How do you launch a luxury brand? Do you need European provenance to play credibly in the fashion sector? Do you need decades, or even centuries, of proven craftsmanship and artisanal traditions? Do you need to focus on one product, like luggage or scarves or pens, until you create them flawlessly, and eventually become famous for it? ShangXia is the homegrown Chinese luxury brand backed by a French fashion house that’s rewriting those rules.
Firstly, this is a new brand, launched only in 2008, without any provenance, European credentials or centuries-old artisanal stories. It’s also a collaboration (rather than a family-owned business), born out of the shared vision of Chinese designer Jian Qiong Er and French fashion house Hermes.
ShangXia, by the way, sells furniture, porcelain, homewares and jewellery that are inspired by traditional Chinese craftsmanship and culture. The design aesthetic that runs throughout their work is not a recognisable graphic motif, or signature weave, finish, material or shape like so many European luxury brands: it’s a Chinese tea ceremony. Yep, that’s right, ShangXia’s creative point of focus is a cultural ritual.
As Jian Qiong Er explained in an interview with luxurysociety.com: “During the tea ceremony, you need a nice tea set to serve the tea, you need comfortable dress to wear and conformable chairs to sit in. So you see, since ShangXia’s collection flows from Chinese lifestyle, our first collection offers an extended experience of tea.”
I think that’s delightfully different; this brand is appropriating an entire culture for its brand story, rather than a specific artisan’s tale. Time will tell us whether that’s a sustainable, defendable strategy.
So what’s the design style of these occasionally tea-ceremony-inspired products? Well, all of them exhibit beautiful craftsmanship. All are richly storied. All have a simple elegance that makes them accessible to Western style palates as well as native Chinese luxury connoisseurs seeking an alternative to the glut of European luxe on show in Shanghai and Beijing. Perhaps that’s why the brand has recently opened its first European boutique—in Paris, of course.
There’s one final point to be made here about a small, but significant part of the brand’s DNA: its name. As a colleague gushingly described to me, not only is it "lilting, lyrical and poetic", but it also has depth. Mandarin is a language rich with nuance and subtlety, and the Chinese seem to delight in brand names that are somehow multi-dimensional, that have layers of meaning and that reward the intelligent reader.
ShangXia (上下) is one such name, meaning both ‘before’ and ‘next’ as well as ‘up’ and ‘down’. In this way, the brand name symbolises ‘the continuous flow of energy from past, present and future’.
For a young brand needing to sidestep provenance and without a founding dynasty, it’s the perfect verbal emblem for a brand at the crossroads of ancient artistic traditions and modern luxury craftsmanship.