Linda Evangelista’s Chinese odyssey

Candid camera
Evangelista, pictured here on the Li River in Guangxi, was able to learn about photography from industry legend Elgort

One of the most iconic supermodels of the ’90s, LINDA EVANGELISTA recalls a magical shoot in China with fashion photographer Arthur Elgort, where she discovered the mystique of Guangxi, the buzz of Shanghai and a surprise new hobby on the other side of the camera


“In the fall of 1993, the fashion photographer Arthur Elgort and I set off for a week-long trip to China to shoot a story called Eastern Light for American Vogue. When we arrived in Hong Kong for a night stopover, I decided I wanted to buy my first proper camera. Arthur came along with me to the electronic shops in downtown Kowloon and convinced me to buy a Leica, which I thought was way too complicated. But he said he would teach me; from then on, the whole trip became about my camera. Over the week, I was taking pictures non-stop, and in this shot I am taking a light-reading off my hand – a skill I learnt from Elgort.

Part of the magic of China, for me, is the mythological landscape of rural Guangxi, in the south of the country, where the backdrop of the otherworldly karst peaks seem straight out of a Chinese landscape painting. Here, we sailed down the Li River, dotted with rickety houseboats and the narrow bamboo rafts of fishermen who still use cormorants rather than nets to catch fish.

In Shanghai, we relished the city’s old-world delights. Here, Elgort took photographs of me ballroom dancing down the Bund, along the Huangpu River, which is an early-morning exercise regime the Shanghainese love to take part in. We also visited the institution that is the Shanghai Dumpling Shop, the opera house and the city’s famous Pudong district, where there is the well-known photo of me in a sea of cyclists.”


For a chic escape

Stay at the Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai, an Art Deco beauty immortalized by Noël Coward, who famously finished writing his play Private Lives while staying here. The romantic Chinese Suite is a fine spot to dream up an adventure like that of Elgort and Evangelista.

Peace Hotel’s elegant rooms and suites evoke the old-world glamour of the 1920s

For a cool after-dark spot

Head to Shanghai’s new W Hotel, where you can take in breathtaking views of the city skyline over a cocktail at the WET Bar, dim sum in Cantonese restaurant YEN, or a night in the Cloud on the Bund suite, with its suspended bed and light installation.

Saved from demolition, Amanyangyun’s Ming- and Qing-dynasty dwellings have been reassembled, brick by ancient brick, to create peaceful spaces

For a spa break

Book in at the Aman group’s Amanyangyun retreat, situated just outside of Shanghai in an ancient camphor forest of sacred trees famed for their calming scent, and make use of the holistic spa.

For setting the scene

Read the work of Han Yu, a great poet of Tang Dynasty, who captures the quiet magic of this country’s otherworldly landscape. For a piece of modern-day Asian cinema, Wong Kar-Wai’s classic 2000 noir masterpiece, In the Mood for Love, is a must-watch.

For a rural retreat

Take an internal flight from Shanghai to Guangxi, where you can hike the karst peaks and visit the 800-year-old rice terraces of Longsheng, which are still farmed by the Zhuang people. Spend the night at the beautiful mountain retreat Li-An Lodge – the 16 charmingly traditional rooms truly make the most of the sweeping views of the rice terraces below.

Need to know

Steppes Travel can organize boat trips and stays in Shanghai and the Guangxi region.

Situated above the Longji Terraces in Longsheng, Li-An Lodge offers dramatic views over the stepped rice terraces below

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