Tag Archives: China

How China’s claim to Taiwan is reflecting on airlines

Under the “One China” policy, Beijing considers Taiwan a province of China that the country constantly seeks to reunify. China’s adamant stance and increasingly assertive claim to Taiwan has taken onto the global stage. To prevent international recognition of Taiwan’s sovereignty, China has demanded countries to cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Now, China is exerting their influence over foreign airlines on how Taiwan should not be listed as a country.

On April 25, the Civil Aviation Administration (CAA) of China ordered a number of international airlines, including several from the US, to change how Taiwan is described on their websites and promotional material. Most foreign airlines have received a private letter from the Chinese authorities in Beijing to amend their listing of Taiwan as a ‘country’.

Responses from the airlines have been rather polarised. Some of the airlines that have changed their listing of Taiwan as a region, include German airline Lufthansa, Malaysian Airlines and Garuda Indonesia.

A relatively higher count of airlines have retained their listing of Taiwan as a country, including Singapore airlines, Air France, Air Canada and Emirates. Some airlines have also more openly expressed their dissent on China’s assertions. The US State Department confirmed to Business Insider airlines received the letter from CAA and raised “strong concerns” with Chinese authorities in Beijing about the order.

“Regarding websites, we object to Beijing dictating how U.S. firms, including airlines, organize their websites for ease of consumer use. Chinese companies’ websites operate freely and without political interference in the United States,” a State Department official reportedly said.

The US agency also states that it will take “appropriate action if necessary in response to unfair Chinese actions.”

The aggressive territorial claims of China has became a confusing and diplomatically-fraught aspect of several foreign companies since before. International hotel chain Marriott being placed in a difficult position just earlier this year due to their listing of Taiwan and Hong Kong as a ‘country’ on their website. Other international companies such as Zara and Qantas was also publicly called out by the Chinese authorities. These companies have then fixed this ‘error’ in a routine website maintenance.

The most intriguing stance might be that of Hong Kong based Cathay Pacific, that has chosen to list Taiwan as a ‘country/region’ while maintaining a seemingly neutral stance on the matter. This highlights the degree of caution that companies have to thread on with China’s sensitivities on territorial claims.

Hopefully, this conflict will not carry over to problems with the airline flights.

Bally CEO Frédéric de Narp Proven Right as Profits Rise on US and Japanese Growth

Introducing the Bally Spring Summer 2018 Campaign

Introducing the Bally Spring Summer 2018 Campaign

When Chinese textile company Shandong Ruyi Group inked a deal in February 2018 to purchase a controlling stake in Swiss luxury shoes and leather company Bally from Luxembourg-based JAB Holding, all indications was that Bally was on the path of profitability but there was some nagging concerns on whether the increasing number of Chinese luxury producers buying up famous European brands at a frantic rate would come with the requisite management and distribution skills to cement the brand positions of their new acquisitions with consumers. Yesterday, Bally Chief Executive Officer Frédéric de Narp told Reuters that Bally made its biggest underlying profit in a decade in end 2017, supported largely by growing US and Japanese markets.

Business of Luxury: Bally CEO Frédéric de Narp Proven Right as Profits Rise on US and Japanese Growth

“This is an important milestone for Shandong Ruyi Group to become a global leader in the fashion apparel sector,” Qiu Yafu, chairman of Shandong Ruyi Group, to sohu.com.

Beginning late 2016 to early 2017, Bally CEO Frédéric de Narp began streamlining the Swiss label to create “speed and agility” in the business, and thus more reactive to market trends. Consolidating operations in Milan and Caslano, Switzerland, it moved creative and communications teams out of London and centralised them  in-house within a collective of designers while creating a strategy which put customers front and centre at everything they produced. Whether this was precipitated by the departure of Bally’s design director Pablo Coppola was uncertain, what is certain was that de Narp retained Coppola’s design team while crediting Coppola’s creative work as instrumental. However, de Narp quickly realised that merchandising, creative, press and marketing operations based in London far from production in Milan and Caslano, created a situation far from ideal.

Pablo Coppola's work as Bally's Head Designer was instrumental in reviving the ailing brand

Pablo Coppola’s work as Bally’s Head Designer was instrumental in reviving the ailing brand

Notably, Bally only moved to London after previous owners, Luxemborg-based JAB operated out of 10 Howick Place. According to de Narp, it was during this time that the Swiss brand would start dealing with days lost as samples travelled inter-Europe between Bally’s historic home is in Caslano and London. Furthermore, prompted by fast-moving, often unpredictable market conditions (affected mainly by the uptick in European terror attacks), currency fluctuations and customs regulations, Bally was in essence, fighting with an arm tied behind its back.

At the time, though de Narp declined to discuss Bally’s 2016 profit figures, he let on that Bally’s revenue advanced 4% in fiscal 2016, with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization doubling.

Bally Chief Executive Officer Frédéric de Narp is largely credited with reviving the Swiss brand

Bally Chief Executive Officer Frédéric de Narp is largely credited with reviving the Swiss brand

JAB purchased Bally from Texas Pacific Group in 2008 for an estimated CHF 600 million to 700 million (US$558 million to $650 million) and Bally CEO Frédéric de Narp declared a revenue target of $1 billion by 2021. How? By tripling Bally’s US business, beginning with a 4,320 square feet Madison Avenue flagship while developing China and consolidating China’s 58 stores to just 45.

“Sales at the privately-held company have grown over the past two years and the company booked its biggest core profit (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) in ten years in 2017.” – CEO Frédéric de Narp to Reuters

Bally of Switzerland 2017-2018 Fall Autumn Winter

Bally of Switzerland 2017-2018 Fall Autumn Winter

Bally’s Growth Picks Up Pace, 2017 and on..

De Narp, joined Bally in 2011, from high jeweller Harry Winston, and is largely credited for reviving the once ailing Swiss brand after years of less than appealing collections which lead to stagnant sales. High turnover of designers and management also failed to produced any coherent direction for the brand. Six years on, the company moved to a bigger 15,120 square feet facility in Tuscany, Italy in March 2017, catering to the new CEO’s lofty vision. In a recent 18 April 2018 interview with Reuters, CEO Frédéric de Narp announced that “Sales at the privately-held company have grown over the past two years and the company booked its biggest core profit (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) in ten years in 2017.”

He added that the United States is Bally’s fastest-growing market, buoyed by collaborations with rappers like U.S. hip hop recording artist Swizz Beatz (who previously worked with Audemars Piguet) and street artists like Ricardo Cavolo. The resulting capsule collections featuring hip hop culturally relevant accessories and garments have encouraged sales in the U.S. by more than 20% in 2018, bigger than the 14% growth in 2017.

Bally of Switzerland 2017-2018 Fall Autumn Winter

Bally of Switzerland 2017-2018 Fall Autumn Winter

Chinese Shandong Ruyi Group bought Swiss Bally from Luxemborg JAB in February 2018. The Chinese textile maker had growing its network of luxury clothing and accessories; acquiring 41% of Japanese apparel maker Renown for about US$36.8 million in 2010, later, they took over French fashion company SMCP in 2016.A year after, Ruyi bought a controlling stake in Hong Kong-based menswear group Trinity for US$284.62 million. Bally is the Group’s latest addition to a stable already consisting of British suit maker Gieves & Hawkes, and menswear designer and fragrance house Cerruti 1881.

China is Bally’s strongest market, a position which can be attributed to the brand’s early entry into the territory in the 1980s when the country opened up to foreign investment. That said, the critical element is that as more and more Chinese firms buy famous brands in overseas markets to improve their own local luxury catchet, industry insiders are concerned about whether the new owners can properly maintain the value of the brands they have bought.

Bally of Switzerland 2017-2018 Fall Autumn Winter

Bally of Switzerland 2017-2018 Fall Autumn Winter

Chinese-made luxury goods do not carry the best reputations compared to Swiss counterparts and when Shandong Ruyi made a play for Bally, there were misgivings on whether Bally might be devalued after being acquired, undoing de Narp’s hard work. Under terms of the acquisition agreement, de Narp and his team are contractually committed to stay at Bally for more than five years.

