Photos: Courtesy

The latest installment of an ongoing collaboration between iconic fashion editor Carine Roitfeld and K11 brand founder Adrian Cheng, Savoir-Faire: The Mastery of Craft in Fashion celebrates the beauty and power of craft and artisanship from some of the most legendary maisons across the globe. The first of its kind in Asia and currently on showcase at the K11 Art & Cultural Centre in Hong Kong, the multi-brand exhibition also marks Roitfeld’s first curatorial debut.

Besides haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces from fashion heavyweights including BalenciagaChanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Iris van Herpen, LoeweLouis VuittonTom Ford, Valentino, Richard Quinn and Tom Van der Borght on display, the exhibition also highlights rare artifacts from the K11 Craft & Guild Foundation.

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Designed to be both visually and physically immersive, the exhibition promises to take its audience on a fantastical journey. “Throughout history, editors have used the pages of magazines as a canvas to bring to life fashion’s most extraordinary ideas and creations,” said Roitfeld. “By harnessing an editorial approach to the storytelling and visual journey, this exhibition will showcase some of the most exemplary cases of craft in a way that, we hope, motivates a deep appreciation for the history and heart of fashion among the next generation. These young visitors are inspiring the future of our industry, and I hope that our work serves to spark their imagination, creativity, and commitment to keeping fashion’s most significant techniques alive.”

Savor Faire comes after Cheng and Roitfeld’s three-part webinar series, K11 Original Masters, which celebrates century-old artisanship and the art of craftsmanship in the age of social media.

Ahead, the two talk the highly-anticipated exhibition, why it is crucial to preserve and celebrate craftsmanship in fashion, and more.

Savoir-Faire: The Mastery of Craft in Fashion is part of an ongoing partnership between the two of you. How did you begin working together and how did the exhibition come about?

Adrian Cheng (AC): I started collaborating with Carine in 2020 while making K11 Original Masters, our online webinar series, which we developed to showcase age old artisanship to the next generation of digital-savvy consumers, especially the millennials. The K11 Craft and Guild foundation supports, preserves and conserves fast-disappearing Chinese crafts in the Ming and Qing dynasties; Carine is also a big patron of fashion craftsmanship. We found a very strong common mission and vision of revitalising and preserving craftsmanship and thought it would be great if we could cross-pollinate and create an exhibition that showcases the importance of artisanship, while bridging the East and West together. We decided to launch the exhibition in an effort to ensure that the skills are not forgotten but celebrated, inspiring the next generation. I am thrilled to be working with Carine to bring forth a potent illustration of the power in craft and artisanship so we may also collectively celebrate its innovation for the future.

Carine Roitfeld (CR): The concept of the exhibition came about very organically. In the Original Masters webinars, the most recurrent word was ‘savoir-faire’, so we built the concept of the exhibition around this very specific notion.

Carine, how was it like curating your first fashion exhibition? How did your experience as an editor and stylist shape your approach and process?

CR: It was very exciting, and quite frightening in the first place, to be honest. I thought about how I could approach it, and it was definitely to think and curate as I do as an editor. I think this is what makes the exhibition special. It was important to me that this exhibition is not a history lesson in craftsmanship as it would not feel legitimate. I think fashion exhibitions often feel dull, so I wanted this one to feel as alive as possible.

What do you hope to achieve with this exhibition?

AC: The exhibition brings to life fashion’s most extraordinary ideas and exemplary cases of craft, and I hope that it inspires and delights people when it comes to the appreciation of beauty and craftsmanship. I think inspiring the next generation is key, because we really want to give them a chance to understand and be aware of all the handiwork, artisanship and the history behind these works of art. A lot of people have not seen artefacts from the Ming and Qing dynasties, nor have they seen all these beautiful archives from all these international brands and maisons.

When it all comes together, the theme is skills—it’s craftsmanship; it’s also how the dialogue of these two worlds can converse—how they both cross-pollinate each other, how they create dialogues with each other. I hope that young designers and artists will be encouraged to learn about these savoir-faire techniques. Hopefully, the bridging of the East and West—it’s really a cultural fusion of Chinese, European and American craftsmanship—will inspire them to incorporate these elements into their work.

