Meet the co-founder of Hermes-backed luxury lifestyle brand Shang Xia
A Shang Xia pop-up will open in Takashimaya in December, and there are plans to open a permanent shop as well. Jiang Qiong Er, the label’s CEO and Artistic Director, tells CNA Luxury what Singaporeans can expect.
The perception of “made in China” has shifted in recent years. While the label is still some ways away from being regarded with the same cachet as, say, “made in Japan” or “made in France”, brands like Shang Xia (“up and down” in Mandarin) are slowly but surely altering the status quo.
Backed by the financial muscle of Hermes, the label began life in 2008 thanks to a chance encounter between one Jiang Qiong Er and Patrick Thomas, then-CEO of Hermes. In the spirit of the French maison, the idea was to tap into the skillset of China’s artisans to craft products imbued with the same quality, attention to detail, design sensibility and sophistication that Hermes is known for.
With China better known for mass production than high quality craftsmanship at the time, the idea was so novel that it immediately resonated. In 2010, the company opened its first boutique along Shanghai’s Huaihai Middle Road, in the heart of the French Concession.
In the decade that followed, stores opened in Beijing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Hong Kong and Paris. A Singapore outpost will open in 2020, although its location is yet to be confirmed. In the meantime, fans of Shang Xia can head to a pop-up at #01-112, Takashimaya Department Store. The pop-up will remain open from December 4, 2019 to February 9, 2020. Ahead of the launch, Jiang gives CNA Luxury an insight into her stewardship of the brand, and why she thinks Singaporeans will take to it.
SHANG XIA WAS FOUNDED IN 2008, AND OPENED ITS FIRST BOUTIQUE IN SHANGHAI IN 2010. WHAT ARE YOU PROUDEST OF IN ITS 10 YEARS OF EXISTENCE?
Of creating the brand from scratch, finding a distinctive style, and building up our supply base of excellent craftsmen. In the early years we visited a lot of workshops. There are still some masters and craftsmen existing, but no management or real process, no supply chain with quality standards. They could produce one piece, but not 50. We spent 10 years accompanying the artisans to evaluate, improve, and move forward. I’m proudest of SHANG XIA as a brand. Each and every product is like my own child.
HOW HAS SHANG XIA DEVELOPED THIS PAST DECADE?
We started with four product ranges – garments, accessories, furniture, and homeware. Now we have five, as we added leather goods. We’re launching a new range in Beijing this month called Space Products. It's a total package life experience, designed with the room, furniture, and objects together. The future of luxury is not just one object, but an emotion, an experience, a moment that you will keep remembering.
In our first decade, we focused on creating brand value, not revenue. The trend of the revenue is important, not the exact number. This year had almost 40 per cent growth compared to last year.
We opened a new store in Shenzhen this year, with two more openings planned for 2020. We’re also working on a different base model which is not 100 per cent retail, but more experience-oriented.
For the future we will keep working on beautiful objects, discovering excellent craftsmanship in China, and deepening our style. We’ll also focus on leading a real luxury experience.
“The future of luxury is not just one object, but an emotion, an experience, a moment that you will keep remembering.” – Jiang Qiong Er
HOW IS SHANG XIA DOING AMID A CHANGING, CHALLENGING, FICKLE LUXURY MARKET?
The market is changing, the people and generations are changing, but there is always a constant – Time and Emotion, two things deeply rooted into SHANG XIA’s DNA. We’re not aiming to be the trendiest, but instead use traditional handcrafts and contemporary design to create a timeless style. We believe that people, whatever the age, whatever the nationality, and whatever the culture, are all looking for beauty and love.
WHERE DID YOUR LOVE OF THE ARTS COME FROM?
My family. My grandfather was a famous artist since his 20s, doing what I’m doing now with SHANG XIA: Combining the heritage of ancient art with contemporary modern art, creating a beautiful encounter between East and West. That he did it 100 years before I did, inspired me a lot. Also, my father and mother are both architects.
WHAT WERE YOUR GROWING UP YEARS LIKE?
I was born in Shanghai in the 1970s and lived in a traditional little lane house. My brother and I helped our parents around the house, invented our own games, and started painting, doing calligraphy, travelling and creating in nature from a young age. We did lots of crafts at home. Life was very enriching and meaningful, full of beautiful memories.
