Petite and understated, with a sleek bob, heels and sculptural shawl of ivory cashmere-felt – the last by her own label, Shang Xia – Jiang Qiong Er is the epitome of restrained elegance. The Shanghai- born artist and designer has transformed her aesthetic of cultivated simplicity into the only Hermès-backed Chinese lifestyle brand. Founded in 2009, Shang Xia opened its first store in 2010.
The idea behind Shang Xia (pronounced ‘shang shah’) is a growing appreciation of China’s traditional artisanal skills: bamboo weaving, lacquer, porcelain and Ming-dynasty carpentry. Jiang, who is 41, is widely acknowledged as having created the first luxury Chinese brand offering contemporary, minimalist fashion, furniture and accessories that combine heritage and innovation with a French sensibility. Just don’t mention stereotypical tropes of gilded dragons and chrysanthemums.
A visit to her new home, a sprawling 5,382 sq ft French-style villa, just 20 minutes west of the centre of Shanghai, confirms Jiang’s fascination with the harmony between old and new.
The Circle prints in the dining room are by Shanghai artist Ding Yi. CREDIT: SHUWEI LIU
The family (she and husband Guillaume Brochard have five children aged between two and 28, the eldest two being from Brochard’s first marriage) also has an apartment in Paris and another home in Bordeaux, but Jiang spends much of her time in the two-storey, five-bedroom villa overlooking Suzhou Creek. They moved here in December 2017 from a vast loft, attracted by the combination of nature, space and proximity to her children’s school.
Jiang doesn’t think of herself as a collector: «It’s a home, not a showroom,» she says. «We just have things that we really love.» Framed paintings by her children sit beside a rare bronze pumpkin by Japanese artist and fashion-world icon Yayoi Kusama and an intricate Rorschach test-like painting by the Shanghai artist Ding Yi, whose works are collected by the Centre Pompidou and Hong Kong’s M+. «We never collect for investment,» she adds. «We usually know the artists, so each piece is a beautiful memory.»
The print above the fireplace is by the Chinese-French artist Zao Wou Ki. It is flanked by two pieces by Lee Jae Hyo. CREDIT: SHUWEI LIU
Jiang applies the same philosophy to the artisans she commissions to produce fashion, furniture and home accessories for Shang Xia. «I’m not interested in collaborating for one collection. It is a long-term, personal commitment.»
The strategy is paying off. The British Museum recently collected her blackwood and traditional red spot lacquer Xi Pi Lacquer Heaven and Earth Lid Box, topped with a red agate (the masterpiece took 19 months to craft), and pieces by Shang Xia fly at auction, both in China and the West.
The daughter of artistic parents – her father was the architect Xing Tong He, who designed the Shanghai Museum – Jiang studied industrial design at Shanghai’s Tongji University before moving to Paris, despite not speaking a word of French. «It was my grandfather’s dream to study in France but instead he went to Japan in the 1920s, so Paris always fascinated me,» she says.
The oil painting is by the Chinese artist Wang Jie Yin. Below it is a bronze sculpture by Frenchman Richard Texier CREDIT: SHUWEI LIU
A postgraduate degree from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs led to a meeting with Hermès creative director Pierre-Alexis Dumas. She was invited to be the first Chinese artist-designer to create an Hermès store window installation in China, and Jiang found the sixth-generation owner of the French luxury brand shared her passion for Chinese culture and craftsmanship.
«Ours is definitely not an East-meets-West aesthetic,»Jiang says firmly. «We do not follow a stereotypical formula or style, nor do we translate simple Chinese motifs like the dragon. We prefer to express the emotional value of our Chinese philosophy through evoking form and materials. For one piece, for example, we wrapped pure white porcelain in fine bamboo, woven to create a 3D effect.»
Her home embodies this nuanced approach with a mix of inherited antiques, Parisian finds and contemporary Asian artworks. In the dining room, a series of six Ding Yi ink paintings sit alongside a Ming-dynasty chair inherited from her grandfather. One statement piece is a wonderfully organic and tactile 5ft-high sculpture by Korean artist Lee Jae Hyo, who assembles discarded beech wood, burning the interior to contrast with the polished exterior surface.
The hand-woven copper-wire vase sculpture is by Korean artist Cheong Kwang Ho. On the wall above it is another work by Lee Jae Hyo CREDIT: SHUWEI LIU
Signature Shang Xia pieces include a paper-thin Ming dynasty-inspired chair, Da Tian Di, in hi-tech carbon fibre, a result of Jiang’s artistic collaboration with Chinese artisans. A hand-woven copper-wire vase sculpture by Korean artist Cheong Kwang Ho holds particular meaning for Jiang. «I first discovered his work in the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea, where his 5m-high [16ft] wire vase was displayed. It was exactly the same sense of lightness and fullness that I want to bring to Shang Xia,» she says.
We walk downstairs to find Jiang’s five-year-old daughter clambering up the Lee Jae Hyo sculpture. Jiang laughs as she removes the budding mountaineer. «This piece has a few more cracks since we got it, but that doesn’t matter. Children have to learn to live with beautiful things.»