According to a February 2018 report released by McKinsey & Co: Chinese consumers spent 166 billion yuan ($26 billion) on luxury goods in the domestic market in 2016. Thus, it is predicting that following current trends, spending will continue to rise to 441 billion yuan by 2025. Furthermore, the same report postulates that consumption of luxury products by Chinese consumers will account for 44 percent of the total consumption in the sector across the world by the same year.

Bally will open its first Chinese flagship store in Beijing’s luxury shopping destination – China World shopping mall later this year with popular local actress Tiffany Tang helping with the brand’s promotional campaigns in the market.

Bally of Switzerland 2017-2018 Fall Autumn Winter

Bally of Switzerland 2017-2018 Fall Autumn Winter


Gallery Weekend Beijing 2018

Initially presented in 2004 in Berlin, the gallery weekend is today a regular event in cities such as Barcelona, Paris, Zurich and Brussels, all of which have strong artistic cultures. Unlike traditional art fairs or biennales, which involve bringing the art pieces to a centralised exhibition space, the gallery weekend presents the pieces within their original exhibition sites in galleries, art centres or museums.

Jonathan Meese, ‘noch ohne Titel, 2017’, oil, acrylic and acrylic modelling paste on canvas, 210.5 x 140.3 x 3.3cm. Image courtesy Gallery Weekend Beijing.

GWBJ focuses on introducing Beijing’s unique artistic landscape and its latest contemporary art developments to an international and domestic audience. Although the city is the unofficial centre of artistic culture in China, home to many of the country’s most prominent artists, it has no major art fairs or events to capture international attention. Launched just last year, the gallery weekend aims to fill that gap in the market.

“Beijing, as the center of Chinese contemporary art, is home to 80% of Chinese contemporary artists and a key city to visit for those who are interested in the Chinese contemporary art Ecology,” says Amber Wang, director of GWBJ 2018. “In Beijing, there are over 200 international and local contemporary art galleries, nine private museums, and art NGOs that explore the avant-garde art forms.” She adds, “GWBJ aims to present the energy of today’s Chinese art to the world.”

Shao Fan, ‘Mountain Rock’, 2017, ink on rice paper, 200 × 235cm. Image courtesy Gallery Weekend Beijing.

With a roster of 21 galleries and institutions from China and the rest of the world, the event will feature a programme of exhibitions, talks and related events that aim to promote the city’s artistic ecology and highlight recent developments in its burgeoning art scene. The upcoming edition of GWBJ will also see the addition of several new projects targeting amateurs and aficionados alike, including special activities such as tours, academic forums and salons by industry experts, as well as a new programme element called the Outdoor Public Project, which brings artworks outside of exhibition confines and into open space.

Thomas Kiesewetter, ‘Venus’, 2012, sheet metal, steel, paint, 148 x 123 x 48cm. Image courtesy Gallery Weekend Beijing

This year’s edition also features a varied lineup of homegrown and foreign artists, from German-based multimedia artist Jonathan Meese, well-known for his installations and performance art, to Chinese multidisciplinary artist Shao Fan, who blends contemporary aesthetics with traditional Chinese philosophy.

“The successful first edition in March 2017 set the foundation for GWBJ as an important platform for international industry professionals to exchange experiences and share practices in contemporary art,” explains Wang. “As this dialogue continues to develop, the physical surrounding space becomes an essential part of the work.”

Xu Hongxiang, ‘Beautiful Landscape No.7’, 2017, oil on canvas, 200 × 260cm. Image courtesy Gallery Weekend Beijing.

GWBJ 2018 will take place at a series of venues across Beijing’s most prominent art neighbourhoods, including the 798 Art District, Caochangdi District, and established art spaces located throughout the city. These include the Beijing Commune, a gallery which spotlights the works of emerging artists; INK Studio, which focuses on Chinese experimental ink; and the Hive Center for Contemporary Art, one of the city’s most influential galleries.

More information at gallery-weekend-beijing.com.

This article was written by Ilyda Chua for Art Republik 18.

Lanvin acquisition Battle between Qatari Mayhoola and Chinese Fosun

BREAKING: Qatari investment fund Mayhoola, owner of Italian fashion house Valentino, Balmain and Pal Zileri; and Chinese Fosun, a conglomerate behind French Club Med which made news end 2017 for its bid for Swiss luxury leather goods maker, Bally; are both in a battle to acquire majority stakes in French fashion couturier Lanvin.

Lanvin acquisition Battle between Qatari Mayhoola and Chinese Fosun

French multinational high fashion house Lanvin was founded by Jeanne Lanvin in 1889 and it is France’s oldest surviving couture house. In 1990, Lanvin was acquired by the Orcofi Group and then by L’Oréal six years later. In 2001, Taiwanese media magnate Shaw-Lan Wang took Lanvin private once more where it enjoyed a revival under design direction of Alber Elbaz.

Designer Alber Elbaz oversaw one of Lanvin’s most popular periods

Lanvin’s time in the spotlight lasted till Elbaz’s forced departure sent the French fashion house into a revenue slump and appointment of Bouchra Jarrar as Creative Director for Women’s Collection in March 2016 did little to solve the company’s woes, leaving Lanvin facing severe cash flow issues end 2017. Lanvin took an 18.3 million euro loss in 2016 and had been forecast (the company is private, thus is not required to publish profit and loss statements) to lose up to 27 million euros amidst plummeting sales, when Wang’s proposed cash injection by end 2017 never took place, Lanvin began to look ripe for acquisition.

Qatari Mayhoola and Chinese Fosun are both vying for Lanvin. Fosun recently lost their bid for Bally to Chinese textile giant Shandong Ruyi Group and so it’s understandable why they’re trying for another luxury brand. A Reuters source had informed the news outlet that a team from the Chinese group was due to visit Lanvin’s couture ateliers in Paris on Saturday.

One of Elbaz’s acclaimed collections and his sudden sacking was followed by two years of lacklustre performance

Mayhoola, bought French luxury fashion firm Balmain in 2016, and holds 100% stakes in Pal Zileri and Valentino fashion group, of the two suitors, Mayhoola looks better placed from brand management perspective. In 2014, Qatari Mayhoola offered Wang 400 million euros for Lanvin but was rejected. Chinese Fosun on the other hand, has a wide range of investments across multiple industries but is weaker in the luxury fashion segment.

Speaking in December 2017, Lanvin Managing Director Nicolas Druz intimated that a “sustained financial and industrial solutions that do not involve a capital increase will be found by end of March”.

Source: Reuters, South China Morning Post


Photo courtesy of Dale de la Rey / AFP

Artworks of Van Gogh Reimagined: Chinese Artist adds a Unique Fusion to the Post-Impressionist Paintings

Photo courtesy of Dale de la Rey / AFP

An artwork entitled ‘Fly’ by Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi

It’s hard to re-imagine a work of any artist and go on a difficult journey to start painting from scratch of some of Vincent Van Gogh’s most memorable self-portraits that you would one day call your own. But one of China’s best known contemporary artist, Zeng Fanzhi, did it anyway.

As “Shared spirit” and “Deep connection” are two most potent factors that guided Zeng when he was in the re-make of the post-impressionist artwork series. He added a fresh twist to present a series of striking paintings that lend fresh energy and vibrancy to the Dutch artist’s works. He has also combined the art of Chinese calligraphy and handwriting to lend a distinctive brushstroke that would leap off his artwork.

“That an artist really dares to enter into that confrontation again, and look at Vincent’s work afresh, and … do his own thing with it. That is for us of course, really interesting and really inspiring.” – Exhibition’s curator Maite van Dijk told AFP at a recent press preview.

Photo courtesy of South Morning China Post

A self-portrait artwork reflects the artist’s style of painting

In the showcase, Zeng has done a re-make of Van Gogh from the 1889 self-portrait; he painted the Dutch artist in a blue furry hat, his ear bandaged with a pipe in his mouth, still staring somewhere into the distance. “But Zeng has overlaid the portrait with a dizzying swirl of bold, rich lines. It’s both instantly recognisable, and yet completely new,” according to a source.

