Hop aboard the bullet train from Beijing and hurtle five hours southeast toward the sea to reach Qingdao, the sun-drenched port and largest city in Shandong Province. Its?claims to fame include picturesque beaches, smooth Tsingtao beer, and the infamous “facekini”—a supernatural?swatch of spandex stretched over the head with nose, mouth, and eyeholes offering extreme sun protective qualities. Invented more than a decade?ago by an?enterprising local, it has since become a global curiosity.
Across East Asia, a pale complexion is the beauty ideal—milky, near translucent, free of even the suggestion of a freckle or spot. It has nothing to do with the West. Rather, it picked up?after the Industrial Revolution, when skin tone became a visible class marker. To this day, many?Chinese women take extreme measures to avoid the sun; they religiously?carry UV-blocking umbrellas or wear mirrored visors that slope down over the face. In Qingdao, the facekini rules as?no passing trend, but?a?way of life for many.
It is a sticky 98-degree day?when photographer Luca Campri arrives?on Beach No. 1 (just around the bay from Beach No. 2). The crowds are thick with children encased in inflatable tubes the color of ice cream—mango sherbet, frosted blue rings that float in the water. A few?brave beachgoers have decided to forgo the facekini and?step into the waves in their everyday street clothes. There’s a woman in a black chiffon blouse and matching straw bonnet, while a father in a full linen suit kicks a rowboat out to sea.?Surrounded by a throng of locals dressed in head-to-toe swaths of UV-protective mesh, they seem almost exceptional by comparison.
Along the main road, a handful of vendors sell?stacks of solid spandex face and body coverings for 15 to 25 Yuan apiece (about $2 or $3). Yet the best are the boldest—a mad mash of peacock feather swirls and paisley drops, capped off with goggles. At least one bodysuit in florid greens and blues keenly resembles the colorful, kitschy floral prints put forth on a recent Balenciaga runway. Dotting the sands like jewels, the collective effect is otherworldly, yet?oddly beautiful.
Children clamber along the shore in search of mussels, to be tossed in a wok with salted black beans and beer. Across a faded jungle gym, a group of men in their 70s complete gymnastic feats, somersaulting their bodies up and over the bars and grinning. Parents drain?sweating bottles of Tsingtao, while their children hold chunks of ripe watermelon, slurping until the juice runs pink down their chins. For that, the facekini is removed, then quickly replaced. A small sacrifice made for a moment of summer bliss.