Is Shanghai the London of the East?
Alfred Dunhill certainly seems to think so. In China, infusing technology with luxury is no longer a novel concept, but the quintessential British label's amalgamation of architecture, culture, fashion and whispered elegance played out beautifully when the brand unveiled its fall 2012 collection in Shanghai last Friday. Nearly a year in the making, more than 1,000 guests representing a cross-section of the world's media converged at the massive New International Expo Center for an unprecedented moment -- in what can only be described as a dizzyingly dramatic presentation.
Utilizing the 3D mapping technology of Maya, the holographic projections, created by one of the longest single CGI sequences ever made, was pure magic. Only an event of this magnitude could truly allow Dunhill, in existence for more than 120 years, to reinforce its point of view as a brand.
Under the helm of Dunhill global marketing director Jason Beckley, the man who conceived of and executed the project from concept to fruition, 64 Asian models, displayed on a podium shaped like Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, showcased the men's brand collection -- standing as if in a giant snow globe seemingly pulled straight from Trafalgar Square in a simulation of all four seasons condensed over one day. Accompanying the show was a live performance by the British violin virtuoso Charlie Siem (a face of Dunhill), who consolidated the music of Vaughn Williams' "Lark Ascending," Tan Dun's "Love in Distance" and Sigor Rós' "Hoppipolla," complemented by a nine-piece Chinese orchestra.
"This is a brand all about doing things to the very best that they can be done," Beckley reinforced. Indeed, in China, where Dunhill enjoys unrivaled respect and the privileged position of Chinese consumers comprising its top market (40 percent of global sales), the brand operates more than 100 stores. In a twist of irony, markets such as the U.S. and even most of Europe remain untapped gold mines for Dunhill.
As if the virtual bubble engulfing guests wasn't enough stimulation, even the olfactory cues were tended to. A custom scent created by fragrance house Firmenich added to the film noir-inspired lighting to further evoke the freshness of British rain (sounds of birds and crickets also added to the mood).
Despite the lack of a single creative director since the departure of Kim Jones in 2010, the brand is in no rush to find a replacement, according to Dunhill chief Christopher Colfer -- although he didn't rule out the idea during an interview over tea at Dunhill's spectacular Twin Villa Home mansion tucked in a courtyard off of Huai Hai Lu.
The clothes, meanwhile, do not suffer. Gentlemanly designs abound, beautifully layered in true Brit whimsy and class, accessorized with sharp umbrellas and sumptuous leather accessories including driving gloves and wingtip brogues. In the wide range of offerings -- from super-soft cashmere cardigans and meticulously cut velvet jackets to signature flannel suits and fur-trimmed outerwear -- there was no lacking in brand identity. This was romanticism in its most masculine form.
"It's amazing to put on something or to carry something that's properly made," Beckley said. "I think that in a modern, super-fast world, we forget that."