialect to Chinese to English, and then to Italian, but the language barrier didn’t stop the appreciation and admiration for each other’s work, which transcended boundaries.
Wuzhimo, speaking through her son as an interpreter, acknowledged: “Our embroidery is exquisite, yet our techniques differ.”
“We know the importance of the hours we spend working and we are all passionate about our work,” said Elena Ciarrocchi, one of the two Italian artisans who traveled to Beijing from the Marche region.
Delicate embroidery created by experienced Chinese artisans featured at the exhibition.
“Hand in Hand” has two main exhibition spaces for the Baguette and Peekaboo, both iconic and highly recognizable handbags in China that were created by the brand’s artistic director of accessories and menswear Silvia Venturini Fendi, in 1997 and 2008, respectively.
Stepping through the exhibition’s entrance, visitors find themselves in the front hall, which is dedicated to the Peekaboo bag.
An area in the “Hand in Hand” exhibition dedicated to Fendi’s Peekaboo bag.
Within this space, three new Peekaboo bags customized by local contemporary artists Lu Pingyuan, Ni Youyu and Chen Fenwan are unveiled. The new handbags are alongside special collaborations by international designers, artists and celebrities including the late architect Zaha Hadid, singer Adele, actress Angelababy, Olympic diving champion Guo Jingjing, designer Chris Wolston and artists Liang Yuanwei, Oscar Wang and Tim Yip.
Proceeding beyond the front hall, visitors are greeted by a contemporary art installation of a circle of men, squatting with serene smiles and seemingly deep in thought, followed by a tranquil pond delicately nestled beside a wall proudly adorned with the Fendi logo.