Mario Testino’s Beijing Punks

God save the regime

Vogue China launched in September 2005.

Eight years and 1.2million readers later, the title celebrates its 100th edition this month, with 153 pages of beauty and fashion editorial lensed by renowned fashion photographer Mario Testino.

Vogue China editor-in-chief Angelica Cheung told WWD that she believes Testino is one of the first non-Chinese photographers to understand how to capture modern fashion and beauty in China in a way that speaks to the magazine’s audience.

Two stories in particular are knockouts: ‘The Grand Masters’ beauty story starring Tian Yi, with cameos from real life performers from the Peking and Kunqu Operas, in costume. And Frockwriter’s absolute favourite, ‘A Band Apart’ (below), a 10 page story starring Xiao Wen, Tang Xiaotian, River Huang and Tian Yi again, brilliantly styled up as luxury punks. Shot in and around well-known Beijing live music venue Yu Gong Yi Shan, the story is accompanied by a double page written feature entitled ‘Young hearts run free’.

With styling by Beat Bolliger, hair by Christiaan Houtenbos and makeup by James Kaliardos, it’s a fabulously decadent story that, to our eye, takes Chinese fashion editorial to a new place. One which reaches far beyond mere head-to-toe LV and Lanvin-laden aspiration, to tap Chinese youth culture.

China’s punk rock scene post-dates its New York and London equivalents by two decades.

According to a 2012 book penned by former Peking University exchange student-turned-music promoter (and now science teacher back home in Texas) David O’Dell, InseparableThe Memoirs Of An American And The Story Of Chinese Punk Rock, the movement kicked off in March 1996 with a band called Underbaby and was fuelled by the cassette black market.

O’Dell’s is one of a plethora of books on China’s underground music scene that have been published in recent years. Another is photojournalist Matthew Niederhauser’s Sound Kapital: Beijing’s Music Underground (2009), which looks at later bands formed largely in the aughts such as Carsick Cars, P.K. 14, Snapline and Demerit, outfits that benefitted from the internet, as they had little chance of being played on state-controlled television and radio.

At least five recent documentaries have also been produced on the subject, including Beijing Bubbles (2005), Wasted Orient (2006) and Australian filmmaker Shaun Jefford’s Bejing Punk: Banned in China (2008), which was shot in the leadup to the Beijing Olympics. Although one member of punk rock outfit MiSandDao tells Jefford that you’re not even permitted to “speak punk on tv” in China and Jefford claims that the documentary has been banned by Chinese authorities, his website certainly appears to be fully-accessible within mainland China.


More recent reports of an explosion of music festivals across the country would also suggest that pierced rockers may no longer be considered as onerous a threat to China’s single party rule as previously thought.

That said, censorship is obviously alive and well in China, where twitchy authorities don’t just ban bands such as Kraftwerk for having taken part in Free Tibet intiatives, hilariously, they consider Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce and The Back Street Boys to be political subversives.

As for the title of Testino’s punk paean, we’re wondering whether it might possibly be a subtle reference to the Chinese government’s recent histrionics over Quentin Tarantino.

Coincidentally, A Band Apart is the name of Tarantino’s production company. It was named after Jean Luc Godard’s 1964 new wave classic Bande à Part (whose title for North American release was ‘Band of Outsiders’).

Up until April this year and the release of the double Oscar-winning slave revenge epic Django Unchained, Tarantino’s cinematic oeuvre had been banned in China.

After Tarantino kowtowed to Chinese censors and modified some of the film’s content so as to be able to crack the world’s second biggest film market after the US, the film was released in China in April – only to be pulled almost immediately for “technical” reasons.

The fans downloaded it anyway, with the film later re-released with an additional minute of footage clipped.



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