PEKING — French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent brought haute couture to China Tuesday with the opening of a two-month retrospective of his work that "astonished" the wife of the country's Communist Party chief.
"To give my art is more important than selling clothes," Saint Laurent declared at the opening of an unprecedented, 200-piece fashion exhibit in Peking's Palace of Fine Arts. "It is a big honor for me to be in China."
The impeccably groomed Saint Laurent escorted several Chinese and foreign invited guests through four exhibition halls featuring 25 years of his creations.
Among those given a personal introduction to the retrospective were Li Qiao, wife of Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang.
The diminutive Li, dressed in a plain Chinese-style coat and slacks, listened attentively as Saint Laurent expounded on designs ranging from 1960s Pop Art dresses to black wool gabardine jump suits and see-through African bead dresses displayed on purple mannequins.
"I think first she was moved, and then she said (through a translator) she was astonished," Saint Laurent beamed after the opening. "She said she was very impressed by this art. She was very moved."
The retrospective, featuring Saint Laurent designs dating back to 1958, was also staged at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for nine months in 1983-84.
Saint Laurent said he brought the retrospective to Peking at the invitation of the Chinese.
"I prefer not to open a shop but would prefer to educate people," the 48-year-old designer said. "China chose me. I have always been inspired by the art of China."
Another famous French designer, Pierre Cardin, manufactures clothing in China for export and operates a Maxim's restaurant in Peking.
Describing Chinese fashions as "very familiar" and simple, Saint Laurent said he hoped the show would give Chinese designers some new ideas. He said he has regularly used Chinese materials, particularly silk, in his designs.
"China is the cradle of silk," Saint Laurent said. "Without China, maybe I wouldn't be here."
A young Chinese design student who attended the opening described it as "fabulous."
"They represent a great change from Chinese fashions," he said.
"Perhaps some of these clothes are not appropriate for the Chinese, but the materials and technology are appropriate."
Western Clothes Accepted
Western clothes of any sort were taboo in China during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and didn't reappear in a big way until only recently. Now, millions of Chinese have chucked their Mao suits in favor of blue jeans, sport coats, ties and colorful dresses.
"Fashion symbolizes the changes of an epoch," said Zhang Tuo, director of China Exhibition Agency, sponsors of the Saint Laurent show.
"China, which is undertaking great changes, is taking steps to catch up in the field of fashion with the tide of its present epoch."