Jiang Qiong Er, at home, all of Shang Xia dressed and dressed.
At the head of Hermes' Chinese brand, Shang Xia, Jiang Qiong Er received us exclusively in his Shanghai apartment. Interview
Head for Shang Xia, the Chinese label of Hermes. It is in the Shanghai heat, on the 15th floor of a 1980s tower overlooking the Huangpu River, that Jiang Qiong Er is waiting for us. Her hair still wet after the morning shower, a steaming cup of tea in her hand and her eyes sparkling. Like always. The 36-year-old designer settled two years ago with husband and children in the clean-lined loft that she had originally designed for her former partner, Jean-Marie Charpentier (architect of the Shanghai Opera, died in 2010). It was with him that she created, at the height of her 25th birthday, her very first design agency in Shanghai, after a detour through France, from where she returned bilingual and armed with a post-graduation diploma. Art Deco.
Meanwhile, Jiang Qiong Er inaugurated a Chinese art and antiques gallery, opened several jewelery and accessory shops and met Hermès. The latter saw the future in this power-hungry Shanghainese, granddaughter of a painter and daughter of one of the city's most important architects (Xing Tong He, who designed the Shanghai Museum). Together, they created Shang Xia: not a luxury brand, she says, but "quality", seeking to bring together Chinese traditions and contemporary design. An ambitious project, almost more cultural than commercial, to hear it. Meet.
On the coffee table in the living room, a tea service in porcelain and bamboo marquetry, ymbole of contemporary refinement, according to Shang Xia. On the wall, Lost Angel, by Feng Shuo, painter born in Beijing in 1970.
Ancient Chinese figurines in terracotta.
How was the Shang Xia adventure born?
Jiang Qiong Er: It was seven years ago. I ran a design agency of 50 people who knew a strong development. Hermès China was one of my clients. I was the first Chinese designer to make the windows of the brand. The latter previously considered that the Chinese did not have a sufficient level for this exercise. I then met Patrick Thomas and Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the duo who was at the head of Hermes, during one of their trips to China. In one evening, the little seed of love has sprouted. We had the same dream: to revive Chinese culture. All my previous projects already had this vocation. In a few hours, we felt we had the same vision. They wanted to plant the philosophical values of their home on another ground. And to establish a dialogue between local crafts and contemporary design. They only needed one person to build this dream. I left everything to mount this project. I felt it was my mission.
What kind of mission?
Jiang Qiong Er: For a hundred years our culture has been like an arm cut off. We lived the war against the Japanese, then the Cultural Revolution. Over the last thirty years, we have spent them recovering our balance, out of poverty. Now that the situation is more prosperous, we are interested in our cultural roots. But, if we are not active, all our know-how will disappear. The objects that masters make in their workshops do not speak to young people today. That's why with Shang Xia we do not want to create objects of contemplation that would have their place in the museum. We want to offer useful objects that marry the Chinese aesthetic of the past and the artisanal wealth. It is not a question of drawing a peony or a dragon on a porcelain, we only want to keep the spirit of this union. Shang Xia means "upside down". Our whole project is based on this duality. In each of our creations, we try to find a balance between the empty and the full, the private and the social, the work of the hands and that of the head.
How would you define contemporary Chinese art of living?
Jiang Qiong Er: He is both sophisticated and very refined, deep and simple, splendid and zen. Unlike the French art de vivre, which is based on the authority of man over nature. For us Asians, two becomes one. Man and nature aspire to osmosis. The Shang Xia clothing cuts are always very loose. Through silk and cashmere, weaving yak or cotton, we seek flexibility. In the house, it's the same thing, the decoration should not take over, but integrate with our movements.
What skills do you seek to preserve?
Jiang Qiong Er: We work around twenty different trades: bamboo weaving, porcelain, precious woods, jade work, agate, weaving yak wool in Tibet, cashmere felt in Mongolia ... We spend a lot of time supporting craftsmen to train apprentices and to follow our development. We have a team that is constantly researching the know-how still present in Chinese minorities, but it takes time. Because, once again, our ambition is not to create a "minority" object, but a contemporary object that fits into a story.
You also want to resurrect the ceremonies of tea and incense, which are not really inscribed in the daily life of the Chinese today ...
Jiang Qiong Er: We chose to build the Shang Xia project around tea because it is an ancient art of living. The tea inspired us for our objects, our furniture, our clothes ... In the old days, when we shared a good tea, we wrote a poem. Today, I consider the jewelry of our collections as objects of poetry. The ceremony of incense, it allows to ask, to empty to better start. Before, people bought luxury to display their power; now they think about their personal pleasure. Nearly 80% of our clients are Chinese who understand the emotional value of our objects. They are still few, but things are moving fast.
How would you like to see your brand grow?
Jiang Qiong Er: We are still in the construction period of our foundations. Which does not mean that we are not moving forward, but instead of running, we are walking. Building a brand based on five thousand years of history is not easy. My dream is that Shang Xia still exists in two hundred years. I would like this house to grow in the hands of our children and our grandchildren, thanks to the students of our craftsmen. It will be our success and our pride. But to build a 100-story tower, you must first dig 100 meters underground and make sure the base is solid. Everyone wants to go fast today to win a lot right away. With Shang Xia, we make another bet. That of a cultural investment. Our ancestors left us so many treasures, and they were destroyed for so long.
And it's not over yet: in Chinese cities, bulldozers are still at work ...
Jiang Qiong Er: Yes, but it gets better. Twenty years ago, we shaved everything without hesitation. My father, the architect of the city, has redone the Bund three times [Editor's Note: Shanghai's famous wharf promenade] in his career. He told me again recently: "Twenty years ago, neighborhoods were destroyed quarter by quarter, ten years ago it was street by street, today is house by house." That's why we create each year with Shang Xia what I call "the cultural object". The first was a book-box on the theme of the family. We spent two years interviewing a thousand families, choosing a hundred stories with photos, letters, postcards. We sold a lot; some customers were crying in the shop, discovering it. The second was about man and nature. Here too, we visited dozens of villages where people live in the heart of nature. In the city, we have destroyed and forgotten. We have to reconnect people. The third "cultural object" is still in progress. Our trip will be long. This is just the beginning.
The apartment designed by the architect itself combines contemporary design and antique pieces, such as this Ming armchair inherited from his grandfather.
Qiong Er in full tea ceremony.
Passionate about contemporary art, Jiang Qiong Er punctuated her interior with paintings and sculptures. In the foreground, a wooden work of Korean Lee Cha Yo.
Shang Xia, 8, rue de Sevres, Paris (VIe), 01-42-22-53-62. www.shang-xia.com