07 December 2017
Jiang Qiong Er, artistic director and CEO of SHANG XIA, is an internationally renowned designer. After many years studying in Europe, Jiang brings a cosmopolitan approach and bi-cultural experience to her designs. Respectful of tradition, she draws inspiration from a vast range of sources, and this is reflected in her multi-faceted work, which is collected by museums around the world.
In 2009, she established the contemporary lifestyle brand SHANG XIA, taking up the positions of artistic director and CEO. Jiang and SHANG XIA are dedicated to bringing fine Chinese crafts to the world. They infuse old crafts with contemporary design, blending concepts from East and West to create a 21st century lifestyle.
In 2013, Jiang was awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French President in recognition of her contribution to cultural exchange between China and France. In 2016, in Shanghai, she was appointed a Chevalier de L’Ordre National du Mérite by the French Government.
If you could choose 3 words to describe yourself, which would they be?
I'd like to quote the Chinese idiom "the highest good is like water", as well as my motto for happiness, which says in six Chinese characters "love arouses love, and beauty creates beauty".
In fact, "the highest good is like water" is my life principle. It represents an ideal of personhood and invites us to behave like water, benefiting everything in the world and competing for nothing. Colourless, tasteless and shapeless, water can adapt to any circumstances by changing itself into various different states of being. Just like my name, which was given to me by my grandfather, "Qiong" means "gem" and "Er" means "civilian" in Chinese. Therefore, my name is endowed with an extended meaning: that a person should be conscious of his/her own morals when alone, as well as being indifferent to fame and wealth.
"Love arouses love, and beauty creates beauty" has been my motto all along. I was brought up with love and care by my grandparents, my parents and my brother, then I met my beloved and had my children, which instilled me with an even greater capacity to love and the ability to keep a cool mind when dealing with fast-paced urban life.
Besides, there are too many beautiful things in life, as SHANG XIA’s byword for this year "this moment, every moment" suggests. There are so many wonderful moments in daily life, and I'd like to encapsulate the aesthetics of Oriental life in a modern way, attaching aesthetic meanings to objects. By virtue of its creativity and designs, SHANG XIA is a brand that should be shared, communicated and passed on. It brings together modern life, Chinese traditional craftsmanship and contemporary elegant and authentic aesthetics through innovation and design, acting as a bridge between feelings, aesthetics and functionality. A powerful flow of energy has been infused into traditional Chinese artistic culture, and this traditional craftsmanship can be carried forward.
What do you think about design? What does design mean to you?
As I see it, designers express people's emotions and desires, as well as their feelings. Designs should be shared and communicated and transmit love in an innovative manner. We want to create a bridge between real life and traditional Chinese craftsmanship, informing an elegant lifestyle through innovation and design. This calls for persistence. Far from inept plagiarism, our innovative take on Chinese traditional culture and craftsmanship consists of re-creation, informed by an appreciation of contemporary social aesthetics and practical needs. It is a blend of Chinese traditional aesthetics and modern lifestyle, drawing inspiration from China's lengthy history and ancient culture for designs and creations that aim to respond to the demands of contemporary lifestyles. I draw strength from my enthusiasm for and pride in traditional Chinese art and culture, both of which are in my blood and in my artistic designs, and I hope that some of these traditional techniques and cultures can be passed on before they simply fade away.
You studied and lived in France for many years, what do you think are the similarities and differences between Western and Eastern lifestyles?
When I was in France, the most obvious similarity between French and Chinese lifestyles was that all the members of a family tried to create spaces full of love. Regardless of the difference between Eastern and Western styles, what really matters are the ties and love between family members. I believe that a homely atmosphere is created by emotions, and that harmonious families can make everyone feel relaxed and serene. This also extends to all the household objects, some of which encapsulate important narratives and memories, filling the house with a powerful sense of love and warmth.
