EXCLUSIVE: Gong Li Fronts W China Launch Issue

SHANGHAIW Magazine made its China debut on Monday with a cover story fronted by Gong Li, the 57-year-old Chinese film star.

Lensed by Feng Hai, the editorial shows Gong going about her busy life in Paris and also features French actress Isabelle Huppert in one version of the cover art.

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Mix Wei, W China’s editor in chief, said the aim of the black-and-white editorial was to show “familiar scenes from her[Gong’s] life outside of the limelight, as a normal person.”

W China’s cover story featuring Gong Li.
W China’s cover story featuring Gong Li.
W China’s cover story featuring Gong Li.
W China’s cover story featuring Gong Li.

“We wanted to document this point in time when we finally took off our masks and started to embrace the world. It feels both familiar and unfamiliar,” Wei said in an exclusive interview.

“You start to question what was put to a halt for the past three years. We are still relearning how to relaunch into normalcy and begin again,” Wei explained. By working with Gong, Wei’s longtime collaborator, he wanted to create nuanced imagery that “will get people talking again.”

Mix Wei
Mix Wei

Founded by WWD’s legendary publisher and editorial director John B. Fairchild as a spin-off from WWD in a newspaper-sized format, the oversize fashion glossy W was later owned by Condé Nast and Future Media before being acquired by a joint venture formed by Bustle Media Group, Mic and W Media in 2020. In addition to China, W’s South Korean edition launched in 2005 under license with Doosan Group.

W Magazine’s Chinese edition is published by MC Style Media, a Beijing-based media company owned by Chinese apparel giant Heilan Group and independent investors.

MC Style Media is also the publisher of Marie Claire China.

Laying out the template for W China, Wei said the fashion glossy would prominently profile leading industry figures “with a sense of lightness.”

“W has always been known for its coverage of industry big shots, be it celebrities, stylists or writers. They have very much proved themselves in the industry. In China, the creative industries went through a period of ‘trying too hard,’ so I want to bring a sense of ease. As if the clouds have passed and a light breeze is blowing in your face,” Wei said.

For its launch issue, “The First Issue,” W China hosted conversations between celebrities such as actresses Joan Chen and Kara Hui, singers Sally Yeh and Sammi Cheng, and CCTV hosts Zhou Tao and Ni Ping.

“Sammi and Kara both experienced a lot of ups and downs in their lives after dealing with mental health issues. In that sense, they had to keep on reinventing themselves and explore new life possibilities. Zhou Tao and Ni Ping left CCTV at the height of their careers but managed to carve out new paths that keep on inspiring the audience,” explained Lily Lee, W China’s celebrity features director. “How do we face loss and uncertainty? These figures have set good examples.”

Kara Hui and Joan Chen in dialogue in the first issue of W China.
Kara Hui and Joan Chen in dialogue in the first issue of W China.

In this year’s following four issues, or volumes, to be published bi-monthly, W China will focus on Chinese film directors, the art world, the music industry and outstanding performers of the year.

Dropping hints for the September issue, Wei said the publication will work with “a designer of a big fashion house” on an exclusive cover story to “document an important fashion moment.”

Wei said he wants W China to form an organic connection between the fashion and art worlds, which is why W China launched its WeChat official account during Art Basel Hong Kong with a feature story on Yayoi Kusama.

Written by American journalist Arthur Lubow and translated into Chinese, the story featured a piece of never-seen-before artwork by the prolific artist.

Subsequent posts published on WeChat included a story about Chinese designers in Paris and a piece on how young creatives are inspired by late legendary designers such as Vivienne Westwood, published on Tomb Sweeping Day.

“We have a responsibility to work out two things: one is how to resonate with the local audience, and secondly, we have to find a way to present China and Chinese creatives to the world, have the rest of the world be interested in China again,” Wei said.

Known for his work as a celebrity stylist for stars like Shu Qi, Ziyi Zhang, Zhou Xun and Song Hye-kyo, Wei quickly assembled a team. His editors include Xiaomu Fan, former fashion director at Harper’s Bazaar China, later widely known for engineering Peacebird’s brand revamp. Fan is W China’s editor at large.

Former GQ China senior features editor Lee has been named W China’s celebrity features director. Chuyu Wang, former T Magazine China’s features director, is W China’s features director; Austin Feng is styling director while maintaining the same post at Marie Claire China, and Fei Song, former film editorial director of Harper’s Bazaar China, has the same title at W China.

On the business front, W China will take a similar approach as Marie Claire China, which ventured into shopping malls with MC House, a retail, exhibition and event space in Shanghai and Chengdu.

“We will also create a physical experience around W China,” said Wei. “It’s about creating a lighthearted approach to help people connect.”

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