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These young women are also incredibly ambitious. When Wan met Dior CEO Sidney Toledano at a recent dinner, for example, she asked him to invest in her company. "Why not?" Wan asks, shrugging and gesticulating so that the tiny diamond-encrusted gold butterfly perched on the bamboo-style ring on her finger trembles. "It's tragic," she says, talking about the ring. "The ephemeral butterfly is a Chinese girl expected to accept the solid bamboo, which can never change. Every piece of my jewelry represents myself and a generation of Chinese women who are fragile yet very bold and crazy."
No word back from Toledano yet, but Wan, who calls herself a communist girl living in a capitalist world, says she can see the day when the luxury-goods trade in China will no longer be a one-way street. "I want to be a brand. I want to make beautiful things that are appreciated by people both here and in Europe," she says. "China has taken on the American Dream: if you work toward what you want and if you are smart enough, you'll get it."
Of course, not all of the young adults have the guanxi (connections) to rival Wan's. Her father is a government minister and her grandfather Wan Li was the chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee. Like Wan, Wendy Ye, 28, an evening-wear designer, also grew up in a privileged world. Her mother was a show host, an honor reserved for the most beautiful and demure, while her paternal grandfather Ye Jianying was one of Mao's top officials and was later judged a hero after he arrested the notorious Gang of Four.
Ye is engaged to an American banker. For their wedding next fall, she will wear a gown of her own designin contrast to her mother, who got married in a Mao suit. "She's so happy for me," says Ye. "Although my dad was a little surprised when I told him I was marrying a foreigner, because Chinese are very proud of being Chinese."
Sipping her Starbucks in Sohothat's Soho Beijing, a chic residential, shopping and office development, which, like its London and New York equivalents, is great for people watchingYe describes herself as a trend setter. She was the first in her crowd to sport a tan, she says, and her acrylic nailscurrently in a black-lace-and-diamanté patternare deemed so radical, her manicurist photographs them so that other girls can copy them. Today Ye is dressed in a pair of skinny pants that she picked up in L.A. ("I've been into supertight for years") and a 1930s-style satin blouse bought locally ("It's not really vintageChinese don't wear old clothes"), accessorized by a black-diamond Chanel J12 watch.
At nightBeijing is a party townYe wears silk gowns by Studio Regal, the label she started four years ago after graduating from London's St. Martins fashion school. Her designs are gaining in popularity among the social set. "Before, if there was a Dior party, people thought they had to wear Dior," says Ye. "Now, no one wants to bump into someone wearing the same dress. The slavishness is finished."
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