Through this experience, you get a grasp of how Zeng had tried to step into the world of Van Gogh and sense deeply about the latter’s running thoughts and emotions when he tried to create very natural yet striking pieces that would speak of the modern sensibility. “Van Gogh and I differ a lot in many ways. There are 100 years of time difference between us,” said Zeng.

Speaking through a translator, Zeng said that he is a “contemporary artist” while Van Gogh is a “post-impressionist artist” and both of them also expressed themselves differently. But they do share a common ground in terms of a similarity of spirit, speaking of his “inner excitement” in a burst of work he produced the large paintings in just a couple of years.

The museum always tries to show that “Van Gogh is still relevant to modern and contemporary artists,” said director Rueger, adding Zeng’s work showed a “very deep connection” with the Dutch master’s work. Zeng, whose 2001 painting “The Last Supper” sold for $23.3 million in 2013 has earned him a recognition of being one of China’s top-selling living artists.

Born in 1964 in Wuhan in Hubei province, the artist lives and works in Beijing and has seen his artworks exhibited in many of the world’s top museums. In this new exhibition, Zeng is the first living Asian artist to hang alongside Van Gogh in Amsterdam.


The exhibition Zeng Fanzhi | Van Gogh is presented at The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Stellar Third Quarter 2017 Profits at Kering Group with 28.4% Rise in Revenue


On Wednesday 26 April 2017, Kering Group shares hit a record high after the French Luxury house posted record performance for the first quarter of the year. According to The Street, the owner of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent posted earnings of of €3.57 billion on the back of double-digit growth. At the time, Kering Group’s performance was emblematic of a wider recovery in the luxury leather category which also saw French rival LVMH posting stellar revenues.

In 23 June 2017, Kering’s own Yves Saint Laurent announced a lofty goal of seeking almost double sales growth by 2020 by opening 20 stores a year over the next three years and ramping up in-house production within a similar timeframe. Needless to say, Kering Group’s excellent performance comes on the back the newly revamped Gucci which itself posted better than expected first half earnings for 2017, growing 7.4% with revenues of €1.947 billion with Alessandro Michele as its newly invigorated creative director.

Stellar Profits at Kering Group with 28.4% Rise in Revenue

According to Business of Fashion, growing demand for Gucci’s accessories helped French luxury group exceed sales forecasts in the third quarter of 2017, netting Kering Group stellar profits with 28.4% rise in revenue.

Kering Group, the owner of brands like Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen had reported first-half 2017 operating profit of €811.1 million, exceeding the projected €796 million by Bloomberg. This third quarter performance which sees the owner of  Balenciaga and Gucci achieve 28.4% rise (beating the projected 20% growth rate) after accounting for FOREX and acquisitions.

Few analysts consider that the August agreement to ‘Cooperate In Protection of Intellectual Property and Joint Enforcement” with Alibaba Group could have played a part in this growth. The agreement represented joint investment and cooperative efforts to protect brands’ intellectual property rights and crack down on piracy, however experts say, pirates likely never had the income to buy original luxury goods in the first place and so do not represent a significant revenue stream.

Business of Luxury: Why is Kering Group exceeding expectations?

Just last month, Goldman Sachs analysts predicted that the French luxury group will post growth of more than 10% due to the Gucci overhaul with Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Edwards, Jamie Bajwa and Natasha de la Grense citing Alessandro Michele’s appointment and recent repositioning as fundamentals for sales acceleration and growth and they have been proven right. The Italian brand Gucci has been Kering’s biggest revenue generator and home to the trendiest collection of the last two years – Michele’s sequin dressed collection.

Sales at Gucci were up 49.4%t in the third quarter 2017 thanks to the younger, re-energised creative direction incubating in a new breed of Gucci fans in the millennial segment which currently account for more than half of the brand’s clients. Furthermore, Gucci has thriving eCommerce with third quarter of 2016 seeing a 17% sales boost, 50% of that growth being the  result of its eCommerce efforts. In July 2017, JingDaily also reported that Gucci launched a revamped eCommerce store allowing shoppers in China access to purchase its full range of fashion, handbags, accessories, and jewellery with localised forms of payment like Alipay and WeChat. This allowed Gucci to expand sales by more than 100 percent in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Gucci has been leveraging WeChat’s online-to-offline capabilities to grow its following, learn more about its customers and even allowing them to reserve a tour of the brand’s Blind for Love exhibition through the chat platform. Overall, the digital strategy in China appears to have paid off with the  #blindforlove hashtag on WeChat and twitter clone Weibo gaining over 9.5 million views.

The exuberance in China is not only compensating but outright overcoming the laggard sales resulting from the stronger Euro which dissuades tourist shopping in the zone. In terms of 2016 revenue figures, the group achieved revenues of US$3.5 billion. In terms of 2017, Kering Group has already achieved US$4.59 billion in the third quarter, representing a growth 23.3%.

India Just Lost Tesla Electric Car Manufacturing to Shanghai China. What happened?

Tesla electric car manufacturing has been considered as not just a net creator of jobs and employment but also one with the added boon of technology and knowledge transfer. Thus when the Trump administration continued to pivot the United States away from eco-tech and environmentally-friendly products, countries in Asia, specifically China and India saw the potential to incentivise non-fossil fuel products and place emphasis on green, renewable energy projects, attracting the attention of electric vehicle (EV) maker Tesla.

On 14 June 2017, Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of Tesla had himself tweeted that Tesla was working with the Indian government to be granted temporary relief on import restrictions until it can build a factory. The tweet followed persistent rumors about Tesla launching in India, with the Model 3 as its first product in sometime late 2017, or early 2018, adding fuel to the flame (bad pun, sorry), Tesla opened channels for customers in India to make reservations on the new Tesla Model 3. But this wasn’t to be.

Onerous sourcing requirements which legislated that a Tesla Gigafactory would require as much as 30% of parts and components to be locally sourced and after some study, Musk himself concluded that India not only lacked suppliers of EV parts but also the infrastructure to support electric cars, essentially torpedoed the idea of Tesla Electric Car manufacture in India and Musk decided to strike a deal with the Shanghai municipal government to set up the brand’s electric car factory there instead.

India Lost Tesla Electric Car Manufacturing to Shanghai China. What happened?

If one considers that three out of the world’s six largest auto markets are Asian countries: China, India and Japan. It is quite likely that Musk was leveraging India all along. Before his 14 June tweet, he had already posted on social media on 21 May 2017 that he had already learnt that India didn’t have industries which could supply the necessary components. Prior to that, Chinese giant Tencent had already made investments in Musk’s company, hinting to decisive strategic and financial implications to come, in essence, Musk’s pivot to China, while likely the result of push and pull factors, telegraphs somewhat that he might have been setting up a long play to make Tesla the first wholly foreign owned car manufacturing facility in the Shanghai’s free-trade zone. Before Tesla, foreign auto makers could only built cars in China through joint ventures with local manufacturers, a deal which forced many foreign carmakers to split profits.

Musk’s Tesla Gigafactory deal with China has already changed the state of play. That said, this win bodes well for both Musk and China, already the fastest growing developer of green energy sources and renewable tech. This deal will boost the already fast-growing segment of electric vehicles in China and will continue to haunt India for years to come.


Business of luxury: Bet on Renewable Energy and Tesla stocks

Shortly after Trump announced US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was cosying up to Macron with a pledge to move India three years ahead of schedule to achieve its “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” to the Paris climate agreement: Instead of the original objective of 40% renewables by 2030, Modi pledged for India to hit their those targets by 2027 and it looks to be a reality – the country is already on track for 175 GW wind (from current 57 GW) expected by 2022 and 75 GW solar PV by 2027. Meanwhile, India’s installed capacity for solar energy has tripled in the last three years to its current level of 12GW. This turn to renewable energy is driven in a large part by declining coal prices where India once derived 60% of its 330 GW energy production from.

Meanwhile, Tesla, held in the last 12 months as one of the most heavily shorted stocks is on the verge of a breakout as investors look at the new agreement to establish electric vehicle manufacture in China. The People’s Republic is home to rapidly growing population of wealthy car shoppers which have already bought more than $1 billion in Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles in 2016. According to The Street, Tesla has 8.6% of China’s booming electric car market on a unit basis, making Tesla fourth overall and the only non-Chinese firm to place in the top ten.

