With China swiftly transforming itself into the holy grail for luxury retailers, it's no surprise many have gone East in pursuit. The past decade has seen back-to-back launches, store openings and grand PR events - not only in the biggest cities, but in the second- and third-tier markets as well. With competition already fierce between menswear brands, due to the country's already mature landscape of skilled tailors, many are merely plunging their resources into playing catch-up. Dunhill, with its genuine Asian heritage, is a great exception to the rule.
The esteemed London brand opened its first location in Shanghai 20 years ago, and now boasts some 100 stores across mainland China and nine in Hong Kong - a testament to the high standards the Chinese share with their British comrades. To celebrate this valid back-story, along with the launch of its Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, last week the label staged its most impressive show to date - and that's saying something, considering its recent history of imaginative presentations - at the Silver Hall, a 5,000-seat auditorium in Shanghai's dazzling new Expo Centre.
Codenamed 'Trafalgar', the event was a delightful and poetic expression of Eastern and Western cultures. Virtuoso violinist and Dunhill brand ambassador Charlie Siem led the proceedings with a shivers-down-the-spine rendition of Vaughan Williams's 'Lark Ascending', interwoven with 'Love in Distance' from contemporary Chinese composer Tan Dun and the ethereal 'Hoppipolla' track by Icelandic band Sigur Ros. All the while, 64 kings of the Asian catwalk - suited in Dunhill's covetable travel blazers, reversible macs and fine tailoring - stood, entranced, on a stage, which the thousand guests were asked to imagine as London's Trafalgar Square.
Enveloping these statuesque (this being Trafalgar Square and all) heroes was an imperceptible CGI membrane, onto which whirring animated seasonal imagery was broadcast, incorporating everything from cherry blossoms at dawn to summer starlings at noon and autumn leaves at dusk. As the magical holographic projection took us from Spring to Winter, models subtly responded to the changing seasons with an addition of sunglasses or the turning up of a collar, until the finale brought in a sudden midnight 'snow storm' that circled them - as if they were captured in a giant snow globe shaken into a flurry.
Guests were invited to the stage to inspect the quality of the collection (and the models) up close. Noteworthy, were the classic one-button navy wool suits with peaked lapels, shearling-lined silk bombers, velvet dinner jackets in midnight blue and a travel-friendly blazer that has been devised to pop back into shape after unpacking. The collection also stood out thanks to the use of flannel, which came courtesy of the 250-year-old mills owned by Fox Brothers & Co in Somerset and seven-fold ties in 350-end silk produced by Stephen Walters & Sons. Fittingly, the paisley, polka dot and geometric patterns adorning the ties and pocket squares were created by Adamley - the specialist printers based in Macclesfield, historically the last stop on the silk run from China.
Then a select 300 moved on to the after party at the Alfred Dunhill headquarters, a pair of 1920s neo-classical villas in the city's former French Concession. In the private suites, guests experienced a gala complete with traditional Chinese performances and local art showcases which included calligraphy, paper cutting and opera painting - an apt complement to the art Dunhill brought to the stage.
To see more from 'Trafalgar', including the full Autumn / Winter 2012 collection and making-of video, visit www.facebook.com/AlfredDunhill