CR: My hope is that this exhibition demonstrates the importance of savoir-faire in the future of fashion. I think many people think craft and artistry are the past; to me, it’s very much the future.

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Why do you think it is crucial to preserve and celebrate the craft/artisanship of fashion?

CR: There can be no innovation without craft. I think that even the most unconventional designers always end up learning about traditional savoir-faire in order to come up with new ideas, as well as elevate and refine their style and language.

What is the significance of showcasing masterful couture from fashion powerhouses around the globe in Hong Kong?

AC: We really want to rejuvenate Hong Kong as a cultural destination with Asia’s first multi-brand exhibition, while motivating a deep appreciation for the history and heart of fashion. Through the understanding of craftsmanship—the transmission of tradition, ideas, and techniques between societies and culture—fashion has been creating deeply collaborative relationships of connection and exchange. Most of the maisons do their own solo, single-branded shows, but it’s very rare that they all come together. We have all the same grounds in celebrating craftsmanship and the beauty of craft, but they don’t come together as a whole.

How is this exhibition relevant to the times we are living in?

AC: It is actually interesting, because it may seem like it’s not relevant talking about the past and handiwork. But then, the paradigm has shifted in the past five years, where people are too digitally savvy. They miss a lot of comfort food and people, and are starting to embrace craft—they miss humanity, right? This exhibition actually celebrates humanity, because these artefacts and craftsmanship have been passed down from many—not decades, but centuries ago. Also, sometimes looking at the past gives inspiration for the future, which makes it relevant. An artisan’s skills has the ability to modernise social ideology—there’s endless beauty and lessons to be learned from things that take patience, perseverance, persistence, and time to create—it becomes modern when it inspires the new generation.

Craftsmanship, being rich and fulfilling, is about skills, expertise, and most importantly, passion. Not only are they works of art, but they also reflect the passion behind the artists. From skill sets, rich stories and history, hopefully we can inspire the younger generations to create and focus on craftsmanship in an imaginative, modern way.

CR: I think this period has pretty much prevented us from making memories—everything feels uncertain. We are also craving for beauty during this time. I hope this exhibition will be an escape for the visitors.

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Adrian, what are your thoughts on the creative talent in Asia today?

AC: They’re a very big market. They’re very creative, imaginative and very avant garde. However, I think daring creativity in a fast-paced environment very quickly disappears as well. In order to anchor it, we need a certain DNA that showcases the beauty of fashion. Fashion is art; it’s no fast-moving goods. We should really celebrate rare, masterful couture.

What can attendees expect? What would you like the public to take away from the exhibition?

AC: This exhibition is unlike any other exhibition hosted at the K11 Art and Cultural Center, which has previously focused on displaying fine art and antiques in Hong Kong. Expect a collection of amazing pieces from the world’s most revered fashion houses as part of Asia’s first international multi-brand exhibition. I hope the public finds it to be a visually and physically immersive experience, and that people walk away feeling inspired by the incredible workmanship and beauty on display.

CR: I hope this exhibition will surprise them and encourage them to learn about these houses, designers and savoir-faires. There’re a lot of short anecdotes in the cartels that I think will help visitors look at the garments differently.

What’s next for Savoir-Faire and this ongoing collaboration?

AC: My commitment to Savoir-Faire remains ongoing, so showcasing such projects in different cities is also my dream. Maybe not just fashion; it could revolve around the K11 Craft and Guild Foundation or anything with the K11 concept celebrating savoir-faire. How do we actually modify or bring the same exhibition to other places? There’s more to come and we’re thinking about it.

CR: I’m very excited to see the visitors’ reactions online—I’ve already started seeing Instagram Stories. It’ll be very fun to see what people like most about the exhibition, what draws their attention, and the questions they may have.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Savoir-Faire: The Mastery of Craft in Fashion runs from now till February 14, 2022 at the K11 Art & Cultural Centre, located at K11 MUSEA in Hong Kong. More information here.

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