It is for good reason that Shang Xia is dubbed the “Chinese Hermès.” It is 80 percent owned by the French luxury house.
Founder Jiang Qiong’er launched the brand in 2008. She was working in visual merchandising for Hermès when she happened to sit next to former house executive Patrick Thomas at dinner. She shared her dream for making Chinese culture cool again. As it turned out, he had a similar agenda for building a new luxury brand, and the rest is history.
FN caught up with the CEO and artistic director in last week in Paris. Her idea for the label was to translate China’s rich heritage into contemporary design, she said. “My young friends don’t feel connected as everything feels too old,”Qiong’er said of a mindset that stems from the Cultural Revolution, which basically declared history the enemy of progress.
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“We need to reconnect so history continues,” she said. “If we don’t, it will be too late, so this was the right moment to start. Shang Xia was born with that mission.” Shang Xia means “above and under” or “past and present.” The challenge, however, was to make it relevant while steering clear of pastiche: Her collections feature cultural nods and artisanal techniques applied to contemporary silhouettes.
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Boots and flat slippers are woven from strips of leather recalling bamboo. “The slippers were inspired by traditional Chinese embroidered shoes,” Qiong’er said, “but those are not practical in the rain, so we translated them into leather and made them really comfortable.”
Equestrian-style boots draw inspiration from those worn by Mongolian nomads. Her opulent take on the nomadic felting technique? A seam-free coat done in felted cashmere. Brightly colored silk scarves feature patterns inspired by ancient murals, while ceramic jewelry looks to porcelain, another integral part of China’s artistic heritage.
Bags were a more recent addition to the lineup. “It took me five years to develop my first bag,” she said. “Why? Because we had Hermès for parents, so I didn’t want people to compare us.”
The shape of her Lan Yue signature sack is inspired by the traditional Chinese bamboo basket. “It’s the first in the world to have three curves,” she said. “It was very difficult technically.” It is also designed to be carried on the wrist — another nod to Chinese cultural diktats.
The bag is eminently Instagrammable. Ironically, the social media site is banned in China, so the brand’s account is operated from Hermès HQ in Europe.
Qiong’er is the daughter of Chinese architect Xing Tonghe, the man behind the Shanghai Museum. “He is too famous for me to have done the same thing (study architecture), so I studied interior and textile design,” she said, laughing.
In addition to revitalizing China’s heritage, she is helping to future-proof it. She’s spent the last 10 years traveling all around the country sourcing workshops, materials and know-how.
The challenge was a lack of infrastructure, she said. “Discovery is only one step. The artisans did not have any management, so we had to help them with scale and quality control.” Shang Xia now works with over 40 small workshops and is developing its own craftsmanship supply chain.
As for the partnership with Hermès, it has a nice synchronicity.
While the carré or silk scarf may indeed be synonymous with the French marque and a watchword for Parisian chic, silk first arrived in Europe via the eponymous Silk Road, the ancient trade route between Asia and the West. Similarly, it is China (the clue is in the name) where Sèvres porcelain has its origins. Shang Xia has three stores in China plus a boutique on Paris’ rue de Sèvres, a stone’s throw from Hermès’ Left Bank flagship.
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