Every year, like clockwork, brides return to the streets of China to pose with their beloved, in big meringues, sometimes a few months prior to D-Day, sometimes a year before. I love writing about them and you can read my first post about the BIG Chinese weddings here, or last year’s there. It is my ‘marronier » and I love doing my Fearless « Bridal Issue » as soon as they appear.
La version française de ce blog est sur Le Monde.fr
Brides are everywhere the second the weather is nice and if weddings are BIG business everywhere, it is perhaps more so in China. The numbers are staggering, as we would expect for a country with so many young people. 16 millions to be more precise get married each year. Each of these lovely loving couple will in turn spend on average €20 000 totalling the amazing €14 billion per year spent. That’s a lot of cakes, dresses, trips and flowers!
So this year, after Tiananmen, 798 and Chaoyang Park, I wanted to find them in a new habitat. I figured i should peek towards the cool Art district of Caochangi on the outskirt of Beijing. What I found was unexpected and nothing short of amazing.
Friends suggested that I find ‘Mona Lisa’ in Caochangdi as a prime source for my hunting. In my mind this meant some statue or local point of interest with Da Vinci famous portrait near by. What I found was a
DREAM FACTORY. MONALISA.
MONA LISA as it turns out is a photo studio. A famous chain of « dream makers » that sprung first from Singapore, then was launched in China in 1995 by an entrepreuneur in Xi’an. It has since exploded into 21 branches spread in all the First tier major cities.
The Beijing Caochangdi studio is enormous. Not quite Cinecitta, but big. And everywhere you look, couples are posing. Mona Lisa is a high-end one-stop full package operation. In comes the comely young girl dragging the well-off but reluctant groom, and out pops a beautiful smiling creature, coiffed and made-up to perfection, dressed in all her glory in an imported gown with her matching fiancé also coiffed and groomed within an inch of his life.
Mona Lisa proposes over 1000 gowns, all (surprisingly for China) immaculate and protected under a white virginal veil. They were all intricate and quite amazing, covered in feathers, crystals, silk flowers, lace… A few were more traditionally ‘chinese’ but most were closer to the Western idea of a « White Wedding ».
Their package is not cheap, at a minimum of 5000 RMB (€600) it exceeds the average salary, and of course, that’s a minimum that will fast double up depending on the numbers of costume changes. Most will pick a minimum of 4 outfits for each couple and a full day in dreamland. Morning is spent « indoor » with the professional beauty prepping and all the various settings, and afternoon « al fresco’ is their dedicated fields of flowers, Cinderella pumpkin carriage, faux Paris and all.
From the « English Castle » to the « French country house bedroom » to « White flowers tree » or the Versailles Alcove. Then outdoor the church steps, Roman columns, country garden ivy etc… My favorite though had to be the POOL for under-water shots, complete in wedding gowns. Sadly, no couple dove in the water while I was there.
The end result will be a massive book, weighting about 8 kilos with laminated images and strange declarations of love in dubious english. ME. LOVE. FOREVER. TIME. PERFECT TEARS. YOUR.
This day at Mona Lisa will bring obviously amazing memories for the brides. Memories of one special day that will remain totally unrelated to their actual Wedding Day. Nor to what marriage will have in store for them. As it turns out, for many of China’s independent bright young women marriage will bring the end of their work ambition or financial independence.
Only for the brave: The pool pictures.
For these images are to be shown and shared but will absolutely no reflect the real wedding which will happen about 2 to 12 months later.
This is how China gets married. It is different, lovely, strange and I love them.
I will see you all next year, my lovely Chinese brides.
Wishing you well.
Thank you for posing and thank you to Mona Lisa Beijing for opening their doors to my camera.
BOND. JAMES BOND.
Traditional Chinese gowns, a colorful but tiny selection compared to the imported white and pastel gowns.