One of Chinas best-know museums for contemporary art, the UCCA in Beijing (that just finished a record breaking Picasso show) has a new neighbour: high-end fashion brand Shanghai Tang.
The Chinese heritage label’s concept store has recently opened its doors in the newly renovated UCCA complex in Beijing`s 798 art district and it seems a perfect match as the brand has a long history with contemporary Chinese art under his belt. Why this? Thanks to its late founder Sir David Tang, an avid art collector, the brand rubbed shoulders with various leading Chinese artists in the past.
Looking behind the scene, the proximity of UCCA and Shanghai Tang does not come at a surprise: the entrepreneurial minds and owners behind both businesses are Derek Sulger and Jerry Mao, who together run Shanghai-based Lunar, which focuses on the transforming Chinese consumer through new lifestyle, new culture and new retail. Driving all of this is a strong belief that Chinese millennial and Gen Z consumers seeking out a unique personal identity that reflects this idea of New Chinese Culture, through very authentic and localized Chinese brands.
So it seems while over the past weeks global Fashion Weeks brands navigated between story lining heritage and attracting millennials, Chinese brands seems to follow a particular strategy. Derek Sulger said, that “there is a powerful transformation underway in Chinese consumer desires, where people are moving away from just buying what is needed, or international luxury “high cost commodities”, to buying what reflects their Chinese identity and individuality. We see this especially amongst Generation Z, who respond strongly to authentic offerings in that strongly reflect Chinese concepts.”
For Shanghai Tang, Chinese culture is the brand’s backbone and it looks back to various collaborations with Chinese artists, recently with renowned Chinese artist Xu Bing, whose internationally lauded works have exhibited at the likes of MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum in London and, of course, the UCCA in Beijing.
Xu Bing created an exclusive artwork for Shanghai Tang, portraying the brand vision “Shanghai Tang – Created by Chinese” in his now-legendary Square Word Calligraphy, a system for rendering English letters to resemble Chinese characters. Xu Bing invented this concept in 1994, the same year Shanghai Tang was born, making this cross-disciplinary project a serendipitous joint 25th Anniversary celebration.
Xu Bing’s Square Word Calligraphy invites the audience to break down cultural barriers and decipher a new form of communication. The ingenious and artistic system organises the letters of each word into structures that resemble Chinese characters. A consequence on his project is that non-Chinese speakers can understand how each character is similarly composed.
Wondering whether there is a different trend as for rather following international names in the art world vs celebrating “Chineseness“ among the Chinese art world, Jerry Mao noted “Chinese contemporary art is becoming hugely influential throughout society, and was now exciting and relevant enough to attract mass-market attention alongside renowned international contemporary artists”. Mao further noted that this was evident in having Picasso exhibition at the UCCA in Beijing, while at the same time the UCCA was running a retrospective of the evolution of 1990s China through video art and photography, marrying the best of new Chinese art with the most important retrospective of Picasso in Modern Chinese history. “ Shanghai Tang working with Xu Bing and UCCA is so exciting as bringing together Chinese art and Chinese fashion for a new identity of “China Now”.
So while it seems rather unlikely to expect popular collaboration choices such as Daniel Arsham (the artist made his China debut in Shanghai earlier this year) collaborating with Shanghai Tang, we remain excited to further observe the role Chinese art will play in the art, fashion and brand context. Certainly, the role of cultural experiences and storytelling as mentioned above, plays a crucial role in this cross-industry environment – not only for China.