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.worth: On Grassroots Luxe in China Part II

Friday, Dec 3, 2010, 11:26 AM / China

We welcome you to the second part of our feature on Shang Xia, Hermès’ new brand designed specifically for the China’s upscale consumers. Read Part One here.

Hermès is the original champion of slow fashion. Its signature silk scarves are made using 65 grams of raw Chinese silk that is woven into fabric twice as strong and heavy as any other carré. The scarves are then individually screen-printed with vegetable dye—an extremely time-consuming process.

As for other of the label’s other hallmark products, It is estimated that an artisan will spend an average of 18 hours on single Kelly or Birkin bag. Indeed the label’s commitment to using only natural materials and time-consuming manufacturing processes very nearly put the company out of business in the 1970s, when synthetic fabrics were threatening to overtake high fashion altogether.

So what do we know about Hermès Chinese daughter Shang Xia? What little concrete information can be gleaned from its website, as well as from a great write-up in Jing Daily, is this:

  1. The first location will open in Shanghai in the Huaihai Road shopping area, which has recently become home to Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Zegna. If all goes well, Shanghai will be followed by a second location in Beijing and maybe another in Paris.
  2. The boutique itself is designed, paradoxically, by a Japanese architect named Kengo Kuma, who is famous for reinterpreting traditional Japanese design for the 21st century.
  3. The brand’s artistic director is a woman named Jiang Qionger, a 33 year-old visual artist and designer who trained extensively in Paris, yet is steeped in the traditions of Chinese applied art.
  4. The website itself displays not a single item, but a series of textures, words and images that slightly evocative of a kind of Kuomintang-era nostalgie. It’s the tiniest bit twee, actually.

Without seeing any of the collection, Shang Xia’s brand story essentially affirms the same values as its parent company. It’s mission is “to bring the excellence of the long and rich tradition of Chinese craftsmanship and philosophy into contemporary lifestyle through the encounter of heritage and innovation, of man and nature, and of life and art.”

Like Hermès, Shang Xia’s vibe is pretty un-bling, whatever its high-end excesses might be. It resonates of innocence, of the revival of lost arts, an understated opulence, and a soft-yet-imperial kind of elegance that rejects nouveau, free-market flash.

Perhaps this is a brand story that will help to awaken a new sense of history in the contemporary Chinese consciousness, which seems to bury its painful history under new high-rises and shopping centers at an alarming rate.

Either way, to quote the Jing Daily, the jury is still out on whether Hermès newest progeny will sink or swim. However, Hermès is an agile company whose brand is built around a deeply loyal following and a carefully crafted, resilient image—who better to take a chance on a cool, niche grassroots project in China?

Catherine Levy | TribaSpace

Product Groups: Couture, Sales, Ready-to-Wear, Buying, Accessories, Leatherwear
Markets: Other, Children's, Men's, Women's

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