1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
2001 to 2007

The Best of Both Worlds

Shang Xia in Cosmopolitan magazine, March 2011

What, I wonder, constitutes a Chinese, or for that matter an English, French, Italian, Spanish, Swiss, German, or American luxury brand?  Does the brand have to be designed as well as hand-crafted locally?  If so, is it a prerequisite that the brand’s designers and artisans are themselves local?  Must it bear a name that sounds as if it is from the heartland of the home country?  And what about a couple of hundred years of local history being a must, as well as the treasure trove of wonderful stories that tend to come with that?  And surely it must tap in to the brand identity of the country of provenance – and be synonymous with one or more of the qualities that are spontaneously associated with the name of its home country?  What about the requirement that its head office is based there and, also, that it is listed on the local stock exchange? 

  Or, more reasonably, is “national association” achieved when a large proportion of the advocates of the brand would spontaneously describe it as a “[insert country here] luxury brand”; and then go on to talk about the country association being an important part of the allure of the brand. 

  Using this test, Shang Xia would, I reckon, be one of the few brands to qualify as a Chinese luxury brand.  The collaboration between the Hermes Group and Ms Jiang Qiong’er (artistic director and CEO) opened its doors in Hong Kong Plaza on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road in September 2010.  The shop showcases a treasure trove of hand-crafted jewellery, furniture, apparel, porcelain and home decorations. 

  Shang Xia, which means “up and down” or “before and “after” in Chinese, positions itself, as its name suggests, as the meeting point old and new.  Their website throws some more light on their thinking: “Shang Xia has the ambition to preserve the beauty and techniques of traditional craftsmanship and embrace the elegance and simplicity of a new 21st century aesthetic”. 

  This “fusion” of old and contemporary, traditional and innovative – all fashioned with great craftsmanship using quality materials – has certainly caught the attention of a certain kind of luxury-brand shopper in China. 

  Ms Ying, a fan of the brand I spoke with in Shanghai, sums up the appeal:  “I really like what Shang Xia stands for.  It’s great that a Chinese brand can provide me with the best of both worlds.”

  It is important to note that when Ms Ying talks about the “best of both worlds”, she is not referring to any notion of “east meet west” or a happy marriage of Chinese and international design.  The two worlds she is referencing are both Chinese worlds. 

  The first “world” spans five thousand years or so – from the Neolithic epoch up to the end of the Imperial age (funnily enough, the revolution that toppled dynastic rule began 100 years ago today and was the inspiration for this article). 

  During that time, China’s artists, designers, and craftsmen, produced some of the most spectacular luxury goods the world has ever seen.  A walk through Beijing’s Palace Museum (within the walls of The Forbidden City) provides just a glimpse of this magnificence:  The finest of seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century Qing dynasty porcelain is but a short walk away from exquisite jade carvings that were created during Neolithic times; which in turn abut a cornucopia of Song dynasty (960–1279) furniture, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) calligraphy, and Ming dynasty (1368–1644) silks and costumes.  Talking of Shang Xia (albeit using different Chinese characters), the Palace Museum also houses fabulous gold jewellery from the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC) and Xia dynasty (2100–1600 BC) inscribed drinking-vessels made of bronze.

  The second world that Ms Ying refers to is also very much culturally Chinese.  This is a world full of drive, energy, and creativity that is characterised by continuous progression.  Shang Xia captures the essence of this progression beautifully, according to Ms Ying: “It makes me feel so good to look at the pieces I’ve bought; they really remind me how far China has come,” she says.

  No matter how important the impression of modernity with Chinese characteristics may be, there is no getting away from the fact that Ms Jiang’s philosophy mirrors that of the trustees of many luxury brands the world over.  As she points out, it is outstanding craftsmanship that is the starting point:  

  “I think more people in China realize the importance of looking back to our cultural roots, going back and trying to re-evaluate the value of Chinese culture.  I’d say it’s still relatively few, but more are looking at the craftsmanship side of things – that’s the angle we start from,” says Ms Jiang (during a recent interview with Jing Daily). 

  As more and more brands begin to unlock the great Chinese stories of artistry and design than span the ages, and start to render them in a relevant and contemporary way – employing the finest craftsmen to do so of course – then the nature of the luxury market in China will begin to change.  The tipping point of this “Chinese luxury brand” movement is still a long way off, but there are sure signs that – among some key influencers at least – the revolution has at long last begun.   

From Shang Xia's website (English language version)