Chinese First Lady hailed for effortless style in UK

Ms Peng, wearing a “dignified and graceful” blue silk coat dress, arriving with Queen Elizabeth at a state banquet in Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.
PHOTO: Reuters

China's First Lady Peng Liyuan has garnered glowing reviews for her effortless style during Chinese President Xi Jinping's first state visit to Britain, notwithstanding a minor make-up malfunction that was largely censored by the Chinese media.

Her preference for sharply tailored blazers over feminine dresses and for incorporating Chinese design details such as mandarin collars into her outfits received breathless compliments from the Chinese media and netizens, who praised her for holding her own against the British royal family's style stars.

The blue silk coat dress she wore to meet Queen Elizabeth last Tuesday evening, for instance, was described by the Chinese media as "dignified and graceful". Many reports went into great detail as to the various stylish outfits Ms Peng changed into throughout the visit.

Even the British press chimed in, with The Telegraph newspaper calling her "a master in the art of diplomatic dressing" and describing her coat dress as "the height of restrained elegance".

Other instant fashion hits include an elegant grey tailored coat with a dove-grey silk pussy-bow blouse she wore to the Houses of Parliament last Tuesday, after changing out of a simple white dress suit with embroidered pockets and a leaf-motif brooch from earlier in the morning.

But the glamorous image of China's most visible first lady took a hit in the face, when she attended a reception hosted by the Lord Mayor of London at the Guildhall last Wednesday. Photographs showed a heavy dusting of white powder on her forehead and nose.

The white substance was probably silica powder, which is used to stop shine and absorb moisture and oil, media reports speculate. While the powder can look flawless in the flesh, it can stand out badly in photos if too much is applied.

But for the make-up mishap, the four-day state visit that ended last Friday was largely faultless, with Ms Peng featuring prominently in the Chinese media's coverage of Mr Xi's trip.

With her advocacy for education and her status as a fashion icon, she has broken the mould of Chinese leaders' spouses who traditionally kept a low profile, the exception being Jiang Qing, the fourth wife of Mao Zedong.

The unflattering photos were duly taken off the Internet in China, with a search on the country's Google- like Baidu search engine pulling up no hits.

The results also come with a disclaimer: "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, some search results are not displayed."

China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo also drew a blank, with no posts referencing the make-up mistake that has also not spared top stars such as Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and Taylor Swift.

In fact, all posts this year relating to Ms Peng's outfits were no longer available. A search on the microblog using "Peng Liyuan attire" as the search term pulled up only posts from last year and 2013. Hugely popular at home as a well-known singer and actress, Ms Peng was famous even before she married Mr Xi in 1987.

But as China tries to soften its image abroad, she has taken on a new role in the limelight.

The state-owned China Daily newspaper previously compared Ms Peng with United States First Lady Michelle Obama, calling them both symbols of glamour who "stand uneclipsed by their more powerful husbands".

Last Friday, the Chinese media splashed pictures of Ms Peng looking thrilled after receiving a Scottish wool cape from Imperial College London, which Mr Xi visited as part of his state visit to Britain.

The hosts did not have her measurements and so scientists used data technology to calculate her size based on public photos in order to create the perfectly fitted garment, media reports said.

This article was first published on October 25, 2015.
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