Individuals in the huaren community have a strong sense of identification with their own culture. Over the past two decades or more, the Chinese-speaking world has been fascinated with Western brands and designs. Later in the paradigm of globalization, however, an increasing number of huaren consumers started to look back in appreciation of Chinese culture’s aesthetic foundations.
Huaren consumers pursue a meaningful lifestyle, grounded in normality, so simple and timeless designs tend to appeal. Simplicity, in this sense, is not about descaling the process or the quality of handiwork, rather it is about removing unneeded complexity through design.
Ten years ago, Jiang Qiong’er became the first Chinese designer to work with Hermes. She was commissioned to design the luxury brand’s retail window displays in China. Through this connection, she met Patrick Thomas, who was the global CEO of Hermes Group at the time. She also met Hermes’ artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas. Their shared love of to craftsmanship led to the creation of Shang Xia, a brand dedicated to cultivating huaren culture and craftsmanship in 21st-century living. The brand’s designs are informed by the past (shang) and look to inspire to future (xia). A purveyor of elegant, Eastern living in a contemporary context, Shang Xia markets huaren design to the world.
Before Shang Xia came into existence, there were only a few brands in China truly informed by huaren design philosophies. In the decade since the founding of Shang Xia, Jiang discovered that many consumers had an appreciation for huaren culture, as well as their own personal sense of its aesthetics. The number of such consumers was growing. Jiang names three essential pre-requisites for good huaren design: first, practical functionality; second, durability with top-quality materials and first-rate craftsmanship; and third, for a sense of beauty, the use of lines and proportions.
Shang Xia’s design philosophy is, “simple, light, and useful,” creating designs in which the emotional, aesthetic, and functional aspects are closely linked and suited to the needs of modern life. When designing the “Da Tian Di” collection, Jiang based her design on the foundation of huaren culture. The collection is adapted from Ming-style furniture to meet contemporary needs. A particularly striking example is the carbon fiber chair; the form of which is inspired by the ancient Chinese ideal, “straight-edged on the outside, and round on the inside.” Modern technology replenishes the vitality of traditional design.
When speaking of the huaren market, Jiang says that huaren identity manifests itself through dress and lifestyle. Economic development in huaren communities has reached a level where many huaren are beginning to explore their heritage. Jiang proudly says that over 80% of her clientele at Shang Xia are huaren. As a brand from China with global ambitions, Shang Xia design must be accepted by the huaren community before the world. If huaren consumers are not convinced, then what hope does it have with global consumers?
Many people in the West are very interested in Eastern culture. Finely made Eastern handicrafts are considered highly valuable objects in the West. In the past two years, the Guimet Museum in Paris has added numerous Shang Xia works, including the “Guo Yun” bamboo spacial design and the “Ru Yuan” red lacquer case to its collection, while the Musée des Arts décoratif also added the “Da Tian Di” brown lacquer carbon fiber table to its collection. These museums have already collected many ancient huaren objects, but they also seek objects that represent contemporary huaren culture and design. For many years it has been difficult to find works to satisfy this need, until brands such as Shang Xia arrived on the market.
Jiang shares a story to represent how she thinks the West perceives huaren design. Ivanka Trump and Wendi Deng once saw a Shang Xia porcelain tea set at an exhibition in Paris. Both of them wanted the tea set, but there was only one available because all of the china was handmade and took a long time to reproduce. Deng let Ivanka have the tea set and said she would wait for her own order to arrive, reasoning, “There’s no need to rush — good craft work is something you need to wait for.” Jiang remembers this story very well, because she believes this is what contemporary huaren design must aspire to — something that is understood and respected by people from both the East and West.
Huaren design is increasingly common nowadays. Jiang hopes in the future, more and more people will look back at Chinese culture and identify with some element of it. Contemporary huaren design is not only for the Chinese community. The aesthetics of Shang Xia is based on huaren culture and craftsmanship, but its designs and products are for the global market.
About Jiang Qiong’er
Jiang Qiong’er is an internationally renowned Chinese designer. In 2009, Jiang collaborated with the Hermes group to create the contemporary, luxury lifestyle brand — Shang Xia. Jiang, CEO and artistic director at Shang Xia, is dedicated to marketing China’s exquisite craftsmanship to the world. She draws on traditional Chinese culture to promote contemporary Chinese design. Her style combines the essences of Eastern and Western culture to create a contemporary lifestyle aesthetic for the 21st century. Jiang’s designs have been collected in museums around the world. She is a recipient of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the Ordre national du Mérite, both conferred by the French Ministry of Culture.