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Romeo Returns

A Welcome-Back Party At Joyce Hong Kong

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Romeo Gigli, right   
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After the daytime preview for those legendary Hong Kong clients—the ones who seem to keep a fair bit of the global economy going, and in this case have already nabbed around 75 percent of the collection—comes the evening launch of Romeo Gigli's collection for Joyce.

Yet gone are the days when the Tai-Tai contingent—the Hong Kong spin on the ladies who lunch, or Tom Wolfe's "social X-rays"—might dominate the proceedings in their carefully manicured and branded way. Yes, the super rich are always with us on Hong Kong Island, yet the goals and aims, wealth and borders of the clientele have changed somewhat in the 15 years since the handover from the British. It was the anniversary of this event at the beginning of the month.

"There is a new clientele that has emerged in Hong Kong," says Andrew Keith, president of Joyce and Lane Crawford and the creative driving force behind those stores' decisions. "It really is international and outward-looking and not just interested in going to visit the rest of the world for a branded handbag." Hong Kong has also become the gateway to the mainland over the border—rather than its exit point—and it is those mainlanders who are giving the Hong Kong-ers a run for their money both culturally and in Olympic-level shopping. In fact, a similar event for Mr. Gigli's collection will be held in another Joyce store, over the border in Beijing, in two days' time.

It is in these circumstances that Gigli's collection for Joyce makes perfect sense. The fact that Joyce was one of the original stores to buy Romeo Gigli's clothes in the eighties, together with his extensive knowledge of Chinese art and culture, all went into his careful decision to collaborate. This is, in fact, the first actual collection that he has personally designed in nine years. "Freedom is what is important to me," said Gigli at dinner. "Joyce gave me that freedom."

And it shows in the collection. The familiar silhouettes (delicate cocoons, collapsed bubbles) are there in the womenswear. As are the rich fabrics, those brocades, and streaked silks in dark jewel colors, each combined with the intense signature workmanship. None of it has been softened or curtailed for the store's own brand. But this is not a high-street chain indulging in designer desire, after all; this is a real designer collection with production standards to match.

The dinner for the event was held at David Tang's famed China Club, the corridors of which are filled with that powerhouse of contemporary art, Chinese Pop—including a painting of Whitney Houston split-screened with one of Mao, but signed sweepingly by the songstress herself when she was still alive, according to one of the guests. Mr. Gigli's dinner took place in the library, filled with a collection of first editions about Chinese history and perhaps a more appropriate venue for a designer with a contemplative approach to fashion and a family background in antiquarian books.

This, it seems, is the new China then, one a bit more fragile and branded with a contemplative global view. The guests reflected such, too, including Charlie Casely-Hayford, son of designer Joe, who is also a menswear designer in his own right and is one of the models for the campaign. "I never imagined it would be quite like this here," said Charlie, and for many who have not been to Hong Kong for a while, neither would they. It was left to Andrew Keith on behalf of Joyce and the new China to "welcome back a maestro," Mr. Romeo Gigli.

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