My personal style signifier is a Chinese-style gold bangle given to me by my brother, who bought it at LaoPu Gold, in Beijing. It is tradition in China to wear one bangle – normally it would be jade but I wear a gold one, as did my mother and grandmother before me. I love gold as a medium, using gold thread in my designs and wearing a lot of gold jewellery. I can feel the power and energy emanating from it.
The last thing I bought and loved was a 400-year-old geisha doll. I began collecting antique Japanese geisha dolls wearing beautiful kimonos because I am fascinated by the fabrics and embroidered detail. I’ve collected between 40 and 50 dolls so far, with many more than 200 years old. They were originally made by Japanese artists for, I believe, their royal family.
And on my wishlist is a beautiful French silk dress from the 17th century that is currently owned by a Swiss collector. It has an extraordinary black sheen obtained by employing an ancient technique that used ivory powder to give it a particular lustre. Since seeing it I’ve been dying to own it, but regrettably it is not for sale.
An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is Kyoto, which is where – on an earlier visit – I began my doll collection. I love the city for its handcrafts and fabrics. I even came across a textile made of wood, which is processed from the bark of a sakura cherry tree – I will use it in my next collection. We always stay at the Yoshikawa Ryokan, which was a private residence owned by Ema Tenko, a master of Chinese poetry, before being transformed into an eight-room hotel. It feels as though you are staying in a private house. From ¥30,000 (about £220) per person per night, kyoto-yoshikawa.co.jp
The best souvenir I’ve brought home is an obi belt, because I was drawn to its intricate use of colour. The obi was one of the inspirations for my Himalaya haute-couture collection, which featured precious gold brocade from China and antique Japanese obi fabric. I like to use textiles that are as ancient as possible to give a sense of permanence to the collections.
The best book I’ve read in the past year is a famous Chinese book about life and health called Huangdi Neijing, which translates as The Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor, an ancient medical text. It is a bit philosophical but it’s very important for me to understand the inner, spiritual person.
The beauty staple I’m never without is Penhaligon’s Peoneve eau de parfum. The peony is an important flower in China and the fragrance is unusual and not too sweet. £144 for 100ml EDP
A recent memorable meal was at Xin Rong Ji in Shanghai, a Michelin-starred restaurant that specialises in cuisine from Taizhou, which is known for its seafood. My favourite dish is tofu fish, which is a type of small fish and not tofu at all. It is served poached and deliciously tender. xinrongji.cc
My style icon is Carmen Dell’ Orefice, because she has a beautiful big heart and a steely inner strength. She modelled for me a few seasons ago and is now 89, but she has not been diminished by time, which I think makes her even more elegant.
The best gift I’ve given recently is a robe that I designed and sewed myself for a close friend’s baby son. In China we traditionally celebrate when a baby is 100 days old, and I wanted to give him my blessings with something I had made specially for him.
And the best gift I’ve received recently is a necklace that once belonged to Coco Chanel. It was given to me last autumn by my New York model-agent Patty Sicular – I believe she received it from a model who was given it by Mlle Chanel. As a Chinese couturier, it is a wonderful connection back to a great Parisian haute couturier.
I have a collection of kaleidoscopes made with glass, metal pieces and coloured scraps of paper. I get lost in their world of pattern and colour. Some are lavishly decorated and others are very refined. The collection includes ’scopes that artists have made exclusively for me, including one by Caomin Xie. I once visited the Kaatskill Kaleidoscope – the world’s largest kaleidoscope – at Mount Tremper, New York, and added to my collection while I was there. xiecaomin.com
If I didn’t live in Beijing, the city I would live in is Bordeaux, where we spent several weeks this year because we couldn’t get home. My husband, two daughters and I stayed in a friend’s château and fell in love with the area, visiting the opera, taking tea in the Grand Hotel and foraging around Antiquités Vivian Morier. A home from home was the Quanjude restaurant, which has branches in Beijing and Bordeaux and serves an amazing Peking duck. quanjude-bordeaux.com
The last music I bought was “Noche de Ronda” from [the compilation] Historia del Bolero en España, which features the 1930s-40s music of Mexican nightclub singer Elvira Rios. I first heard it in a bar on a trip to Mexico City and was captivated.
In my fridge you will find a selection of chocolate and green tea. In fact, we have three fridges, including one for my cosmetics because of Beijing’s humidity, and another filled with Milazzo, our favourite Sicilian wine.
The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a traditional Chinese embroidered yoke that you drape around the shoulders, over a black sweater or an evening dress. I wanted to make myself something that is symbolic of my culture but not necessarily a traditional Chinese look.
A recent find is Caviar Kaspia in Paris, because I adore the delicious combination of potatoes and caviar and enjoy the typically fashionable Parisian atmosphere. caviarkaspia.com
The objects I will never part with are my Moleskine sketchbooks and Faber-Castell pencils. My third-floor studio, where I retreat to design the couture collections, is full of them – it’s a bit messy, but full of stories, as well as my collections of teddy bears, dolls and books.