According to 2016 statistics, China is the world’s largest auto market with growth rates higher than its closest rival, the United States. China was up 23.6 million from 16.3 million in 2013 while the US had grown to 17.4 million from 15.5 million in 2013. Europe currently accounts for 15.1 million. Followed by Japan with 4.1 million and India with 2.9 million.


Asia also is the world’s largest market for EVs forming 45% of the market in 2016, up from 35%. With this deal, China looks set not only to lead in car sales but also dominate in the manufacture of EVs. Tencent, a major player in China with market cap of US$275 billion and a consumer base of 889 million across communications, shopping, gaming and payments not only has the cash but strong political connections to push Tesla to greater heights. Tencent currently owns 5% of Tesla, tellingly, Tencent been a research leader in AI for autonomous cars.

Based on these factors, Tesla might be a little pricey now at US$380 per share now but signs point to the stock growing a heck of a lot more expensive in the months to come.

LUXUO is not responsible for financial investments taken as a result of the news presented here. Caveat Emptor.




Chinese Ceramics Dating Back to the Song Dynasty Breaks World Record

Photo Courtesy of Notey

During the recent Sotheby’s sale in Hong Kong, the Porcelain bowl dating back to the Song Dynasty has fetched a world record price of close to HK$300 million (est. $38 million). No stranger to the cultural origins in China, the porcelain bowls have about 900-years of history.

The decorative objects such as the porcelain bowl displayed at the auction exudes intricate design quality with an elegant and sensible  touch. As popular as it is delicate, it is no wonder the Chinese pottery craft wins over auctioneers.

“This is the first time in 77 years that more than six Ru vessels have made appearance at the world auction. Since then, Sotheby Asia has seen majority of the buyers coming from the mainland of China.” – Ceramics expert Regina Krahl

With the new pricing driven by new interests, Chinese ceramic bowls will continue to gain traction among ceramic collectors and aficionados alike. The prices of the Chinese pottery are set to increase in cycle with new interests for the exquisite items. Apart from mainland Chinese, Sotheby Asia saw interested buyers coming from other nationalities as well.

The previous sale in Hong Kong saw a small, blue-green item surpassing record, when a tiny piece of “chicken” cup created during the Ming dynasty was sold for more than HK$280 million in 2014, said Sotheby.

The intricate “Ru guanyao” bowl brush washer, measuring 13cm was fired in Northern Song dynasty is rare and famed for its extraordinary blue-green glaze.

“Ru guanyao” bowl is one of only four known pieces of Ru heirlooms in private hands, said Sotheby.





China fashion brand Septwolves and conglomerate Fosun Looking to Acquire Bally

According to Bloomberg, China fashion brand Septwolves and conglomerate Fosun are among the few companies putting in bids to acquire Swiss luxury leather crafter Bally International AG. Reimann family owned JAB Holding Co. was entertaining non-binding bids and offers for Bally when partners of the private equity firm looked to focus its business interests in the food & beverage sector by divesting non-related companies. JAB Holding, owner of Bally, Belstaff and Jimmy Choo, has been divesting its fashion businesses, agreeing to sell London shoemaker Jimmy Choo to Michael Kors Holdings for US$1.2 billion. Meanwhile, Swiss leather brand Bally is valued at US$717 million.

China fashion brand Septwolves and conglomerate Fosun Looking to Acquire Bally

Among the bidders including Chinese apparel Fujian Septwolves Industry Co and Fosun International Ltd., is Japanese trading firm Itochu Corp, the second-largest Japanese sogo shosha after Mitsubishi Corporation.

China's Septwolves is a top China Fortune 100 company.

China’s Septwolves is a top China Fortune 100 company.

Founded in 1851, the Schonenwerd, Swiss-based Bally was a luxury leather goods maker which eventually expanded into apparel.  In the company’s recent history, TPG originally bought the label in 2001 when the brand’s losses after Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA) was CHF 100 million.

In 2002, newly appointed Bally CEO Marco Franchini was tasked with turning the brand around. After serious restructuring and sales network consolidation. the company finally broke even in 2004. By 2007, under the auspices of Creative Director Brian Atwood, Bally posted an EBITDA “in double digits on the CHF 400m in revenues” (privately owned firms do not have to declare earnings). JAB Holding’s Labelux acquired Bally in 2008.

According to JAB, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Citigroup  handled the sale of Jimmy Choo and it is expected these banks will handle the Bally bid should a deal be reached.

Septwolves flagship in Xiamen. The author has visited Septwolves in Guangzhou and found their boutiques and offerings - Ralph Lauren-esque.

Septwolves flagship in Xiamen. The author has visited Septwolves in Guangzhou and found their boutiques and offerings – Ralph Lauren-esque.

A primer on Bally’s potential buyers

Founded in 1992, Fosun International Limited is a Chinese international conglomerate headquartered in Shanghai and incorporated in Hong Kong in 2004. Fosun started its business by doing market research, eventually extending its business into the healthcare industry, real estate and then in 2010, the conglomerate spent billions buying foreign firms in the healthcare, tourism, fashion, and banking industries in the US and Europe including Club Med, Cirque du Soleil, Italian suit maker Raffaele Caruso SpA and Greek jewellery brand, Folli Follie.

Founded in 1990, the Xinjiang founded, Xiamen based is an apparel designer and maker. Septwolves Industry holds menswear Ralph Lauren-esque brands like Wolf Totem. As of August 2017, Septwolves owned a majority stake for the licensee of Karl Lagerfeld China. Septwolves is among China’s top Fortune 100 companies.

Itochu Corp is the second-largest Japanese sogo shosha (general trading company) after Mitsubishi Corporation. It has six major operational divisions specializing in textiles, minerals, food, machinery, petrochemicals, general products and real estate. In the 1990s Itochu made several investments in the media industry, including a minority stake in Time Warner. Today, the Japanese trading house owns 34% of English brand Paul Smith.


Real estate investment in Shanghai: Sophisticated living spaces in the heart of the evolving Chinese city 


Still regarded as a major magnet for foreign investors keen on China, Shanghai promises relatively predictable growth trends and low levels of bureaucratic control. Due to its ability to attract businesses, it will also continue to attract well-heeled tenants that will keep rents stable. For a developing country, Shanghai’s homes are pricey, although following fears of a weakening Yuan, foreign owners have toyed with the idea of selling some of their assets first. For those who have, these homes tend to be bought by local investors instead, meaning that transaction prices have actually held somewhat steady.

Nonetheless, there is also increasing demand for homes outside of the Central Business District (CBD), especially if well-served by transport networks, where demand for rental apartments is growing, leading to various developers looking for opportunities in the outskirts of the city centre. Moreover, as Shanghai’s economy evolves, demand for technological innovation, media services and telecom infrastructure (TMT) – a relatively new sector – have been growing rapidly, driven by the need to add value through manufacturing and improved efficiency. TMT expansion is also driven by the maturing nature of the business environment in Shanghai, which is boosting demand for more sophisticated living spaces in the city.

According to observations by Knight Frank, since the middle of 2015, there has been an increase in foreign residential investments in Shanghai, especially in prime areas. By some estimates, new luxury home sales in Shanghai were up 288% year-on-year in Q1 2016. There are several factors driving sales, including strong economic activity, intense housing demand and higher supply. China is a developing country with huge growth potential in multiple industries, including manufacturing, natural resources and technology. This has helped to drive up property prices, especially in Shanghai, with prices of new homes in China’s second priciest city jumping 20.7% in May 2016 from a year ago according to estimates by research firm China Real Estate Index System. Property-seekers are looking to buy homes in upmarket precincts such as the car-free shopping district of Xintiandi, the upscale suburb of Gubei (home to a large number of Japanese and Korean expatriates), and Pudong.

