Changing the 'Made In China' perception

Changing the 'Made In China' perception
Ms Jiang Qiong Er, artistic director and chief executive of Shang Xia.

CHINA - Rare Zitan wood chairs that take more than six months to craft and run into the six figures, and cashmere felt wrap jackets that take artisans over a week to sculpt without stitching are just some of the signature items produced by Chinese luxury label Shang Xia.

The brand, launched as a joint venture between French designer label Hermes and Shang Xia's artistic director and chief executive Jiang Qiong Er in 2008, is a unique experiment characterised by a commitment to Chinese craftsmanship.

The name Shang Xia means "up and down" in Chinese and nods to juxtapositions such as East and West, past and future. It works with about 30 artisans in China to create modern lifestyle products.

Furniture, clothing, homeware and jewellery are all painstakingly handcrafted to offer goods inspired by Chinese heritage, such as eggshell porcelain teacups and chairs inlaid with bamboo marquetry.

Ms Jiang, who is married to a French entrepreneur and has two children, says that the brand's relationship with the artisans helps to preserve skills that may have been lost with them.

"It's important to show families that these skills can be used to create in new functional ways," says the 37-year-old. For example, an eggshell porcelain master's daughter had left the family business to work in Beijing, but returned after she saw there was still a demand for such work.

Shanghai-based Ms Jiang, who speaks English with a hint of a French accent, was in town to speak at the International New York Times' luxury conference last week. She wears a layered sleeveless black dress from Shang Xia during the interview with Urban. The material of the dress looks like leather but is actually lacquered silk, she says proudly.

Ms Jiang herself is uniquely positioned to lead the brand. Immersed in China's art world, her grandfather, Jiang Xuan Yi, was a noted painter and her father, Xing Tong He, was an architect who designed the Shanghai Museum.

From a young age, Ms Jiang studied with painter Cheng Shi Fa and calligrapher Han Tian Hong before getting her degree in art and design from Shanghai's Tong Ji University. Later, she studied furniture and interior design at Paris' Decorative Arts School.

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