Shang Xia on Monday staged its first runway show at Paris Fashion Week, marking Yang Li’s debut as fashion creative director of the brand, and signaling its ambition to become the first global Chinese luxury brand under new majority owner Exor.
In a collection that combined minimalist cuts with pops of fluorescent color, Li opened a new chapter for Shang Xia, established by Hermès International in 2010 as the first luxury brand rooted in Chinese culture, and best known for its stratospherically priced porcelain tea sets and lacquered boxes.
“My mission is very simple: to establish Shang Xia, not overnight, but in our journey, as a serious fashion player with the big boys, because if you imagine a table, and you have representatives from Europe and America, there’s an empty chair for [the] Chinese,” Li told WWD ahead of the show.
“Someone’s got to be the first, and I think it will happen. It’s not guaranteed — I’m not a magician — but it’s such a beautiful and purposeful opportunity that we have to try. It’s absolutely what I’ve been dreaming about in my career anyway, to have this opportunity,” he continued. “And if it happens, maybe it’s a little bit of fashion history, who knows?”
For his first outing, he focused on elevated archetypes, with hoodies, pantsuits and coats in neon shades of yellow, orange, pink and cobalt blue; quilted coats, including one in sleek black Napa lambskin; oversize T-shirts in double-face cashmere; fluid satin pants, and graphic black dresses with convertible sleeves.
“I’m trying to do a quality similar to the one from Hermès, but from 30 years in the future, and younger,” Li said. “I also want to start talking about an Eastern design strategy, rather than first-degree references. There’s a kind of Asian minimalism here, in the use of colors, in the way that [blank space], or white, is also considered.”
The designer displayed a strong mastery of proportions, switching between streetwear-inspired looks — think stiff leather coats and extra-large shirts — and more understated elegance. He sprinkled in some outliers, like a coat made from galvanized silver calf skin, a caftan in a dégradé of grays and blues, and transparent plastic “bubble” slides.
It all had an urban currency, and telegraphed a more au courant vision of Asian design than Shang Xia’s previous attempts to court younger customers.
“Shang Xia is about a China style, or a Chinese sensibility, but for the global stage,” Li said. “What interests me and what got me here is defining China’s style now, not only China’s style from the dynasties in the past. There is a huge cohort of my friends, young Chinese individuals, who would love to be spoken to.”
Reflecting the importance of the relaunch, the show at the Espace Commines venue in the Marais district of Paris drew a battery of top executives.
John Elkann, chairman and chief executive officer of Exor, the holding company controlled by Italy’s Agnelli family, was joined by Suzanne Heywood, managing director of Exor; Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director of Hermès; Jiang Qiong Er, CEO and artistic director of Shang Xia, and former Hermès CEO Patrick Thomas, who was instrumental in launching Shang Xia.
Exor, the owner of Ferrari and The Economist Group, revealed its investment in Shang Xia last December, while Hermès and Jiang remain important shareholders in the company.
“The debut is always incredibly important and we feel very optimistic about what Yang Li and the whole Shang Xia team is doing. And what’s wonderful is that it will actually be tomorrow in China in the stores,” Elkann said. “We’ll have a very quick reaction, and it just shows how a company like Shang Xia is able to move fast.”
The brand has 13 stores in China, as well as boutiques in Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris, and plans to open three more, in Taipei, Shenzhen and Shanghai, said Jiang, who founded the company. International distribution will focus initially on multibrand stores.
Elkann was upbeat about the prospects for growth, though he refrained from making bombastic statements. Exor has been making inroads into fashion, presenting its first fashion line for Ferrari in June, and acquiring a 24 percent stake in Christian Louboutin.
“I think it’s always important to be humble where you are, and to be ambitious in where you want to be. And we’re off to a very good and strong start,” the executive said.
“Ten years is the growing up, and now we’re in the adolescence, trying to evolve and be more open, be more colorful. I think it’s important also on the back of what we’ve lived. I’m very happy that Yang Li is able to express optimism and joyfulness,” Elkann concluded.