To prevent a housing bubble, Chinese authorities introduced new property cooling measures in Shanghai last March, which included larger down payments for second homes. Moreover, non-local residents can only buy homes if their income tax and social security documents show that they have lived in Shanghai for more than five consecutive years. They also need to register as a Foreign Invested Enterprise (FIE). The verdict is still out as to whether these restrictions have any impact on wealthy foreign investors who do not necessarily need to take loans from local banks to buy an investment property. Most of the purchases are cash deals, note market observers.

While the sales market is showing signs of overheating, rentals have been more stable, with luxury residential yields averaging between 2% and 3% in Shanghai. Experts warn, however, that ultimately all the land in China is owned by the government, which leases it out to developers for up to 70 years, making it difficult to sell a property or pass it on to the next generation if the lease on the land is expiring. It is also important to understand the property tax expected for such ownership. Taxes are payable at the start (1.2% on 80% of the sales price for self-use or vacant properties, or 12% of the annual rented income if leased out). There is also a 20% capital gains tax on second-hand residential sales. Where applicable, deed taxes of 1% to 3% are also payable.


Changfeng Residence

Another project to consider is Changfeng Residence, a French-themed project boasting 664 stellar residential apartments and facing the 360,000 square meters green heart of Shanghai Changfeng Park along the Suzhou River, both a mere 10 minutes away by foot. The project, developed by GuocoLand, another notable foreign developer, is also strategically located close to major landmarks like the Shanghai Marriott Hotel and MGM Studio Entertainment World. The project also boasts great accessibility with subway lines, ring roads and various bus options.

For more information:
Tel: +86 021 5282 1177

Suhe Creek

The condominium is a new award-winning project developed by OCT Land Shanghai. Located in Shanghai’s city centre, at 150m tall it is the highest residential building in Puxi and offers stunning views from its luxurious apartments and duplexes. Its unique city skyline perspective is also touted as the only one in the area that includes views of Lujiazui and the Bund, as well as the meeting point of the Yangzi and Suzhou rivers. Sited along Shanxi North Road, Suhe Creek certainly benefits from an advantageous location—Nanjing Road, People’s Square, the Bund and other major city landmarks are just a short walk away. Excellent transportation accessibility is also ensured with three metro lines located in the vicinity.

Designed by Fosters + Partners Architects and Kokaistudios and boasting interiors by ACPV, DIA and Japanese Construction Co, Ltd, all residences bear high-quality finishes by Poggenpohl, Poliform, BLANCO, Villeroy & Boch and Hansgrohe. With two to three-bedroom units ranging from 180 sqm to 300 sqm (approximately 1500 square feet to 3200 square feet), duplex units ranging from 500 sqm to 600 sqm (approximately 5,382 square feet to 6,458 square feet) and villas with a total area ranging from 1,200 sqm to 1,500 sqm (approximately 12,917 square feet to 16,146 square feet), at 55 million to 230 million yuan (approximately USD 8 million to USD 33.4 million), the project also features a large 3,000 sqm (approximately 32,000 square feet) clubhouse fitted with multiple sporting facilities.

For more information:
www.joneslanglasalle.com.cn / Tel: +86 21 6133 5408

This article was first published under Special Reports in Palace 19. 

Chinese contemporary architecture: Reinterpreting traditional designs in the modern, urban China

A bird’s nest, a boot, a pair of trousers — some of China’s most infamous contemporary buildings resemble everyday objects more than edifices. And together, they have embodied China’s desire, throughout the latest building boom, to assert its superpower status through an extraordinary built environment.

But this flamboyant approach to design is poised to change. The Communist Party recently announced offensives against “bizarre” architecture and Beijing has unveiled rules making it harder for “strange” buildings to be given planning permission. Included in the new guidelines, released in a statement from China’s State Council last year, is a ban on buildings devoid of character or cultural heritage. Instead, the directive calls for buildings that are “economic, green and beautiful”.

The announcement made waves in the architecture and design worlds and was widely reported in the international media. But for many Chinese architecture firms the decree was far from revolutionary: for years, local studios have been quietly designing restrained buildings that are sensitive to their historical and urban contexts.

Beijing’s Haiting Villa townhouse by Arch Studio balances layering of wood with spare interiors.

Yung Ho Chang, an early pioneer of contemporary Chinese architecture established China’s first private architecture firm, Atelier FCJZ in 1993 and has long emphasised the need for architectural vernacular that is rooted in China. “Today, we have too many buildings in China that may look fashionable on the outside… and not at all connected with their locales”, the architect told me in 2012.

Chang’s most famous residence is the Split House. Unveiled at the 2002 Venice Biennial as part of Pan Shi Yi’s Commune by the Great Wall, it was one of the first projects of its scale that relied on Asian designers rather than Western “starchitects”. Poised on a steep slope, it is literally split in half, with a short glass bridge joining its two sides and forming a V-shaped plan that opens to the hillside. In many respects, the house is Chang’s take on the traditional Chinese courtyard dwelling. “When you see it from the outside, the house seems withdrawn, like any other courtyard house”, Chang describes, “But inside, you realise that it, in fact, is totally open to nature”.

Wang Shu, another pioneer of contemporary Chinese design, set up his Hangzhou studio, Amateur Architecture, with his wife Lu Wenyu in 1997 with the express aim of returning to traditional techniques of craftsmanship. The architect, who was later awarded the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, spent nearly a decade travelling to the countryside to remote villages to learn about traditional building techniques and he incorporated traditional motifs and materials such as bamboo, wood and recycled bricks into his own designs.

META-project’s Courtyard by the Sea adapts a traditional dwelling to modern lifestyles

One of his early residential projects, the Vertical Courtyard, also references historic lane and courtyard homes. Wang contemporized the traditional building typology by turning the quadrangle on its side and creating double-height courtyards on every floor. “Every family has a courtyard and a roof”, Wang says of the project. “And even though the building is 100m tall, it still maintains the feeling of living only two floors high”.

This detail is important to Wang, who believes that much of modern architecture is too concerned with the building and not its inhabitants and how they actually live and feel. Building at a human scale remains crucial given China’s rapid rate of urbanisation and its ballooning megacities. And, following in the footsteps of the early pioneers, a number of design studios are addressing this and other challenges by drawing from the Chinese vernacular.

ZAO/standardarchitecture which is based in Beijing, recently completed the Micro Yuan’er project, an adaptive reuse initiative that introduces a series of micro spaces, a children’s library, an art space, dance studio and craft studio, into the darshilar neighbourhood and thereby attempts to preserve the many layers of traditional hutong (a lane or alley in a traditional residential area of a Chinese city, especially Beijing) life.

The attitude toward Beijing’s courtyard dwellings has typically swung between total eradication and a kind of static preservation. With this project, Zhang Ke, founder of standard architecture aimed instead to recognise the unique topography of courtyard living that developed in Beijing over the past 60 years and he considers the project a statement about how China should treat its urban history. “Altogether [the many components] keep, maintain and conserve the special quality of this big messy courtyard”, he says. “It becomes a place people feel used to, but they clearly realise something contemporary is going on”.

The Niyang River Visitor Center in Tibet, by ZAO/standardarchitecture

Zhang believes that re-imagining the courtyard, which is at the centre of traditional Chinese culture, could help to propel China’s new phase of building. “I think it could generate a new revolution in urban renewal in China if we start with courtyards—the traditional dwelling units—which is a biological study where you do genetic research of cells then new forms of life can be created”.

When it comes to luxury residences, local design studios are also eschewing American-style suburban mansions and instead re-interpreting traditional Chinese dwellings for contemporary lifestyles. Beijing-based studio META-Project recently completed a renovation of Courtyard near West Sea for a client who wanted the building to accommodate a variety of programs, including a teahouse, dining and party space, office and living areas. The firm’s solution was a design that moves between the traditional, introverted qualities of a courtyard house, and contemporary, extroverted areas that encourage social interaction. “Intervention in the hutongs needs to be based on the true understanding of life and culture…instead of rigid protection to its physical appearance”, the studio says.

Even China’s industrial architecture is taking reference from history. Beijing’s Arch Studio is perhaps best known for the Haitang Villa, an elegant townhouse that blends indoor and outdoor spaces and balances layering of wood with spare interiors. But the firm also recently completed a 60,000 square foot organic farmhouse in Tangshan that is influenced by traditional courtyard buildings.

