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Fashion forward: Vivienne Westwood takes on climate change in China

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Georgina Wilson-Powell

9 February 2017

Legendary fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood has taken the climate change fight to China, with a co-curated exhibition called Get A Life! at the Shanghai K11 Art Mall. It features some of the hardest hitting work from her ‘Save the Rainforest’ and ‘Mirror the World’ campaigns and invites Chinese artists to respond in kind. We talked to the orchestrator Adrian Cheng about this first for China.

You might not know the name Adrian Cheng but to many he represents the new face of China. A cultural entrepreneur, he is as concerned with western art, fashion and everything in between, as he is with his motherland’s own creative output. And as the scion of a property and retail dynasty worth billions, he has the financial clout to make things happen.

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Cheng is thought to be one of the top 200 art collectors in the world

Things like creating his own art gallery and foundation, K11 in Shanghai, which organises hundreds of events, supports local artists and sells bespoke work through a curated lifestyle shop (all of which can be found in his own shopping mall, the K11 Art Mall). K11 is just part of his empire, but Cheng is determined that his entire operation will go green to lead the change he wants to see.

“K11’s core vision is art, people and nature,” he says. “We’ve held campaigns and activities to promote eco-fashion for many years and we’ve also sponsored University of Hong Kong students since 2009 to visit exotic destinations, learn about conservation and share this with the general public.”

He met Westwood years ago but and was inspired by the designers’ unwavering support for climate change action so decided to host a one off retrospective of her most environmentally minded work in Shanghai.

“The Get A Life! installations intend to pose questions and prompt thought-provoking debates around Westwood’s inspiring journeys in design, art and activism, and whether this can motivate China and the rest of the world towards a more sustainable future” he explains. “We want to inspire people to talk more about the interconnecting relationships between fashion, art and the world in which we live.”

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“I believe Chinese millennials – in fact, millennials in general - have a huge appetite for learning and an insatiable curiosity”

While China hasn’t exactly been known for its sustainable stance so far, the country is ripe for change, with cultural pioneers like Cheng introducing a new way of thinking to a growing middle class.

“I believe Chinese millennials – in fact, millennials in general - have a huge appetite for learning and an insatiable curiosity. They are going through a paradigm shift in which they wish to consume not just materials, but also culture, art and good content, so it is a matter of curating the materials in the most thought-provoking ways,” Cheng says.

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Westwood's exhibition takes in fashion, art, photography and good old fashioned activism

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He feels passionately that education is the key to changing perceptions around climate change and encouraging the smaller actions in everyday lives that lead to big shifts, so he’s starting as young as he can with a series of children’s workshops. 

“We are hosting a series of workshops entitled SUPER KIDS: When Vivienne Westwood Meets Little Tour Guides,” he explains. “Instructors - including teachers, curators and a chef - will give young participants an in-depth tour of the exhibition, highlight Vivienne’s work and creative process and introduce Chinese-Western fusion cuisine. At the end of the series, these participants, aged between six and 14, will become ‘tour guides’ for their parents and friends. It is a very interactive way to get our next generation interested in art, culture and eco-friendliness."

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There are six themes to the exhibition which pulls togethers Westwood's work over the last few decades

Westwood’s exhibition will also be supported by a series of talks and workshops for adults at K11 and another exhibition that highlights up and coming Chinese artists who have made pieces in response to the idea of Gaia and sustainability.

“We are hosting over 20 talks, workshops and tours traversing topics such as sustainable design, recycling materials and mending fashion pieces - all under the theme of Eco-Friendliness x Fashion,” explains Cheng. “I believe that in raising awareness via fashion and art, we are able to promote change.”

Change is what Cheng is about and so far this 30 something billionaire has been incredibly successful at it – from recreating what a shopping experience can mean for the masses to disrupting the Eastern art world. Let’s hope he’s just getting started with climate change.