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Madame Song

A Life in Art and Fashion

Pi Li


The first book to explore the life and times of Chinese artist, businesswoman, socialite and style expert ‘Madame Song’, whose life was spent in the company of a Who’s Who of Cold War China and which paralleled the highs and lows of the country’s history

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The extraordinary life story of Song Huai-Kuei, better known as Madame Song, follows the arc of 20th-century history. Artist, entrepreneur and impresario, Song broke cultural barriers for love, transcended Cold War borders for her art, and laid the foundations for a global fashion industry. With her cosmopolitan outlook, she defined an influential vision for Chinese culture on the world stage and asserted an Asian perspective in 21st-century art and design. Madame Song is a name that everyone interested in the roots of contemporary visual culture needs to know.

At the heart of this volume is a critical biography that explores Song’s youth in revolutionary China, her cross-cultural marriage to Bulgarian fibre artist Maryn Varbanov, her success within avant-garde circles in Eastern and Western Europe during the Cold War, and finally her efforts within China to revive traditional aesthetics in tandem with the explosive rise of global couture. Throughout her life, she cultivated an aspirational image of what a modern Chinese woman could be within a changing and opening world. A consummate networker, Song built bridges between people, disciplines and business interests, often in the elegant surroundings of Maxim’s de Paris, Beijing, the restaurant she famously helped to open.

In tracking the highs and lows of the massive social changes that occurred throughout her lifetime, Madame Song’s exceptional life serves as a fascinating lens through which to view 20th-century China.

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 27.0 x 20.5 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Illustrations: 336

Publication date: 14 September 2023

ISBN: 9780500480953

Contents List

1. Beijing to Sofia (1937–58)
2. Sofia to Paris (1959–74)
3. Paris to Beijing (1975–81)
4. Hangzhou to Beijing (1982–89)
5. Beijing to the World (1989–2006)

About the Author

Pi Li is the Sigg Senior Curator and Head of Curatorial Affairs of M+, Hong Kong.