The firm’s idea was to create a magnified version of a courtyard house with a self-contained and flexible workspace that formed a harmonious connection with the surrounding flat fields. The resulting structure is made up of material storage, a mill, an oil-pressing workshop and a packing area. There is an external corridor at the boundary of the building that connects the four areas and an inner courtyard that spans out randomly around the building and lets in light and air. The structure also sits in a 60cm cement base, a method of moisture-proofing the wood, which makes the farm look as if it is softly floating above the fields.

“I think the current status quo of China, with more reflection and possibilities, is even more exciting than the previous period of wild development”, says Zhang Ke. Subtle architecture may not grab headlines, but it does tend to outlast the more garish designs. And with the Chinese government backing projects that exhibit restraint and cultural specificity, the next phase of construction may end up producing more long-lasting structures that improve the lives of those who inhabit and interact with them.

This article was first published in Palace 19.

The Norwegian Joy features the inaugural Ferrari-branded racetrack at sea. Image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

The “Norwegian Joy” cruise ship docked in Shanghai features 2-story Ferrari-branded racetrack

The Norwegian Joy features the inaugural Ferrari-branded racetrack at sea. Image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

The Norwegian Joy features the inaugural Ferrari-branded racetrack at sea. Image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

A luxury cruise ship destined specifically for the Chinese market will feature the industry’s first Ferrari-branded racetrack at sea.

When the Norwegian Joy lifts anchor for the first time this summer, the ship will introduce a two-level race car track on the top deck, where up to 10 guests will be able to take a spin in electric go-carts at a time.

The Norwegian Joy. Image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

The Norwegian Joy. Image courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

It’s the latest over-the-top feature to make its debut in the ever-competitive cruise market, which is constantly tripping over itself to debut activities like indoor skydiving, surf water parks, robot bartenders and flying trapeze lessons at sea.

While the racetrack may be a first in the industry, Royal Caribbean debuted bumper cars on its ship Quantum of the Seas in 2014. The bumper car ring also doubles as a skating rink.

The Norwegian Joy can accommodate 3,850 passengers and is Norwegian’s first purpose-built ship for the Chinese market. The ship will home port in Shanghai and Tianjin and make its maiden voyage this summer.

Pitched as a first-class experience at sea, other features include casinos, open-air laser tag course, simulator thrill rides, hover craft bumper cars, multi-story water slides, open space park, and Norwegian’s largest upscale shopping district with luxury brands.

The ship will be christened June 27.

Luxury motor yachts: China’s Heysea starts global sales network in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and more

China’s number one large motor yacht builder, Heysea, is starting a sales assault in Europe, the States, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Talks are in progress with dealers to create a truly global network.

So far, Florida-based Doug Hoogs has been appointed in the States, Yachting Partners International in Europe, and Tony Ross and Jason Chipp of Ensign Brokers in Australia and New Zealand. Nearby Hong Kong sales are handled directly, and Singapore and Middle East dealers are in the pipeline.

Heysea Chairman Allen Leng feels that having delivered more than 100 vessels over 55 feet since the yard was launched in 2007, the timing is right to move into the international market. Brands at first ranged from the Heysea 60, 70, 78 and 82 series to the Asteria 95 and 108. A sixth Asteria 108 was presented to her Hong Kong owner in early January. Over 15 Heysea 78s have been sold, and more than 20 Heysea 82s.

Now, the thoroughly modern Zoom 58 to 76 series is also proving popular, with seven orders so far. In Heysea’s emerging superyacht sector, a 42m cat is being built for the 100 entry plus China Cup International Regatta, held annually in Daya Bay near Hong Kong, and the Sealink 45m and Vista 50m are on the drawing boards, as is a 35m for the Americas.

The yard is ranked in the world’s Top 30 Builders in Boat International’s most recent 2016 Global Order Book, for the third straight year, and it is the only Chinese mainland yard to appear. Taiwan’s Ocean Alexander and Horizon are higher up in the same list, but Allen Leng makes the point that most Chinese-based yards are Taiwan or foreign-owned, building OEMs for well-known American and European brands, so they have little sales and individual brand marketing experience, whereas Heysea is genuinely Chinese in
all departments.

Making its debut as the Global Financial Crisis broke in 2008 was not exactly ideal, but Heysea hunkered down and through hard work combined with creative flair and technical expertise, soon began to achieve steady Chinese sales. By the 2016 Shenzhen International Boat Show, it had picked up 20 awards including Best China Yacht Builder, Best Brand Presence in China, and Personality of the Year in the China Yachting Industry.

George Mei, previously with Kingship and Nisi Yachts, has taken over as Head of Production at Heysea. Like Allen Leng and fellow Heysea Vice Presidents Ma Xiaodong and Guan Liangzhi, Mei is a graduate of the prestigious Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in Wuhan, Hubei, which could be likened to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

All four majored in Naval Architecture, and combined with CEO Ms Fang Yuan, who has an Engineering Masters Degree from Vrije Universiteit in Belgium, a country where she worked in sales and management for a decade, this is the “think tank” from which Heysea’s unique philosophy has emerged. Heysea literally means Hello Sea.

The 66,700 sqm facility is located in Jiangmen City, on the border between Jiangmen and Zhuhai, which is adjacent to Macau and across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong. It has a deep draft frontage suitable for superyachts, and is about half an hour from the boat building zone where other Chinese and foreign ventures have been established in the past decade.

“We are determined to change the stereotype image of Chinese boat building yards,” says Chairman Leng. “For us, quality comes first, and the finished product is our future calling card.” As he and his cohorts tour shows in Cannes, Monaco, Ft Lauderdale, Sydney and elsewhere, they are clearly setting themselves high standards.

There are other close connections. Doug Hoogs in Ft. Lauderdale has previously represented Kingship and IAG, introducing Chinese- built superyachts to American clients. George Mei is ex-Kingship, Nisi Yachts and IAG, overseeing the 43m King Baby, which was a finalist in the World Superyacht Awards and Showboats Design Awards in 2015. The inimitable Ms. Trouble Huang, now Overseas Sales Chief at Heysea, is also ex-IAG. When the yards used by IAG and Nisi were taken over recently by another Chinese builder, Sunbird, it seems this group decided their stars were better aligned with Heysea.

Tony Ross of Ensign Brokers in Australia had earlier sold an IAG 104 to a client based in Langkawi, but he too has migrated to Heysea, convinced that Allen Leng’s vision will soon become reality.

Leng lists four principal reasons why Heysea has a competitive advantage. The first is that every Heysea yacht has different interior designs and cabin layouts. This high degree of customisation is well regarded by Chinese buyers, some of whom have non-Western tastes, but equally the yard’s comprehensive one-stop services can be applied to any potential clients, the more so as orders progress into superyacht sizes.

Strong Research and Development abilities come next. A new model is introduced every year, and the yard claims its naval architecture pedigree results in Heysea yachts cruising 1 to 2 kts faster than other comparable regionally built brands. Design and styling is largely in-house, except for the Asteria 95 by Sydney-based naval architect David Bentley.

Quality control is the third pillar. “Heysea believes in encouraging the very spirit of craftsmanship,” says Chairman Leng. “We pay painstaking attention to every detail of the production process. Each foreman and supervisor has more than 20 years experience in their particular field.” And finally, price. “Why would you pay double the price for a European yacht that uses the same equipment and materials as Heysea?” he asks. “Heysea ensures owners do not pay a brand premium, or for unreasonably high labour costs.”

These assertions will doubtlessly be disputed by other brands, but they are clearly how Heysea positions itself in the market, and the yard has certainly come a long way since the founders met in a small Zhuhai coffee shop back in 2007.

“There is an old Chinese proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” says Chairman Leng. “Heysea’s goal is to take every step firmly, and to create world-class yachts of which every Heysea owner will be proud. We believe that one day, our overall vision will come true.”