I can’t do without time – I love to spend hours working with my clients on designs and intricate embroideries. I could never do ready-to-wear.
If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose the streets around Qianmen Avenue in the Dashilan district of Beijing. It is possibly the oldest shopping street in the hutongs, dating back to the 13th-century Yuan dynasty, selling everything from silks to shoes. Liulichang is another favourite street, where antique dealers sell gorgeous silk jacquards, artefacts and jewellery that inspire my work.
If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be an architect or interior designer, because I love the way an environment and its ambience affects the person within it.
Polish women count cost of tough abortion curbs
Even before Poland all but outlawed abortion, Zofia has been thinking about moving abroad. But the near-ban that took effect earlier this year helped her make up her mind: this autumn she plans to move to Prague in the Czech Republic.
“I feel better there, freer, and being a woman there doesn’t make me feel weaker or worse,” she said. “I love my life in Warsaw. But when the [abortion ban was mooted], I thought, I don’t want to live here any more . . . And I don’t want my kids to live here.”
The 31-year-old artist is one of thousands of Polish women outraged by the tightening of the country’s abortion laws which, even before the overhaul, were among the strictest in the EU. Their anger centres on a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal in October last year, which declared that a 1993 law allowing abortions in the case of severe foetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.
The ruling came into force in January, leaving only two grounds for an abortion in Poland: a threat to the mother’s health or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Such cases made up just 2.4 per cent of the 1,100 legal abortions in Poland in 2019.
Hundreds of thousands of Poles took to the streets when the ruling was announced in October, and activists have called for another round of protests on International Women’s Day this Monday. Polling suggests that a majority of Poles back some form of liberalisation.
Anti-abortion campaigners, often guided by their religion in what remains one of Europe’s most strongly Catholic countries, say the change was needed to protect the rights of unborn children.
“An unborn child is a separate person, which has its own body and its own rights. A child must not be deprived of the fundamental right of every human being — the right to life,” Kaja Godek, one of Poland’s most prominent anti-abortion campaigners, wrote on Facebook last month.
But activists say the ruling will force women to give birth to babies with such severe abnormalities that they have no chance of survival. They also say the government has done too little to help the families of children born with disabilities, who receive only limited support.
“I’m terrified because for me as a woman in reproductive age, it means getting pregnant in Poland became dangerous. And I’m afraid for my sister, for my colleagues and friends, for my relatives and for many other women I meet every day as clients,” said Kamila Ferenc, a lawyer from the Federation for Women and Family Planning, a women’s rights group.
“They will be in a horrible position . . . they have lost the possibility to decide freely on their own, because it’s not so easy to have an abortion outside the system.”
In the past, Polish women who could afford it were able to seek abortions in neighbouring countries with more liberal laws, such as the Czech Republic or Slovakia. But with the pandemic limiting travel, experts say women are likely to turn to the internet to buy drugs from overseas that would allow them to carry out abortions at home. Women are not prosecuted for self-managed abortions carried out before the 22nd week of pregnancy.
“It used to be the case that illegal abortions were through surgical procedures by doctors and back-alley providers. Then abortion tourism rose in the early 2000s after Poland joined the EU. Now we are seeing an increase in self-managed abortions, which can be less of a financial and emotional burden,” said Maria Lewandowska, a researcher into reproductive health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Justyna Wydrzynska, from Abortion Dream Team, a group that helps women who want to terminate their pregnancies, said that since the abortion rules were tightened in January, the organisation had received three times the normal number of calls from women seeking help.
“We get around 600 to 700 phone calls a month. Around 100 of them need to go abroad [for an abortion], and for the rest, . . . these are mostly people in need of pills, assistance in taking pills or post-abortion care,” she said.
“Often they are human dramas. Some people approach it in a task-oriented way, others very emotionally. Sometimes it is very difficult.”
Despite the huge protests last year, women’s rights groups acknowledge that as long as Poland’s conservative-nationalist Law and Justice party remains in power, the prospect of the laws being loosened is minimal. But they hope that in the long run, the debate sparked by the ruling will lead to greater support for liberalisation.
“The factual situation of pregnant women is worse. But on the other hand I think we are now on a better track to change the situation than when [the previous government led by the centre-right] Civic Platform ruled and everybody thought everything was all right,” said Ferenc.
“There is more courage in society to speak about abortion. People educate themselves and each other. I think that we now have more solidarity and strength in society to fight for reproductive rights. ”
Hong Kong dropped from economic freedom index after crackdown
Hong Kong has been dropped from a prominent index of the world’s freest economies, underlining growing concerns over Beijing’s tightening grip on the Asian financial centre after it introduced a national security law last year.
The announcement from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think-tank, came as the majority of a group of 47 pro-democracy politicians were refused bail in a case that critics say shows the rapid decline of civic freedoms in the city.
The Heritage Foundation also dropped the Chinese special autonomous region of Macau, a casino hub and former Portuguese colony, from the rankings.
The foundation in recent years has been aligned with the administration of former US president Donald Trump.
