Diamond Days: Feiping Chang Visits Nirav Modi In India

Style queen Feiping Chang will wear Nirav Modi jewellery at her wedding in June. Ahead of the big day, she travelled to India with Christian Barlow to find out what inspires the designer

By Christian Barlow

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The boat ride to our hotel on the banks of Lake Pichola is magical. And as we approach our equally magical destination, the Leela Palace, Feiping Chang’s thoughts turn to… Italy.

“You know, with the sun and the slight breeze it doesn’t feel like India. It almost feels like we could be in Italy—it reminds me of Lake Como,” she says.

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Actually we’re in Udaipur, in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, but Hong Kong It girl Feiping, or Fei as she’s known to friends, understandably has Italy on her mind. She’s been busy planning what’s been billed as the “wedding of the year” there. Feiping is to marry her beau of three years, financier Lincoln Li, on the beautiful island of Capri in June—joined by 150 of their friends and family.

It will certainly be one of the most glamorous events of the year. Feiping, who runs lifestyle website XoxoFei, is having two bridal gowns designed by Paris-based Italian couturier Giambattista Valli, with jewellery by Indian designer Nirav Modi.

And that’s why we’re here: Nirav, who comes from a family of diamantaires, invited Feiping to visit India to see for herself the rich history and culture that inspires him. Our first stop is the 16th-century Udaipur City Palace, and Feiping cannot get enough snaps and videos of its stained glass windows, ornate marble work, corridors and courtyards.

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On our way out, we walk past the main square of the palace, which is being set up for a wedding that evening—it seems wedding fever is everywhere. “This would be such a great venue for the reception but I couldn’t imagine planning an Indian wedding,” says Feiping. “I mean, my wedding is only three days long. Indian weddings usually last a week—the planning alone would drive me insane.”

Back at the hotel, Feiping explores the grounds in search of the best location for an impromptu photo shoot. She settles on a wall decorated with traditional Mughal motifs. “The things I do for Instagram,” she chuckles, yet this is a serious business. It is, after all, Feiping’s candid stream of social media content that helped make her name—and ensures her place on the red carpet at some of Hong Kong’s most exclusive events.

The next day we take a flight south to Mumbai. It’s time to see first-hand how Nirav’s jewellery is made with a visit to the workshop, located just outside the city centre, where we are shown the whole process—from design to stone sourcing, diamond polishing, setting and quality control.

Each piece of jewellery starts as a paper design that is placed on a mannequin, and as Feiping flips through a book of them, an elaborate choker catches her eye. “It’s fascinating how detailed each design is—it’s like I could pick it up off the page and wear it,” she says. The paper designs also reveal Nirav’s influences. “You can see how elements of his design are inspired by classic Indian floral motifs—similar to what we saw in the tiling at the City Palace,” she says of a pair of earrings.

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In the technical studio, watching the craftsmen cutting and polishing diamonds offers a rare glimpse of the enormous skill and precision that’s required to realise these designs.

But it’s in the quality control room where the excitement reaches a crescendo, as Feiping has the chance to try on some finished pieces. Our fearless fashion maven is soon modelling a large canary-yellow diamond ring—cue selfies and even a video so her followers can see the intricacies of the design. “Nirav is probably the only designer I’ve come across that puts diamonds on the underside of a ring,” she says. It’s a design feature, we’re told, that means the jewellery will shimmer in any light and from any angle.

There’s plenty more to see. The next day we take a short boat ride from Mumbai to Nirav’s weekend home in the seaside town of Alibag, where he shows us his latest high jewellery collection. Nirav explains the inspiration behind the design of some of his newer pieces, and Feiping is keen to try one on. “It’s sparkling so much in the case that I feel like it’s calling my name,” she jokes. “I mean, I’ve never met an emerald necklace I didn’t like.”

 

Nirav helps her with the clasp and leads her to a mirror, explaining that different cuts of diamonds are paired for an extra dimension of shine; another unique design feature that creates a contemporary look.

It’s then that she notices Nirav’s wedding band, one of his own designs of course: the Endless ring. “You have no idea how much I love this ring,” she gushes. “It’s because you don’t really see the metal so it’s like the diamonds are just floating on your finger.”

Clearly taken by it, she whispers conspiratorially: “We’ll talk wedding bands later—even Lincoln thinks it’s perfect.” 

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And with the sun setting over the Arabian Sea, we take the boat back to Mumbai for our return flight to Hong Kong. It seems Feiping enjoyed the break from wedding planning but now it’s back to the task at hand—putting together some stylish welcome packs for the guests.

What was her favourite part of the trip? “I really enjoying sightseeing in Udaipur, being able to really see the City Palace,” she says. “Going behind the scenes in Nirav’s workshop was an incredible experience, but I felt like it’s within the palace walls that you really get a sense of what inspires him.”

Photography: Jason Capobianco
Styling: Denise Ho

This article appears in the April 2017 issue of Hong Kong Tatler

Stay tuned for the August issue of Hong Kong Tatler for exclusive coverage of Feiping and Lincoln’s wedding

See also: Jewellery-Making Secrets from Mumbai Designer Nirav Modi