Author: Emily Lu
T he year 2014 is special for Shangxia CEO and Artistic Director Jiang Qiong’er. It marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-France diplomatic relations, and Jiang has been named one of 50 people who have greatly contributed to Sino-French cultural exchange over the past 50 years. So far this year, she has attended the UNESCO banquet in Paris alongside President Xi Jinping and exhibited the Shangxia tearoom in the UNESCO headquarters, and was invited to take part in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs’ prestigious Chinese antiques show.
The long-awaited Shangxia Maison experience store is set to open on the corner of Huaihai Road and Songshan Road in October this year. This elegant 1920s Former French Concession police station, with over 1,000sqm of space, is set to dwarf the brand’s existing stores and form an important milestone in their short but illustrious history.
Jiang frequently stresses that Shangxia don’t lack opportunities, only time. How much time, she cannot say, but Jiang is sure of one thing: “Just be on the right track.” About the future, she is realistic but patient: “We are all limited by ourselves in a way. We need enough wisdom to understand our own imperfections in order to improve and do better. One cannot go through life without self-awareness.”
Inheritance is a challenge, but also a blessing
“There is no contradiction between inheritance and creation,” says Jiang with certainty, “not if you inherit the spirit and aesthetic of tradition with the mindset of design, creation and a sense of the new.” By the interpretation of common features that run through ancient and modern, one may receive the cues for contemporary living in their exquisite crafts and excellent quality.
Heir to 5,000 years of civilization, a heavy sense of cultural responsibility outweights commercial considerations. It is common thread that runs through Shangxia, and they are a brand that carries culture close to their heart. For Jiang, it is uncertain when the commercial potential of their endeavours will be realised; the current environment in China is not all that embracive of handcrafts. “It’s unbelievably difficult for artisans to survive here. Three to ten people workshops, no scientific management, no healthy master-apprentice relationship. They often stop work at three in the afternoon because it’s getting too dark.” At this point, Jiang pauses in thought: “We cannot simply talk about innovation without first helping artisans to develop. We need to find solutions to guarantee the survival of traditional crafts.” Action starts with the individual, and Jiang and her artisans are close, to the extent that they often ask her help in their family issues. She laughs and says: “Actually our project is one of humanity.” Building a durable development environment for craftsmen may take decades but Jiang feels fortunate to be a part of it.
The only secret is love
“The art of living is a reflection of philosophy. It’s the pursuit of love and beauty, regardless of age or nationality.” Jiang has put much thought into the ‘art of living’. In her role at the head of her brand, she faces a lot of people but always strives to put forward a sunny, energetic side of herself. She emanates harmony. “You don’t have to use your logical mind to find harmony. There’s no formula, it’s all in your heart and the secret is simply love.”
Since Shangxia’s inception, Jiang has sought out renowned architect Kengo Kuma to design their spaces. “I was looking for a philosopher more than an architect, same for photographer Paolo Roversi who has shot for us so many times,” she says, “we took time to communicate and share our dream. Shangxia is not commercial project to them, but one of love.”
One notable aspect that sets Shangxia apart is Jiang’s interactions with her design team: “I don’t have to manage my design team, I just make sure they stay inspired.”
Jiang’s philosophy of interaction extends beyond the work place and into relationships with loved ones. If you care about someone, you don’t have to wait for a special holiday to express it. She likes to surprise her loved ones with gifts on ordinary days: “Commercial holidays are superficial and meaningless. People who love me complete my life everyday, so everyday is an anniversary! You don’t have to wait for a ‘special’ day.”
True Beauty is Timeless
“Timeless pieces are always pure, simple, light and yet functional.” In Jiang’s eyes, Ming-style furniture, Han dress and Song objects are all as fresh today as back at their heyday; their beauty is the main inspiration for Shangxia’s design. She explains: “We are standing on the shoulders of a prosperous design history, the question is how to integrate all that heritage into contemporary life. It is not easy, we are not producing trendy design, but looking to capture the essense of tradition and timelessness.” Shangxia’s design philosophy is represented in a wide range of products, from furniture to jewellery to clothing, because the art of living is all encompassing.
Of their customers, Jiang estimates that 80 percent of them are Chinese: “We have no age demographic, it varies anywhere from 23 to 85. All clients can find something here that resonates with them.” Entrepreneurs, artists, and even students, Shangxia attracts an eclectic clientele. They are looking for a thread of Chinese identity that runs through our culture and history, and they find it here.
“I never wear a watch”
“I don’t have a routine, no two days are the same,” Jiang says. Her timetables are packed; meetings with her team, retailers, artists, designers, clients, as well as people in media and government from all over the world. However, she is not restricted by any schedule: “I never calculate how much time is spent on doing something. The most precious in our life is not money or fame, but time. I never wear a watch. When you are with someone, just spend enough time. Don’t look at your watch and say ‘I have to go’. If I don’t have enough time to do something, I don’t do it, I wait for when I have enough time to do it well.”
In this fast paced world, where profit is king, most people are not interested in slowing down, or are under pressure to move ever faster. But Jiang Qiong’er believes in the value of slow and steady: “More and more Chinese people are looking for culture, quality, and depth that go beyond a logo. Admittedly, they are not the majority, but times are changing.”
Despite her high powered professional titles, Jiang Qiong’er is ultimately and steadfastly herself. Her life goals are, in a way, simple: creating love and beauty and sharing them with her loved ones in a creative way. She understands that the best things in life are the small pleasures, she enjoys having dinner with her husband and going to the park with her kids. Her list of goals is not long, but what’s on there is worthwhile; such as establishing a school for craftsmen. She says: “We have to go step by step, but never forget the dream.”