Of all the gilded castles, the luminescent scenes we encountered in China, my favorite stop of all was the Beijing headquarters of designer Bao Bao Wan. Considered China’s first socialite and one of the most internationally known figures on the country’s social scene, she is the the daughter of Wan Li, former chairman of the National People’s Congress and one of the most recognizable figureheads of Communist leadership. Bao Bao spent the early years of her life living within the confines of Beijing’s presidential compound, and indeed, the mansion that is home to her showroom today could easily be mistaken for the royal palaces of yore. While a nostalgia for her youth can certainly be seen in her jewelry designs, she eschews many of China’s deep-seated traditional mores, especially as they pertain to women’s roles in society. It’s still a place where, more often than not, girls are groomed for marriage over careers. Bao Bao sees fashion as one way of rebelling against that old-world rigidity. As a descendant of one of the country’s most influential families, everything she does is keenly dissected by local gossip columns, and she gives them plenty of fodder, living like a liberated woman in clothes that demand to be noticed. Her jewelry too insists upon attention. Like the pieces I so loved at Dickson Yewn’s store, Bao Bao Wan’s work plays on traditional Chinese tropes, but does so with a thoroughly modern mindset. By way of explaining this duality, she states: “Every piece of my jewelry represents myself and a generation of Chinese women who are fragile yet very bold and crazy.” It’s an interesting moment in this country’s history, and Bao Bao is using jewelry to express those tensions artistically. |ABOVE + BELOW| La Brise de La Danse bangle, crafted from 18k gold and an endless array of colored diamonds Bao Bao left China at 15 years old, to study first in the United States and later in Paris. She was the first Chinese woman to debut at the esteemed Crillon Ball. Now based primarily out of Hong Kong, her international education is reflected in her fearless approach to life and work, and in the French names given to each of her jewelry collections, even those most influenced by her youth in China. |ABOVE + BELOW| La Maison de Mon Enfance necklace, inspired by the architecture of the designer’s childhood homes |ABOVE + BELOW| Koi fish swim in Bao Bao Wan’s Beijing gardens, while diamond-headed seahorses dance around her red jade earrings China is leading the race into the future in so many ways, but it still seems to struggle with how best to address its past. I would love to see real idealogical progress made, but hope that the elegance of its aesthetic traditions will not be lost in the fury for modernity. It seemed to me that Bao Bao Wan’s work well reflects this ethos, from an extremely insider’s perspective. I love that she is making fine jewelry that is unstuffy and exciting, using traditionally esteemed materials like gold and jade in ways that feel simultaneously fresh and distinctively Chinese. Diving into the distinctive visual world of this designer was a sensory experience that will forever live at the forefront of my memories of adventuring in China! |WEARING THROUGHOUT| Primary dress, Joie shoes, Bao Bao Wan Fine Jewelry |PHOTOGRAPHY| by Zachary Lynd |IN COLLABORATION| with LoveGold
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