Spread­ing cul­ture with fash­ion and de­sign

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FASHION - By CHEN JIE chen­jie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Afash­ion model usu­ally is young and has a per­fect body, but Jiang Qiong’er, CEO and de­signer of Chi­nese brand Shangxia says her fa­vorite model is her 96-year-old grand­mother.

Her grand­mother has been her model since she launched Shangxia in 2009 in Shang­hai. Through the lenses of French pho­tog­ra­pher Paolo Roversi, the old woman with white hair and wrin­kles on her face, looks beau­ti­ful and el­e­gant.

“Shangxia is about time and emo­tion. My grand­mother is a great model to show­case this,” Jiang said at the Global Fash­ion Fo­rum or­ga­nized by Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) re­cently in Bei­jing.

WWD, the world’s lead­ing jour­nal of news and trends in fash­ion, beauty and re­tail, hosted the fo­rum to bring to­gether a global com­mu­nity of re­tail and brand ex­ec­u­tives and de­sign­ers to ex­plore the eco­nomic, con­sumer and de­sign forces that are shap­ing the fu­ture of fash­ion in China.

Jiang, 40, with her brand Shangxia, which was co­founded with French lux­ury brand Her­mes, is an ex­am­ple of how fash­ion is evolv­ing on the main­land.

Jiang is the third gen­er­a­tion of a Chi­nese artist’s fam­ily in Shang­hai.

Her grand­fa­ther Jiang Xuanyi (1903-1977) was one of the pi­o­neer Chi­nese artists who stud­ied Western art abroad, while her ar­chi­tect fa­ther Xing Tonghe, 76, worked on the Shang­hai Mu­seum, the ren­o­va­tion of The Bund and the Deng Xiaop­ing Me­mo­rial Hall in Sichuan.

“I do not take up ar­chi­tec­ture be­cause my fa­ther’s shadow is too huge,” the de­signer says.

Jiang took up the brush pen to learn Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy and ink paint­ing at 6. How­ever, her for­mal de­sign train­ing started at Tong ji Univer­sity, Shang­hai and af­ter grad­u­a­tion in 2000, she fur­thered her stud­ies in fur­ni­ture and in­te­rior de­sign at the Ecole des Arts Dec­o­rat­ifs in Paris.

In 2006, Her­mes com­mis­sioned her to de­sign win­dows for its bou­tique in Shang­hai, and she so im­pressed the then CEO Pa­trick Thomas and artis­tic di­rec­tor Pier­reAlexis Du­mas that they in­vited her to a busi­ness din­ner.

There, the Chi­nese de­signer found that they shared the same val­ues, pas­sion and com­mit­ment to qual­ity, crafts­man­ship, cul­ture and style.

“They were look­ing for cre­ativ­ity and style but to keep the val­ues of Her­mes. And I had al­ways dreamed of trans­port­ing Chi­nese tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship and aes­thet­ics into a mod­ern life­style and shar­ing it with peo­ple from the rest of the world,” she says.

Thus Shangxia was born, and it now sells fur­ni­ture, ready-to-wear, home dec­o­ra­tions, ac­ces­sories and leather goods.

“Shangxia” in Chi­nese means “ups and downs”, but Jiang in­ter­prets “shang” as into the sky, the pas­sage of his­tory, crafts­man­ship, tra­di­tion, while “xia”, she says is about the earth, the fu­ture, high tech­nol­ogy and new ma­te­ri­als.

“‘Shangxia’ rep­re­sents Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy — a bal­ance or har­mony

I had al­ways dreamed of trans­port­ing Chi­nese tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship and aes­thet­ics into a mod­ern life­style and shar­ing it with ... the rest of the world.” Jiang Qiong’er, CEO and de­signer of Chi­nese brand Shangxia

be­tween two op­po­sites which we need,” she says.

She hopes peo­ple who visit her bou­tique can ex­pe­ri­ence sight, smell, touch, taste and hear­ing in a unique way.

The bou­tique does not look very Chi­nese as its post­mod­ern white roof looks like end­less clouds. The stones from Taihu Lake, close to Shang­hai, re­mind you of a Chi­nese gar­den and break up the store into dif­fer­ent spa­ces.

When the Ja­panese de­signer Kengo Kuma de­signed the bou­tique, Jiang told him that she did not want any ob­vi­ous Chi­nese el­e­ments such as red lanterns and carved wood col­umns.

“Let’s keep the Chi­nese aes­thetic without us­ing ex­ist­ing shapes and pat­terns. And let us make it ‘one step, one view’, which is a typ­i­cal Chi­nese gar­den phi­los­o­phy,” she says she told the de­signer.

In­side the bou­tique you can smell tea. There is a tea house and cus­tomers can en­joy rest and med­i­ta­tion there.

The bou­tique also fea­tures mu­sic cre­ated by Chi­nese singer/song­writer Dou Wei, which is played on eggshell porce­lain.

All the prod­ucts at the bou­tique are made of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als — bam­boo, silk, leather, car­bon, porce­lain and wood.

Speak­ing about the prod­ucts, Jiang says: “China has a very rich her­itage of crafts­man­ship. But most of the her­itage is now con­signed to mu­se­ums, books and his­tory. Our mis­sion is to use this her­itage and trans­form it into prod­ucts for mod­ern life.

“So ev­ery day we fo­cus on three things: How can we make it (the her­itage) func­tional? The sec­ond is how to make it fash­ion­able, trendy, young and cool. And, how can we give emo­tional value to it?”

Giv­ing one ex­am­ple of her best­selling prod­ucts, Jiang points to car­bon-fiber chairs made without nails, in­spired by the Ming Dy­nasty (13681644).

The di­am­e­ter of each leg is just 7-8 mm, and you can carry the chair with one fin­ger.

“Our in­no­va­tion was to use a new ma­te­rial, car­bon fiber,” she says.

Bam­boo used to rep­re­sent the spirit of Chi­nese cul­ture, and Jiang once vis­ited a crafts­man in south­west China’s Sichuan prov­ince where she saw him us­ing 0.35 mm bam­boo to weave an “ele­phant”.

“It (the ele­phant) was for dec­o­ra­tion. But why don’t we use his crafts­man­ship to make some­thing func­tional?” she says.

Later, she de­signed a tea set with pot and tea cups made of bam­boo and eggshell porce­lain.

She also de­signed a coat and scarf made us­ing Mon­go­lian cash­mere.

“Mon­go­lian cash­mere has mem­ory. When you have it, you want to keep it be­cause it re­mem­bers the shape of your shoul­ders,” she says.

In 2011, Shangxia staff in­ter­viewed 1,000 Chi­nese fam­i­lies, and used their pho­tos, let­ters, tele­grams and diaries to pro­duce a book.

She also held an ex­hi­bi­tion to dis­play some of the pho­tos in the bou­tique.

In Jiang’s mind, Shangxia is not only about sell­ing prod­ucts.

What she wants to do is to share and pass on Chi­nese cul­ture and life­style.

Jiang Qiong’er (stand­ing) with her fam­ily; car­bon fiber chairs made without nails; the mak­ing of a cash­mere felt; a tea set with pot and tea cups made of bam­boo and eggshell porce­lain.

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