Finding the Design Opportunities in China

Ahead of the return of Design Shanghai – Asia’s premier design event running March 8th to 11th at the Shanghai Exhibition Center – The Luxury Conversation turned its attention to leaders in the world of luxury design to ask them about the trends and opportunities for design in China today.

Aidan Walker, Program Director of the Design Shanghai Forum

The Design Shanghai Forum is the acclaimed series of presentations and seminars at Design Shanghai that puts the great names of modern design – both western and Chinese – in front of an audience hungry for knowledge and inspiration.

“China’s contribution to global design is a two-way street; Chinese designers are working more and more with western brands, and Westerners are working more and more with Chinese brands. Whether they are influenced by what is seen as typical Western design, or whether they can successfully marry the elegance of ancient Chinese tradition with the slick aesthetic of the west, the engagement is certainly there. It’s also true to say that the digitization of manufacturing has enabled the newly prosperous Chinese middle class to aspire to, and acquire, home-grown goods that would not have existed a generation ago. China is becoming a citizen of the design world in a way it never has before.”

JEAN-PIERRE TORTIL, GLOBAL CREATIVE DIRECTOR, HOUSE OF TAI PING

Famed carpet design brand House of Tai Ping first launched in 1956 and is known for producing beautiful collections with innovative patterning, textiles and designs.

“It’s a great moment to witness the development of design in China. There is a growing and increasingly sophisticated consumer base in China who have a real taste for design. What is really exciting is the development of “Made in China” designs and designers. A new generation of local designers have emerged and are notable for their ability to interpret their Chinese heritage in a contemporary way. These designers are resonating not just with local Chinese consumers, but overseas as well. At House of Tai Ping we are working with a number of local designers and their works are appreciated both in China and overseas.”

Dadawa, Pop Idol, U.N. Ambassador, Founder of Kanjian CreationS

Born Zhu Zheqin, Dadawa has spent her musical career championing China’s ethnic minority cultures and, more recently as the founder of Kanjian Creations, a collective of Chinese design, she is promoting a new era of creativity in her homeland.

“There have been drastic changes in China in recent years, we have gained in some ways but also lost in other ways. After 30 years of economic success through the “made in China” model, now it is time to pursuit a “created in China” model. In China, more and more people are concerned about where we are, who we are and where are we going. This has been the case for some time and will become a movement. In 10 or 20 years from now, “created in China” will be the central current of the time. Recently, there are many individual designer brands flourishing in China and we can feel the impulse and energy. Contemporary China needs a new identity, both in economics and culture, a new character of modern China.”

Baptiste Bohu, Luxury Interior Designer

A French interior designer based in Shanghai for the past decade, Bohu has more recently parlayed his popular Europe-meets-Asia design aesthetic into a range of geometrically pleasing furniture, carpets, lighting and home accessories.

“Chinese people have become obsessed with lifestyle, whether it be cappuccinos, fashion, interior design, art… lifestyle has recently become really big among the middle to upper class. The wealthy and very wealthy are turning more to uniqueness. A big difference in my job is that, before, people would come to me with a picture and if the final product wasn’t exactly the same, they wouldn’t be happy because being different wasn’t a good thing. Now everyone wants something different, unique furniture, unique lighting, exclusive products. If they have something different from their neighbors, this is now seen as a good thing. This makes it a really interesting time for designers and interior designers who can really get creative.”

Lea Chen, Architect and Designer

Beijing-based Lea Chen has leant her design talents to museums, retail and residential spaces and is also a designer of artistically-inclined furniture – think tables with horse, flamingo and duck legs – that are designed to simultaneously act as both sculpture and functional piece.

“Design and creativity is finding more and more importance in China. There is a sense of urgency within the nation, to move away from being a factory of the world, towards becoming the studio of the world. This is reflected by increasing demand from customers for originality and creativity with local origins finding a larger audience than before. Chinese fashion designers are becoming more popular in China, as well as abroad, there are new retail concepts exclusively stocking Chinese furniture and designer products, and customers increasingly seek talented creatives to design living and working spaces.”

Conclusion

A confluence of factors, largely driven by the accelerating sophistication, internationalization and confidence of Chinese consumers, is creating opportunities for more luxury design brands in the Chinese market.

1. East-Meets-West

As more Chinese designers and consumers travel overseas, their influences and tastes become more internationalized. At the same time, a flourishing younger generation of designers within China are garnering fans around the world. This exchange of inspiration and cultural references between East and West is contributing to a richer design world overall.

2. Chinese Designers

Chinese and international consumers are becoming more and more open to Chinese design as Chinese designers become ever more adept at translating their unique cultural and historical references in modern and unique ways. Whereas previous generations of Chinese consumers might have looked down on design from their homeland in favor of big international names, that is no longer the case and this acceptance will only continue to grow in the future.

3. Sophisticated Consumers

A more international and sophisticated consumer base in China knows more about design and is becoming more confident in their knowledge and tastes. No longer content to judge “good” design by comparing their tastes to wealthy peers, wealthy Chinese consumers are now more likely to want to differentiate themselves from their friends and neighbors.

4. Niche Opportunities

A more sophisticated and confident consumer is less reliant on big international names than previous generations, constrained by needing approval from their peers. Today, Chinese consumers, particularly at the high-end, are more open than ever to embracing smaller design brands, and unique aesthetics. This trend is likely to move down the value chain to a larger middle class consumer market in the future as well.

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