“No doubt both Hong Kong and Macau . . . enjoy economic policies that in many respects offer their citizens more economic freedom than is available to the average citizen of China,” the Heritage Foundation said. “But developments in recent years have demonstrated unambiguously that those policies are ultimately controlled from Beijing.”
Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong last year in response to anti-government protests that engulfed the city in 2019.
The measures are part of a clampdown on civil and political freedoms guaranteed to the city for 50 years following its handover from the UK to China in 1997. Authorities are targeting anyone viewed as disloyal to the Chinese government in politics, education and the media.
The Hong Kong government has long taken pride in studies showing its economy to be one of the most liberal in the world, with the city marketing itself as an international business haven given its low tax rates and open port.
The Heritage Foundation last year replaced Hong Kong at the top of its “Index of Economic Freedom” with Singapore, toppling it from a position it had held for 25 years, but still included the territory in the rankings in second place.
The Hong Kong government said it was ‘dismayed’ by the Heritage Foundation’s decision and said it was “politically biased”.
The case against the 47 pro-democracy lawmakers and activists has been seen as a test of whether the city’s legal system can withstand pressure from Beijing.
Authorities charged the group with subversion, alleging they aimed to topple the government by staging an unofficial primary vote to select candidates to run for election to the city’s legislature. Subversion is punishable with up to life imprisonment under the national security law.
The bail hearings, presided over by a judge appointed to oversee national security cases, entered their fourth day on Thursday.
Victor So, the judge overseeing the case, only granted bail to 15 out of 47 defendants under harsh conditions, but the prosecution immediately appealed the ruling, returning them to custody until the appeal hearing takes place.
On top of the usual bail conditions, the court ordered the defendants to not participate in elections or make any public political statements.
Sessions have often stretched late into the evening, including one that continued until 3am before the defendants were hauled back before the court the next day. At least one defendant collapsed inside the courtroom and six others were sent to hospital for treatment.
As they exited the court, some defendants shouted: “Political criminals are not guilty, Hong Kongers will not die!”
Simon Young, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said the treatment of the defendants was “most unsatisfactory”. Jerome Cohen, a Chinese law expert at New York University, said the way the hearing was conducted “makes a farce of procedural fairness”.
Some of the defendants have faced multiple trials simultaneously and were forced to shuffle between courtrooms.
The defendants’ lawyers said on Tuesday their clients had not bathed in three days, forcing the judge to delay the hearing to allow them to wash.
Hong Kong has tight restrictions on reporting the substance of bail hearings.
Hundreds of supporters have queued each day in an attempt to watch the proceedings in person. Many held placards and chanted banned political slogans, risking prosecution under the security law.
Pakistan’s finance minister ousted in surprise defeat for Imran Khan
Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan suffered a major political setback on Wednesday, when his finance minister was defeated in a contest for a seat in the country’s senate.
Khan must now appoint a successor to the cabinet post by June 11 under Pakistani law. The surprise defeat of finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, a respected economist and former world bank official who led the country’s negotiations with the IMF for a $6bn loan, comes amid an escalating campaign by main opposition parties to have the prime minister removed from office.
Elected officials vote to fill vacated seats in the senate every three years. Following the result, the government announced it would “take a vote of confidence in parliament” to prove that the prime minister retained a majority of support.
Business leaders have warned that Shaikh’s departure creates uncertainty over the future of Pakistan’s fiscal policies as the country battles the pandemic’s fallout on the economy.
“Right now, it was essential to give a message of confidence to a range of stake holders within and outside Pakistan on the state of our economy. Now, people will be left asking questions,” the president of a private Pakistani bank told the Financial Times.
An 11-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), has accused Khan of using the powerful military to tip the 2018 election result in his favour — which leaders from the prime minister’s party have denied — and for failing to revive the moribund economy.
The PDM has announced a March 26 deadline for Khan to step down or face widespread opposition protests.
Though some opposition leaders have said they plan to follow up Wednesday’s defeat with a vote of no confidence against Khan, analysts said it was too early to predict his downfall ahead of the end of his five-year term in 2023.
“It’s a major upset for Imran Khan and his PTI (Pakistan Justice Party),” said Huma Baqai, a political commentator at the University of Karachi. “The government from hereon will face further pressure as the opposition continues to step up its campaign.”
The vote count suggested a break in Khan’s PTI party, with as many as 16 party members either voting for the finance minister’s opponent, former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, or spoiling their ballots.
Shaikh’s defeat “will not automatically lead to the prime minister’s downfall. Some PTI members clearly changed sides [for this vote]. But it will be much harder for them to agree to removing the prime minister,” an opposition leader told the FT.
Faisal Javed, a PTI leader, claimed some representatives had been bribed by the opposition. “There has been a major corruption. There has been horse-trading. People have been sold,” he told the local ARY news channel on Wednesday. Opposition leaders have denied this.
The electoral college for the senate consists of members from legislatures of Pakistan’s four provinces as well as the lower house of parliament in Islamabad known as the national assembly.
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