Sparkly, glittering and intricate. The jewels Gènavant is displaying at the China International Import Expo (CIIE) are commanding a curious crowd, but they're not meant to embellish ears or cover necks. The gemstones adorn made-to-order shoes are envisioned and executed by footwear extraordinaire Jimmy Choo and his protégé, third-generation jewelry designer Reggie Hung.
The deluxe collection, with a discernible Chinese flair, was featured at the 2018 London Fashion Week in September and the London-based brand is making its China debut this week at the CIIE, with the hope of tapping into the growing luxury footwear market here.
"We didn't think of entering the Chinese market so soon," Hung told CGTN Digital, but the exhibition provided a "lovely opportunity."
These shoes are made for walking. They just happen to have wings. /Photo courtesy of Li Shiyi
The women's shoe market in China has been expanding at an annual compound growth rate of 8.7 percent over the past five years, according to a report by the China Merchants Industry Research Institute published earlier this year. Sales of loafers, stilettos and everything in between are expected to exceed 260 billion yuan (37.5 billion US dollars) this year, and climb up to 330 billion yuan (47.6 billion US dollars) by 2022.
While coveted brands like Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Christian Louboutin have a loyal following in China, female shoppers in the country are increasingly becoming savvier in their footwear taste and slowly turning to niche names.
When it comes to strutting their stuff, they are now seeking brands that tell a story and running after exclusivity – that pair of pumps that set them apart.
Hung expects this pursuit of individuality in style would lead footwear fashionistas to his label.
"Personally speaking, (I think) bespoke shoes are an upcoming rising industry. People will start to look at details, think more in terms of what they want, and what they don't want," he said.
The jewel in the crown of the shoes – and bijouterie inspired by shoes – that Hung brought to the Chinese clientele is a pair encrusted with 10,000 pink diamonds and created just for the occasion. "Chuncan" or "Splendidness of Spring" is the world's only full-diamond bejeweled shoes, and will set the lucky buyer back a whopping 30 million yuan (4.3 million US dollars).
When pearls meet pumps. /Photo courtesy of Li Shiyi
Other stilettos are dressed up with sapphires, rubies, and pearls among other precious stones, and feature traditional elements reportedly inspired by items dating back to imperial China, including vases belonging to Qing-era emperor and art collector Qianlong and Yongzheng Emperor's teacups.
Gènavant celebrates the craftsmanship and artistry that Jimmy Choo had come to be known for after over three decades of shoe-making.
The Malaysian-born cobbler counted Princess Diana among his private clients, and his namesake brand, with which he's no longer associated after selling his share in 2001, has been worn by former US First Lady Michelle Obama and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton.
Now, Hung is carrying the torch of elegance and simplicity that Choo brought to couture shoes.
"The idea of every single shoe is designed by Jimmy. That's the spirit of it. Jimmy has a really delicate mind about shoes, and that brings me to the jewels. I have to catch up with him."
The pair that will make everyone green with envy. /Photo courtesy of Li Shiyi
Their label gives homage to Jimmy Choo's heritage and is a node to both designers' Chinese roots. Gènavant is a portmanteau of the first Chinese character in 亘古 (gengu), which refers to ancient times, and the French word "avant", or before.
"We always (want to) remember the past, and appreciate it," noted Hung.
The weeklong CIIE, a showcase of China's opening-up policy, got underway in Shanghai on Monday for much fanfare and the participation of over 3,000 companies from the four corners of the world.
What the trade extravaganza will yield in inked agreements and signed deals remains to be seen, but Hung is ready to be swept off his feet.
"I'm waiting for surprises," he grinned.
(Cover: Pumps studded with nearly 10,000 pink diamonds on display at Gènavant's booth at the China International Import Expo, Shanghai, November 4, 2018. /Photo courtesy of Li Shiyi)