For more information, visit HeySea

Art auctions in Hong Kong: Warhol Mao portrait fetches US$12.7m in Sotheby’s auction

A Parody?: King of Pop Art's portrait of the former Chinese Community Party leader fell short of its estimate at a Hong Kong auction. The painting is shown here at Sotheby's Hong Kong Gallery. Image courtesy of Sotheby's Facebook Page

A Parody?: King of Pop Art’s portrait of the former Chinese Community Party leader fell short of its estimate at a Hong Kong auction. The painting is shown here at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s Facebook Page

A classic Andy Warhol portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong fetched US$12.7 million at an auction in Hong Kong on Sunday, Sotheby’s said well short of the top estimate of more than US$15 million.

The sale of the 1973 screen print by the legendary US pop artist attracted plenty of attention before going under the hammer in the semi-autonomous city owing to sensitivity about any use of Mao’s image in China.

The top sale price estimate of more than US$15 million was the highest the auction house had ever seen for a painting in Asia. The identity of the buyer was not released. Sotheby’s had described the event as the first “significant” sale of Western contemporary art in Hong Kong, which was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

But while buyers from mainland China have developed massive market clout, Warhol’s images of Mao have drawn controversy there. A major touring retrospective of his works removed pictures of the former leader when it visited Shanghai and Beijing in 2013.

Mao’s legacy as Communist China’s founding father makes him inseparable from official propaganda extolling the party’s ruling legitimacy, and his huge portrait still overlooks vast Tiananmen Square and appears on Chinese banknotes.

Yet his mistakes, such as disastrous economic policies blamed for mass starvation and the political witch hunts of the 1966 to 1976 “Cultural Revolution“, left a bitter aftertaste and depictions of him otherwise remain strictly controlled.

Architecture exhibitions in Berlin: ‘Mind Landscapes’ on architect Zhu Pei to open at the Aedes Architectural Forum

Yang Liping Performing Arts Center in Dali, Yunnan, China | © Studio Zhu-Pei

Yang Liping Performing Arts Center in Dali, Yunnan, China | © Studio Zhu-Pei

Beijing-based Zhu Pei is part of a new generation of Chinese architects offering solutions to the country’s urbanization. An upcoming exhibition in Berlin will look at the architect’s approaches through five of his cultural buildings, seen in models, plans and films as well as his striking ink drawings. The exhibition, ‘Mind Landscapes’, runs from April 1 to May 28 at Berlin’s Aedes Architectural Forum, an institution devoted to contemporary architecture.

The show will feature projects that merge local narratives and traditional forms of expression with a new visual language, says the Forum. The five buildings to be featured, all currently under construction in China, include the Yang Liping Performing Arts Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art, both in Dali, the Shijingshan Cultural Center in Beijing, the Shou County Culture and Art Center in Anhui province, and the Museum of Imperial Kiln in Jingdezhen.

While tackling urban growth, Zhu Pei’s work draws from traditional aesthetic concepts of space and structure, allowing him to create solutions that are specific to their location and region. The result, say organizers of the upcoming exhibition, are buildings with “a specific character within a contemporary architectural form.”

Zhu Pei studied architecture in Beijing and California and in 2005 founded Studio Zhu-Pei, known for its work on the Cai Guoqiang Courtyard House renovation in Beijing (2007), the OCT Design Museum in Shenzhen (2012) and, more recently, Beijing’s Minsheng Art Museum (2015).

Interview with Chinese Master Sculptor Xu Xiaoyong the Celestial Blessings collection with Royal Selangor

I sit down with sculptor Xu Xiaoyong at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, to discuss the launch of his Celestial Blessings collection for Royal Selangor. Originating from Jiangxi, China, Xu is renowned in China and his sculptures of Chinese deities are extremely popular works of art for the home. His latest collection consists of the Guan Yin Figurine, Guan Gong Figurine and Fu Lu Shou Figurine.

What arrtacted you to collaborate with Royal Selangor?

It is a corporation with 130 years of heritage in traditional craft; there is “pewter” in the blood of every member of the Royal Selangor family.

How did Chinese mythology and legend become such a crucial aspect in your work?

In ancient China, our forefathers liked to use metaphor or stories to express their opinions; I like it this way, too!

Where does your passion for celestial deities originate from?

From“truthfulness, kindness and beauty”. In other words, only by truly understanding what is meant by “truthfulness, kindness and beauty” can we rise above mortals and live with genuine freedom, the way the deities do.

How is working with Pewter different from materials that you’ve worked with in the past?

Raw materials are usually a key concern when it comes to the expression of traditional arts. Having said that, as a contemporary artist, I am looking at materials for their ability to express. Throughout my career, I have worked with different materials for different subject matters, the most being wood.

However, when I first came across pewter, I became fond of it because of the shade of its hues and the approachable tactile feel. Subdued? Peaceful? Understated elegance? It is rather hard to put into words. I would describe it as having “a shade of Zen”. If you lead a worry-free life, it will be reflected in your bearing. It is kind of expression of a person’s “shade” or “tone”, like “gold”; or, it is likened to someone with profound knowledge but stay “low profile”, like “silver”; or, it can be compared to someone “positive but never arrogant”, making him such a pleasure to be with, like “tin”. That’s what I meant by “a shade of Zen”.

Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) by Xu Xiaoyong

What makes this collection different from the traditional figures venerated and worshipped by the Chinese?

Deities are intrinsically the same; the differences lie in the image and artistic expression. Statues made by different artists will naturally be different. As a maker of statues of celestial beings and deities, I must first and foremost, work with a serious mindset and refer to literature and classics to understand the development of this tradition through the ages. This, coupled with other external influences and contemporary features, will enable us to create a work of art that is infused with life.

Did you have a particular type of customer demographic in mind when designing this collection based on Chinese mythology?

There is an old saying in China, “Gold will shine through” (if something is authentic, it will stand the test of time). Traditional Chinese culture is built upon the wisdom of sages from bygone eras, based on an understanding of peaceful and harmonious coexistence between Man and Nature. This wisdom is increasingly proved by scientists and advocated by the well-informed. This range is inspired by the written works; and yet, they are a form of expression different from that of words. They are created with joy and are a blessing for those who appreciate them.

Where do you find the inspiration for your art pieces?

The artist Rodin once said, “Artists should not depend on inspiration. Inspiration simply doesn’t exist! Art is feeling. If you know nothing about volume, proportion and colours, and if you don’t have a pair of agile hands, then the strongest feeling will be paralysed. What makes a great artist is nothing more than wisdom, concentration, sincerity and will power, and work in much the same way an honest worker does”. I fully agree with Master Rodin. Put in a lot more effort than others normally do, and the so-called “inspiration” will be there by your side, whichever way you turn to.

Fu Lu Shou (Three Star Deities) by Xu Xiaoyong

What did you enjoy the most from this collaboration?

Mutual respect. As an artist, I need a lot of room for creativity throughout the entire process. Meanwhile, as an established corporation with over a hundred years of history, Royal Selangor would normally have a lot of things they insist on and won’t give in to in order to achieve sustained development. In reality however, the room for creativity the company has allowed me not only speaks of their youthfulness, but also freedom.

Can we expect more pieces in the future from your collaboration with Royal Selangor?

Who knows, in a world of constant change, nothing is certain. However, I treasure the present, every moment of it. Perhaps, you too will one day discover that each present moment holds many interesting stories.

What do you like to do in your free time?

All sorts of things. Come what may, this would be the best of arrangements; each encounter will be a kind of revelation. Instead of differentiating the “likes” from the “dislikes”, accept the things that come your way with joy, and learn without personal preference or resentment.

For more information, visit Royal Selangor.

This interview was first published under the Design in Palace 18.

Emperor Qianlong’s Chinese imperial seal from the 18th century sells for 21 million euros at auction

The auction house of Drouot recently announced the sale of an 18th century Chinese imperial seal that made the headlines for more than just its historical value. Fetching 21 million euros, the rare stamp in red and beige nephrite jade had a final price tag that was over 20 times its estimate.

Believed to have been from the Qianlong period between 1736 to 1795, the stamp was owned by Emperor Qianlong, the longest serving emperor in chinese history. Nine dragons on the sides of the seal symbolise the emperor’s masculine power and imperial authority. The new owner happens to be an unnamed Chinese collector who won a furious bidding war.