By contrast, the aesthetics of Chinese life derive from Chinese tradition, and should be upheld as meaningful aesthetics that have withstood the passage of time. The elegance of Oriental style stems from a quest for beauty in detail, which has informed a unique temperament. The ancient Chinese sages got to grips with everything by analogy. They pursued all the activities themselves, such as playing the lyre, playing chess, practising calligraphy, painting, tea tasting, perfume smelling, picture hanging, flower arranging, even making furniture and garden buildings, all imbued with their ideas and aesthetic values, embodying the traditional Chinese way of spreading and sharing love from ancient times to the present day.
How would you describe your home?
Home is a platform for expressing love and family bonds, or a harbour filled with love. Since the atmosphere within a home is created by emotions, as I said, rather than luxury, I want a house to emit comfort and intimacy – with all the family together – that’s what really matters.
When I go home to my family, I devote all my time and energy to it, without being interrupted by other things, and I do everything myself. My daily life is simple and organised. I get up at half past six, and then I'll play with my children, have breakfast, get dressed and brush my teeth with them, and drop them off at school at eight o'clock. In the evening, I get home before they fall asleep, tell them stories and talk about all the things that have happened during the day, then I let them drift off to sleep. I love speaking openly with my children, listening to their stories and their thoughts and being involved in all the important moments of their life, surrounded by an atmosphere of love that we all create together.
Is there an object (or more than one) in your home that you would never be without?
In terms of feelings, the last thing I would let go of is a memory full of love. The most important bedrock of every family is the memory of love between people. This is precisely why SHANG XIA’s first cultural piece was created in 2011. We visited families and listened to their stories. In each of these families, these stories were put into a box filled with memories and feelings, and we then attached unspoken feelings to the utensils to represent communication so that they could be spiritually shared amongst them all, both a legacy and a marker of affection towards the home and towards traditional Chinese culture.
In the light of your experience of working with high-end fashion brands and creating the SHANG XIA brand, how have Chinese high-end consumers changed in terms of aesthetics and consumerism?
With the advent of globalisation, more and more ethnic Chinese consumers have begun to pursue the fundamental essence of their own national culture, going back to their origins and exploring their own cultural characteristics. Most SHANG XIA clients appreciate Chinese culture and possess aesthetic taste, placing value on quality of life and pursuing a simple life filled with spiritual meaning, rating the spiritual satisfaction conveyed by a design piece extremely highly. Many are attracted by the artisan abilities honed over the years by craftsmen and their painstaking search for perfection in their work, and recognise the artisan spirit contained in these important pieces.
In the pursuit of innovation, we are also keen to keep traditional Chinese craftsmanship alive before it slowly disappears, and to interpret it in a modern vein so that it can be incorporated into the life of today as well as that of the future. If a chair cannot be used comfortably, its designer is not up to the job: the design becomes pointless, no matter how beautiful it is. Equally, what matters where clothes are concerned is practicality. A piece of clothing should respond to different demands and different occasions. Furthermore, greater attention must be paid to the sustainability of materials and manufacturing. The raw materials used by SHANG XIA precisely reflect the philosophical concept, embraced by traditional Chinese craftsmen and craftsmanship, of the "unity of man and nature", filled with deep love, ensuring that the raw materials, worked with great skill, are turned into pieces worthy of appreciation and of being passed down.
What would you say is the design and lifestyle trend?
Globalisation and fast-paced lifestyles have blurred the boundaries between Eastern and Western styles. Simple, meaningful designs are favoured instead. As I see it, conciseness, lightness and practicability will become the design and lifestyle trend of the future. Conciseness not in the pursuit of simplification, but to better adapt to contemporary lifestyles. We incorporate new materials and technologies to bring convenience and aesthetic value to innovative designs, and to bind space and emotion closer together.
What are you working on at the moment? Can you tell us a bit about your new projects?
The new SHANG XIA designs for spring/summer were released at the beginning of this year. The clothing and accessories were presented under the banner of "this moment, every moment".
Significant moments in our daily lives are like fragments of slides that lodge in our memories. “This moment” is full of wonder and we weave some unique moments of these memories into our pieces. We hope that through these lovingly designed pieces, people will pause and slowly be amazed by “this moment.”