My father was the architect for Shanghai Museum and did the renovation of The Bund. My mother [worked on] Shanghai libraries. Later, we moved to a contemporary home in a skyscraper, and two years ago, I moved to a garden villa. I’m lucky to witness how Shanghai has grown and changed so much.
“When I was young I learned Chinese calligraphy with masters from China… My three years in Paris invited a new blood into my body… What I’m doing now with SHANG XIA is a result of this beautiful encounter between the two cultures in which I lived.” – Jiang Qiong Er
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT SHANGHAI?
One of my favourite places is Xintiandi, a zone of old houses transformed into a lively neighbourhood where people dine out, meet friends, and enjoy the art of living. It combines traditional Chinese Shikumen architecture with Western influences. I like Shanghai Museum for its world-renowned collections of bronzes and antiques. And my current home, located in a beautiful estate filled with greenery.
I visit France often for work or holidays, and when I return to Shanghai I always feel its strong, positive, vivid energy. This energy has existed over the decades, and continues to; that’s the magic of Shanghai. Also, it’s very open-minded. There’s always been a dialogue between the Eastern and Western cultures.
YOU SPENT SOME TIME IN PARIS AS WELL?
After graduating from Shanghai’s Tongji University, I was supposed to do my Masters in the US, but a trip to Europe changed my decision. I told myself: “If you could go to Paris to study, if you could one day read a French book in its original version, watch a movie in French, speak to the people in their own language, what a rich learning experience you would have”.
When I arrived in France aged 22, I didn’t speak French. I spent a year learning the language and the culture at a small local university in Nice, majoring in French Literature from the 20th and 21st centuries. It was very difficult in the beginning, but I didn’t want to attend language school where you’re often with other English-speaking foreigners.
“I think emotions are the most precious things in the world. I cannot feel the emotions from looking at a photo of a building or a masterpiece.” – Jiang Qiong Er
A year later, I passed the entrance examination for the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and enrolled there. It wasn’t only about academia, but the environment. There were so many exceptional things to see, interesting people to meet, and destinations to travel to.
I think emotions are the most precious things in the world. I cannot feel the emotions from looking at a photo of a building or a masterpiece. But sitting in Ronchamp, in the beautiful chapel designed by Corbusier, I felt those emotions. When I was in front of a famous painting, I understood the power of the painting.
When I was young I learned Chinese calligraphy with masters from China, and during my five years at Tongji, I discovered graphic design, architecture, product-, interior- and digital design. My three years in Paris invited a new blood into my body.
These two worlds were totally integrated into one, allowing me to have a kind of global thinking and creativity. What I’m doing now with SHANG XIA is a result of this beautiful encounter between the two cultures in which I lived.
WHAT WAS YOUR EARLY ARTISTIC CAREER LIKE, BEFORE YOU WERE INVITED TO DO HERMES WINDOW DISPLAYS?
I started my first design company when I was still a student at Tongji University together with one of my professors. The year I graduated from Tongji, I received support from the founder of Xintiandi, Vincent Lau. This allowed me to create my own brand of jewellery, fashion accessories and home items, and I opened my first store in Xintiandi.
Then I went to Paris but continued to manage the brand from a distance. After I graduated in Paris, I started a company with Jean-Marie Charpentier, the famous French architect who designed the Shanghai Grand Theatre. Our company mainly focused on interior design and branding. Hermes China was one of our clients. I also established my own gallery exhibiting antique furniture alongside my contemporary furniture creations. There was lots of regular exhibitions with artist friends, so I was quite busy.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SINGAPOREANS WILL APPRECIATE ABOUT SHANG XIA?
It’s a country with a mix of [Eastern] and Western cultural influences and Singaporeans are very open-minded – perfect for SHANG XIA. In the last 10 years, we’ve had many clients from Singapore who travel to Shanghai, Beijing, or even Paris to discover SHANG XIA.
“[Singapore is] a country with a mix of [Eastern] and Western cultural influences and Singaporeans are very open-minded – perfect for SHANG XIA. In the last 10 years, we’ve had many clients from Singapore who travel to Shanghai, Beijing, or even Paris to discover SHANG XIA.” – Jiang Qiong Er