French-Owned Company “Combines Traditional Chinese Craftwork With A Modern Western Touch”
Founded in 1998 by French expat Virginie Fournier, the Shanghai-based accessories and apparel brand Shanghai Trio has made a name for itself by combining traditional Chinese and modern Western design, creating everything from children’s outerwear to scarves from materials like silk, cotton, linen and bamboo. Now with four boutiques in Shanghai and Beijing and one in Paris, Shanghai Trio — like other young China-based lifestyle brands such as Shang Xia — aims to revive ancient Chinese craftsmanship by commissioning local artisans when possible and prioritizing sustainability in its biannual collections.
Recently, Fashion Trend Digest spoke to Virginie Fournier about what motivated her to start a China-inspired fashion brand, the challenges of convincing local buyers to accept Chinese design, and her target market. (Translation by Jing Daily team)
Fashion Trend Digest (FTD): I’m curious, what compelled you to build a brand with Chinese design elements?
Virginie Fournier (VF): You know, for many Europeans, many French people, China’s a “dream.” So when I first arrived in Shanghai in 1995, I was also looking for my Chinese dream. At that time my mind was full of fantasies: beautiful silks, lots of traditional arts & crafts, amazing works of art. But when I came here, I found that these things really didn’t exist. What I had in my mind was a kind of fictional China. (laughs) But soon, I decided to do interesting things with locals, so in 1998 I founded Shanghai Trio. I wanted to create what I’d hoped to find in the first place: a brand rooted in Shanghai, integrating Chinese craftsmanship and contemporary design. Many people now sort of equate this kind of craftsmanship with luxury. But at that time, you know, that kind of idea was ahead of its time. (laughs)
Fortunately, I was able to find a number of experienced artisans back then, with whom I still work today. Then again, it’s still a challenge sometimes because it’s difficult to express to traditional craftsmen and women what I’m hoping for them to create. That’s still tough even today.
FTD: How would you describe your brand’s style, or what it’s trying to convey stylistically?
VF: I try to reflect images or details of daily life in China or Shanghai, using traditional materials, unique color combinations and stylish design. For example, we were inspired by traditional military school bags and developed a tailor-made cotton version that we then got craftsmen to hand-paint and embroider. But of course we want to keep the important elements intact, rather than packing pieces with too much detail and “over-design.” We try to incorporate and integrate different cultures to play a sort of melody. So the brand keeps its heritage and details visible while at the same time fusing cultures: traditional and modern, East and West, art and the marketplace.
FTD: Working with traditional arts and crafts is challenging. Do you find that it’s a problem?
VF: Everywhere I go I try to find something that represents the unique culture of the place. Since most of China’s traditional arts and crafts come from rural areas, I’ve traveled to a lot of remote places. Since the environment and living conditions in China’s rural areas have undergone a huge amount of change in a short time, the heritage and development of traditional arts and crafts faces a huge problem. For example, sometimes we can’t find raw materials. Maybe because of the pressures of modern life, many craftspeople aren’t interested in passing on their craft, or their children don’t want to follow the same path, so it dies out.
Another problem is that some artisans aren’t willing to make changes to their design based on our input. Because they haven’t received professional design training, they’re not really used to thinking outside of the box in terms of design. Even though Shanghai Trio is a workshop rather than a school, I think we can help these artisans learn a lot about professional design, however.
FTD: As a French person, how do you re-interpret Chinese elements into your products?
VF: Chinese art has had a very far-reaching influence in Europe, from the Silk Road to Chinoiserie and Rococo culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. Also, it’s had some connection in terms of my family. I was born in Lyon, which is a traditional base for the textile industry. My grandfather used to operate the largest screen-printing factory in Lyon. In the 1930s he toured China as well as other places like Vietnam and East Asia. As a child I remember seeing all of the beautiful things he brought back from China, like scarves. I marveled at them. Later I remember seeing a lot of Chinese military-style school bags in Paris. But again, when I came to China I saw none of those things. China has developed rather quickly, so lots of things have suddenly disappeared.
So while I do incorporate Chinese elements as I understand them, we’re not a souvenir shop but rather an international brand in Shanghai that uses traditional processes. We also sometimes incorporate traditional craftsmanship from France or Italy, picking and choosing the best that these countries have to offer. China also makes leather, but Italy’s obviously at an advantage there. So we often work with Italian artisans when working with leather.
FTD: Who are your typical customers?
VF: There’s no set age group or gender for the Shanghai Trio customer. They tend to have a highly personal style and enjoy travel. They appreciate the style and quality of our products, whether they’re from Paris, Hong Kong, New York or Shanghai. They’re confident and know what they like.
FTD: You have a boutique in Paris and are about to open in London. How do you see the differences between these cities?
VF: Paris and Shanghai are pretty similar in terms of being romantic and fashionable cities, but sometimes they’re too confined in terms of creativity. London is more free-spirited and open-minded, inclusive, especially in terms of creativity. That’s what I really like.
Shanghai Trio: Xintiandi Style Boutique
Unit 129, 1st Floor, Shanghai Xintiandi Style No.245
Madang Road, 200021 Shanghai, +86 (21) 5358 0188
Unit 3C, 100 Fuxing West Road, Shanghai 200031, + (86 21) 6433 8901
SWFC – Mori Tower
Unit 315, 3rd Floor, Shanghai World Financial Center
No.100 Century Avenue Pudong, 200120 Shanghai, +86 (21) 5858 3191
Unit NLG-38, Basement Floor, Beijing Sanlitun Village North
No. 11 Sanlitun Road, Beijing 100027, +86 (10) 6417 3606
25 rue de l’Exposition 75007 Paris, +33 (0)6 40 95 58 58