Starting a Chinese luxury brand from scratch isn’t easy.
Recruiting skilled craftsmen from disparate parts of the country — from Sichuan Province in the south to Inner Mongolia in the north — is a challenge. Execution is key. The brand must not only appeal to China’s burgeoning class of sophisticated luxury consumers but also to consumers abroad, both of which historically have seen goods made in China as substandard, cheap and, in some cases, even dangerous.
Finally, timing is crucial. Less than half a decade ago, consumers in China were not quite ready to accept an understated luxury brand incorporating Asian aesthetics with modern design, made from locally sourced products, such as bamboo, porcelain, cashmere or silk, and meant to not only reflect but also reinvigorate, perhaps even redefine, China’s rich cultural heritage in the 21st century.
“It is true that to launch a Chinese high-end luxury brand is not an easy project,” said Jiang Qiong Er, artistic director and chief executive officer of Chinese luxury brand Shang Xia. “Chinese people have been brainwashed for the last 30 years that made in China is bad quality, counterfeit, copies and no creativity.”
Jiang founded Shang Xia in 2010 with backing from Hermès International, which wanted to create a label specifically for the Chinese market. Hermès had been working on the project with Jiang, who had created Hermès display windows in China for about three years before the first store opened in Shanghai. Now Shang Xia also has retail locations in Beijing and Paris.
“We want to be one of the first to show to the world that this is not true for today’s China,” Jiang said, adding that up to 90 percent of clientele who visit Shang Xia stores in Beijing and Shanghai are Chinese. “We arrived at the right time. More and More Chinese customers, even international customers, are looking for their own style. They are coming back to the Chinese culture and the lifestyle we present.”
Shang Xia’s products range from furniture to home objects, ready-to-wear, jewelry and accessories.
Jiang, who studied at the École Nationale Superieure Des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, detailed how the brand aims to subtly envelop consumers in a sensual experience in its retail spaces, particularly in the Maison Shang Xia, which opened in Shanghai in 2014.
There, customers can meditate in an incense room or drink tea in a VIP pavilion. The music played in-store is inspired from sounds generated during the creation of handcrafted products.
“We wanted to translate the five basic senses into a retail experience,” she said.
Shang Xia’s products are generation-less, appealing to both younger and older generations, she said, which was ultimately the goal for the brand. They are made in partnership with craftsmen from across China.
The designer showcased an ad campaign featuring her nonagenarian grandmother sitting in a handcrafted chair made in a style from China’s dynastic period. The idea is that Shang Xia’s products will accompany an individual for a lifetime, reflecting not only China’s history but also personal memories of those who purchase them.
“Shang Xia is about time and emotion,” Jiang said. “We try to bring emotional value into all of this different heritage.”