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- 20 Nov 2012
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Shang Xia: The Best of Both Worlds?


Jaslin Goh, regional director at Oracle Added Value, examines how Chinese heritage combined with modern artistry might be offering a new option for luxury buyers in China.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” And so what constitutes a Chinese, or for that matter an English, French, Italian, Spanish, Swiss, German, or American luxury brand? Does the brand have to be designed as well as handcrafted locally? If so, is it a prerequisite that the brand’s designers and artisans are themselves local?

Must it bear a name that sounds as if it is from the heartland of the home country? And what about a couple of hundred years of local history being a must, as well as the treasure trove of beautiful stories that comes with that? And surely it must tap in to the brand identity of the country of provenance – and be synonymous with one or more of the qualities that are spontaneously associated with the name of its home country?

Or, more reasonably, is “national association” achieved when a large proportion of the advocates of the brand would spontaneously describe it as a “[insert country here] luxury brand”; and then go on to talk about the country association being an important part of the allure of the brand.

 Is “national association” achieved when advocates spontaneously describe it as a “[insert country here] luxury brand? 

Using this test, Shang Xia would, I believe, be one of the few brands to qualify as a Chinese luxury brand. The collaboration between the Hermes Group and Ms Jiang Qiong’er (artistic director and CEO) opened its doors in Hong Kong Plaza on Shanghai’s Huaihai Road in September 2010. The shop showcases a treasure trove of handcrafted jewellery, furniture, apparel, porcelain and home decorations.

Shang Xia, which means “up and down” or “before and “after” in Chinese, positions itself, as its name suggests, as the meeting point old and new. Their website throws some more light on their thinking: “Shang Xia has the ambition to preserve the beauty and techniques of traditional craftsmanship and embrace the elegance and simplicity of a new 21st century aesthetic”.

This “fusion” of old and contemporary, traditional and innovative – all fashioned with great craftsmanship using quality materials – has certainly caught the attention of a certain kind of luxury-brand shopper in China. Ms Ying, a fan of the brand we spoke with in Shanghai, sums up the appeal: “I really like what Shang Xia stands for. It’s great that a Chinese brand can provide me with the best of both worlds.”


Shang Xia’s newest boutique in Beijing (WWD)

It is important to note that when Ms Ying talks about the “best of both worlds”, she is not referring to any notion of “East meet West” or a happy marriage of Chinese and international design. The two worlds she is referencing are both Chinese worlds.

The first “world” spans five thousand years or so – from the Neolithic epoch up to the end of the Imperial age (funnily enough, the revolution that toppled dynastic rule began 100 years ago today and was the inspiration for this article).

During that time, China’s artists, designers, and craftsmen, produced some of the most spectacular luxury goods the world has ever seen. A walk through Beijing’s Palace Museum (within the walls of The Forbidden City) provides just a glimpse of this magnificence.

The finest of seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century Qing dynasty porcelain is but a short walk away from exquisite jade carvings that were created during Neolithic times; which in turn abut a cornucopia of Song dynasty (960–1279) furniture, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) calligraphy, and Ming dynasty (1368–1644) silks and costumes.

 When Ms Ying talks about the “best of both worlds”, she is not referring to any notion of “east meet west" 

Talking of Shang Xia (albeit using different Chinese characters), the Palace Museum also houses fabulous gold jewellery from the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC) and Xia dynasty (2100–1600 BC) inscribed drinking-vessels made of bronze.

The second world that Ms Ying refers to is also very much culturally Chinese. This is a world full of drive, energy, and creativity that is characterised by continuous progression. Shang Xia captures the essence of this progression beautifully, according to Ms Ying: “I’ve bought a few rare pieces; they really remind me how far China has come,” she says.

One may ask, how many of buyers like Ms Ying are there in China now, when today, what we see are flocks of new rich Chinese grabbing the latest and newest apparels at the “Foreign Luxury Supermarkets”? Why does it take a foreigner brand to appreciate the true beauty of Chinese heritage?

 I think more people in China realize the importance of looking back to our cultural roots – Jiang Qiong’er 

In the evolution towards a new renaissance of the value of Chinese heritage, it’s a matter of time before true self-appreciation will become the mainstream. ShangXia brand define itself by outstanding Chinese craftsmanship with quality standards endorsed by foreign traditional luxury brands. An intermediary between now and the future, reconciliation of the glorious past and the excitement of the future.

“I think more people in China realize the importance of looking back to our cultural roots, going back and trying to re-evaluate the value of Chinese culture. I’d say it’s still relatively few, but more are looking at the craftsmanship side of things – that’s the angle we start from,” says Ms Jiang (during a recent interview with Jing Daily).

As more and more brands begin to unlock the great Chinese stories of artistry and design than span the ages, and start to render them in a relevant and contemporary way – employing the finest craftsmen to do so of course – then the nature of the luxury market in China will begin to change.

The tipping point of this “Chinese luxury brand” movement is still a long way off, but there are sure signs that – among some key influencers at least – the revolution has at long last begun. One day, when the Chinese truly take pride in their own creation, will others come to respect Chinese Luxury brands.

Written while Steve Bale was in situ as Oracle Added Value’s Non-Exec Chairman

To further investigate Cultural Convergence on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- Jiang Qiong Er, Shang Xia’s CEO & artistic director
- The Future of Luxury in the East-West Union
- The Rise of Chinese Luxury Brands


Added Value provides consultancy on brand development and marketing insight for iconic and luxury brands, both big and small, around the world. We help solve clients’ central marketing questions about market, equity, positioning, innovation and communications.