The world of luxury was speculating with anticipation as it awaited the opening of the first Shang Xia store in Shanghai last September. Founded in 2008 by the legendary Hermes and Chinese artist Jiang Qiong Er, this is a first by any luxury company in its quest to conquer the wallets and loyalty of Chinese consumers.
For Hermes, the move is part of a well thought-out strategy in the Chinese market going in two directions. First, by taking advantage of the Chinese infatuation for French luxury with a network of 16 retail locations through the country. Hermes is one of the most expensive luxury brands and as such an instant status symbol with its iconic ‘H’ logo. Second, the creation from scratch of a new high-end brand that is uniquely Chinese: Shang Xia is designed, manufactured and managed in the People’s Republic. Competitors have introduced sub-brands at lower price points and other special editions on the theme of China (Chanel’s Paris-Shanghai collection, Ferrari’s 599 with artist Lu Hao), which can be lucrative in the short-term but Shang Xia goes a step further exploring a unique niche. The investment of Hermes shows its long-term aspirations in China and abroad with plans to open a boutique in Paris to cater to Chinese tourists and confirm the luxury status of the new brand. Naysayers believe that Hermes is up for failure as luxury consumers look for authenticity and brands with a legacy, but they forget that Shang Xia takes root in the 5000 years of Chinese heritage and its abundance of beauty and art.
It all started four years ago, when Hermes and Jiang Qiong Er fell in love after the House commissioned the artist to create unique window displays for its Chinese boutiques. Jiang Qiong Er likes to describe Shang Xia as the baby they created together, which they infused with their passion for craftsmanship and excellence. As the CEO and Artistic Director of Shang Xia she has grounded the brand with a distinct philosophy of “Splendid Simplicity”. From the choice of the name itself, which means “Up Down” in Mandarin, exudes the circulation of energies: the balance between tradition and innovation, workmanship and contemporary design… I would describe the brand as modern traditionalism, or an alternate China where old world meets minimalism, offering a curated selection of authentic Chinese goods. The timing is perfect as more and more affluent Chinese are getting tired of emulating Western style and want to get back to their roots. The Cultural Revolution created a rupture in the history of the country and Shang Xia dreams “to rediscover the Chinese know-how, then revive and then to revaluate it”.
Shang Xia’s first collection perfectly rendered the alliance of traditional Chinese lifestyle and innovation through its unique concept. Instead of concentrating on one product line, it explores the ancestral hospitality custom of the tea ceremony: from the tea set, to the beautiful apparel and furniture it all flows together to offer an extended tea experience. Its products are true art pieces from incredible cashmere felt coats, molded by hand without any stitching, to traditional zitan wood furniture inspired by the Ming era and exquisite porcelain so fine it’s almost transparent. Each piece is a rendition of “excellence of craftsmanship, Chinese culture and dialogue between tradition and innovation as well as heritage and emotion“. What I really appreciate from the collection is that feeling of future memories it evokes, which fits perfectly in the boutique designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
Shang Xia is opening a new path for Chinese design both locally and globally. We can expect other Chinese brands to follow suite as the markets rediscovers its heritage under a new light of modernism. Since the time of the Silk Road, the West has always been enthusiastic about Eastern art and we can expect that this new found Chinese aesthetic will be very popular there as well. As the world powers are shifting and new fashion superpowers are taking center stage it is interesting to see different brands emerging from China. I am looking forward to observing their strategy to win-over foreign markets. Already the numerous collaborations and exhibits by Chinese artists in the West gather interest from European and American consumers and create a new dialogue. Hermes’ first mover position with Shang Xia should give it an advantage against its competitors as it continues on its path to luxury excellence.