By  on September 15, 2011

SHANGHAI — Hermès International-backed Chinese luxury brand Shang Xia is celebrating its first birthday here.
To mark the occasion, Hermès chief executive Patrick Thomas, and Shang Xia's artistic director, Jiang Qiong Er, unveiled the brand's second collection — with new additions to the line's clothing and lifestyle products, including mahjong sets, stationery accessories and jewelry inspired by ancient Chinese clothing and ink paintings.
Reflecting the collection's theme of "human and nature", Thursday's press launch and anniversary celebration was held in a bamboo enclosure, with tea leaves scattered on the floor and musical accompaniment from traditional Mongolian throat singers. The event also marked the opening of an exhibition of vintage Chinese portraits curated by photographer Paolo Roversi.
According to Thomas, this new collection is the next step for the year-old brand, with future plans including expansion and store openings in France and Beijing, the timing of which will be dependent on finding the right spaces in Paris and the Chinese capital. Currently Shang Xia has just one store, here in Shanghai.
"The first target we share is to build a business model which is a value business model based on the excellence of the objects, creativity and gradually, the affirmation of a real Shang Xia style, which you can see already," Thomas told WWD.
Responding to a question about speculation that the Chinese brand is underperforming, the executive remained upbeat and stressed that the French group is looking at this as a long-term project.
"The only thing I can tell you about figures is nothing!" Thomas joked. "But on figures, I mean the numbers are well beyond our expectations. If you are asking, is Shang Xia making a loss? The answer is yes, and it will be for a while. The time will come in a few years when we will be more focused on numbers."
Thomas said Shang Xia development is more about nurturing the brand's design story rather than grand business plans. Not only does the Hermès chief seem confident that the Shang Xia brand was the right strategy for the Chinese market, he also said he believes it is an idea that will be copied by other brands in the future.
"The thing that is unique in Shang Xia is the same thing that is unique in Hermès, it's the philosophy of excellence," Thomas said. "We are not trying to make big numbers. Profits, all these things are a reward. What we are trying to do is reach a level of excellence which is recognized by the people and which gives real pleasure to people who are buying the objects."
Shang Xia (the name means "up down" in Chinese) has tried to resuscitate the Middle Kingdom's traditions of high-quality craftsmanship that were passed though generations of dynasties before the Communist Party came to power in 1949, creating what Jiang describes as "a break" in Chinese creativity.
The brand's products not only make use of traditional Chinese design and craftsmanship, but also try wherever possible to incorporate Chinese-sourced materials. Included in the line is furniture made from traditionally prized Chinese materials such as zitan wood and red lacquer, as well as a range of porcelain home wares and jade jewelry.
The Jun Zi collection of mahjong sets is inspired by traditional Chinese lunch boxes and contains four boxes of Indian sandalwood or zitan wood mahjong tiles and racks. Each set is said to take over 2,000 hours to make. As does the Da Dian Ti Gongfu Tea Table, made from zitan wood or walnut the table is inspired by traditional Ming furniture and comes complete with a hot plate.
The new jewelry lines include necklaces comprised of interconnected squares of jade, gold or wood, inspired by the bamboo vests worn under clothing in ancient Chinese summers to separate the cloth from sweaty skin.
"We are coming from China, we are coming from a Chinese family, we went to Chinese school, so from the very start it's coming from a Chinese inspiration," Jiang said. "You see in products like the tea table and mahjong sets, we are coming from a Chinese culture."
Thomas and Jiang appear something of an odd couple, though the mutual respect and affection shared by the senior French executive and the elegant 34-year-old designer is obvious as they speak in tandem, the conversation littered with ready laughter.
Speaking of her first meeting with Thomas, Jiang described an instant connection. "In only a few hours, we shared the same dreams, the same passions, the same wine! It's just like a beautiful love story. We share the same values," she said.

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