The seal was acquired in the late 19th century by a young French naval doctor in China and had remained in the family since. The doctor built an impressive collection during his many visits to China. Other items that went under the hammer from the same collection, included two paintings from Japanese master Katsushika Hokusai. The paintings, “36 views of Mount Fiji” and “Big wave at Kanagawa” were expected to fetch 30,000 euros.

China Imposes New 10% Luxury Car Tax

China Imposes New 10% Luxury Car Tax

China has imposed an extra 10 percent tax on ultra high-end cars costing over 1.3 million yuan ($190,000) such as Lamborghinis and Ferraris, the government said, the latest step in a wide crackdown on conspicuous luxury consumption.

Under President Xi Jinping the Communist Party has overseen a sprawling campaign against graft and encouraged thrift among the country’s political and economic elites, targeting showy displays of wealth.

The new tax took effect Thursday and was intended to “guide rational consumption” and promote energy-efficient vehicles, the finance ministry said in a statement late Wednesday.

“The tax increase is a display of the government’s attitude of advocating frugality,” said Cui Dongshu, secretary-general of the Passenger Car Association, according to Bloomberg News.

China already taxes imported vehicles at a high rate, slapping a 25 percent tax on all foreign cars shipped to China.

The duties – and increased competition from cheaper domestic marques – have driven overall car imports down two years in a row, with 850,000 vehicles imported in the first 10 months of the year, down 6.4 percent from 2015, according to customs statistics.

But ultra high-end brands such as Ferrari have done well, with the Italian sports-car maker seeing a 26 percent surge in its second-quarter sales this year, with 160 units delivered.

The extra charge will likely hit Ferrari and brands such as Aston-Martin, Rolls-Royce, and Lamborghini, as well as top-end models of Mercedes and BMW.

Luxury carmakers have seen massive growth in China, the world’s largest auto market, despite the anti-corruption campaign.

They have also become potent symbols of the lavish lifestyles of the nouveaux riches during a time of surging wealth inequality.

Elite families often hire fleets of pricey cars for wedding processions, and wealthy second-generation heirs film themselves racing ultra-luxury sports cars in cities at night.

A notorious 2012 Ferrari crash that killed the son of a high-level official disrupted a once-in-a-decade party leadership change and precipitated his father’s downfall.

Reports said the son was accompanied in the car by two female passengers, one of them naked.

Some luxury dealers said they planned to stay open all night Wednesday to take orders before the tax came into force.

Passenger vehicle sales in China surged by an average of more than 12 percent annually from 2010 to 2015, but an economic slowdown has reduced the speed, with expansion dropping to 4.7 percent last year with total sales of 24.6 million.

The Sanya Edition: First Ian Schrager Hotel In China

Hainan Island in China, will soon welcome guests to The Sanya Edition come December. The hotel offers a ‘private ocean’ view of the South China Sea and will be the first of Ian Schrager Edition hotels to open in China.

The resort’s concept is a hotel that blends traditional values and contemporary luxury, all while catering various age groups and guest needs. It has 512 guest rooms, each designed to make guests feel like they’re inside their own holiday home.

Thought of as a lifestyle resort for every guest, The Sanya Edition will offer the finest cosmopolitan facilities, from curated art shops to a rooftop bar. Young children will also enjoy their stay at the hotel, with dedicated play areas and toddlers’ swimming facilities.

“The Sanya Edition was conceived for the China of today and the China of tomorrow,” said Schrager. “The resort is a unique sophisticated vision and embodiment of a cosmopolitan China for all the world to see.”

A collaboration between Schrager and Marriott Hotels, the Edition portfolio of hotels is designed to reflect the latest trends in next-generation premium travel before they become trends.

Club Med Woos China with Tai Chi, Mahjong

Club Med Woos China with Tai Chi, Mahjong

Tai chi, mahjong and karaoke are on the menu alongside more traditional offerings such as sailing at Club Med’s new resort on the Chinese island of Hainan, as the French holiday group – now Chinese-owned – adapts its European formula for the market.

The all-inclusive village near the resort town of Sanya is the company’s fourth in China, and it is in talks to open around 15 more in the next four years.

It is something of a reversal of how firms usually target Chinese travellers, with Club Med seeking to bring its model to tourists within the Middle Kingdom, rather than draw them to other countries.

On a 12-hectare (30-acre) beachside estate complete with multiple pools, the emblematic “Gentils Organisateurs” or “GOs” – “Gentle Organisers” – recreate the tried and true Club Med recipe of sports activities, supervised childcare, and unlimited food and drink.

On a stretch of sand dotted with huts and palm trees, Shu Qi, a polo-shirted Beijinger in his fifties, admired the ocean with his elderly parents, wife and three-year-old son.

“It’s a change from crowded beaches! It’s ideal for families,” he said, noting how those near downtown Sanya were notoriously swarmed and often plagued by noisy construction.

Shu discovered Club Med while visiting the Maldives. “It’s very practical, as the price is all-inclusive with meals, and the international atmosphere is good for the children,” he said.

The cheapest of the 384 rooms available at the new Hainan site go for 2,300 yuan ($340) a night.

Club Med CEO Henri Giscard d’Estaing, son of the former French president Valery, told AFP: “We’re aiming at a high-end clientele, a portion of whom have already experienced Club Med while abroad.”

Exile Vacation

Once a place of exile, Hainan island, China’s southernmost province, has become a popular tourist destination, particularly in winter.

In a country where family remains important but workers’ annual holiday quotas are often limited, “the French concept of vacation villages meets the needs of the Chinese very well”, said Qian Jiannong, vice president of Chinese conglomerate Fosun, which bought Club Med last year.

After establishing its first winter sports village in China in 2010, Club Med set up shop amid the stunning karst scenery of Guilin, before opening a beach vacation village on an island in the Pearl River delta between Hong Kong and Macau.

Now the country is Club Med’s biggest market outside France, with some 200,000 clients expected this year and forecasting annual growth of 20 percent.

After criss-crossing the globe to collect trophy selfies at major sites, some well-off Chinese travellers are now turning towards more relaxed staycations.

How Club Med is Wooing China

In this picture taken on October 11, 2016 tourists enjoy the pool side at the Club Med resort in Sanya. Almost two years after being bought out by Chinese investment fund Fosun, the holiday resort French group Club Med tries to import its recipes on a promising Chinese market, where a growing upper middle-class now discovers the concept – still very new in Chinese society – of holiday resorts. © NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

A Chinese hotel industry overcrowded with establishments that all look alike and designed for business clientele has left Club Med an opportunity, said Giscard d’Estaing. But it faces rivalry from competitors, both foreign – such as France’s Pierre & Vacances, owner of Center Parcs – and domestic.

Sanya tourism was “a very particular seasonal and regional market” Xiao Yimin, research director at Shanghai Fosea Capital, told AFP, adding that Club Med’s success there “doesn’t reflect the maturity of the whole Chinese market, but only a huge concentration of family travelling in one place at seasonal times”.

With outbound tourism growth slowing, competition between providers within China for middle class tourists will increase, he added, and the future might not be as rosy.

Karaoke Rooms

Club Med has sought to adapt to local tastes. In Sanya, there are seven karaoke rooms – always fully booked – and three mah-jong parlors, as well as a 24-hour noodle bar, and tai chi lessons have been developed to appeal to people in their 30s who rarely practice the discipline.

Clients are around two-thirds mainland Chinese, and the rest primarily South Korean or Taiwanese. Under the coconut trees, multi-generational family clans gather as well as couples spoiling their only child without dropping their smartphones.

Families are initially “reluctant to let their kids go off alone to activities, and when they see a GO sit down at their their table, they find it inappropriate”, but soon adapt, said Rachel Mondre, head of customer services.

Tanning, too, is out of the question for the Chinese, who have a traditional preference for pale skin. The group faces other cultural challenges, acknowledged Jason Wen, a tai chi teacher who works at the village.

“People in China are not used to the concept of holiday resorts,” he said. “Club Med might bring progressively a change, but it will be a slow, very slow process.”