Stephan Hamel: Luxury From West to East

  • Update:2011-11-07

It is well known that Italy has a long tradition for luxury design. As an Italian, how do you understand the concepts of luxury (life), luxury good and luxury brand?

Could you list some Italian luxury brands in the area of interior and furniture design? For we know little about that. And could you take an example to explain how and why a brand as such could be promoted? And what is most important to do for keeping such a brand? What is the challenge it faces today (in a global age)?

How about the consumer market for Italian luxury furniture brands in China today? Could you tell some story from your personal experience? What do you think about its future?

Do you know some information about the Chinese classical furniture? Do you think it is possible for China to create some luxury furniture brand from its own tradition?

If you could design a piece of furniture with Chinese feature, what element do you most want to choose from the Chinese tradition?


Journal of Zhuangshi interviewed Stephan Hamel on October 2010, and  the text published in the issue of Dec 2011 

Luxury is a very special matter that gives you the sensation of satisfaction, so it is a state of mind.

Historically we have to see the topic from a regional point of view and understand the differences. Smells, the taste for special food, the type of delicacies are very different. With global society the understanding of global luxurary is getting more and more similar allover the planet. There is a colonial aspect to this matter and imperialism, as a method of globalisation can make you understand the unification of taste.

Italy developed with the Roman Empire the first western political structure that influenced until now a certain choice of taste. The fashion decided by the Roman Ladies would become popular at the other end of the empire. Everything related to leisure and beauty had an Etruscan tradition. The Etruscans used to live in the Central Italian area 2500 years ago and they were the first to import Greek vases. After becoming the first consumer of this goods they started to import also the persons that were manufacturing and painting this pieces. The family Medici in Tuscany started approximatly 1700 years later to collect stones and precious pieces out of Roman collection that belonged to Emperors. This was in fact a marketing operation by the Medici. From a position of merchants they became bankers and finally aristocrats. At their court they gathered the best manufacturers and artists and they married their daughters into the different European families, making their power grow. Their city Florence was organised in different sections, where the different crafts were developed and this concept happened also in Rome for the Pope.  Here the Medici family was again the strongest influence on the growth from Renaissance to Baroque. So the Italian tradition is based on a production that incorporated the vision of an aesthetic of power. Italian never give the full solutions to the problems and I am half Tuscan grown in the center of tradition. You have to come back and discover a dialogue that gives you the sensation of something precious.


A brand needs to be promoted because you believe in it and it is your radar of this moment, of this instant. If you do a brand you are it in the moment you sell. Jesus has created one of the most successful brands and the cross is a more sold symbol than Coca Cola. Saint Paul of Tarso has been one of the coolest branding manager of Western History. After him I see Vivienne Westwood and her husband, at that time Malcolm McLaren, as the second best brand developer. They created a band to promote their store sex and then a youth movement came out of it and this was called punk. The most important thing to do for keeping a brand going, is to believe in it with enthusiasm and passion. The religious aspect is an important chapter to anaylise.

The Italian luxury brands in China have a similar development as they had some years ahead in Russia, it is interesting to analyse that first the choice goes on classical furniture that symbolise the colonial period and there is always a relation between power and how somebody wants to represent himself. In China the development is very much quicker than anywhere else and the will is to beat the system. This is certainly fine and the Chinese have the capacity to do so, but I am sure that without the coexistence of historical brands, the future brands will have a difficult growth. The globalization has as result the common ground were everybody starts from the same level, but the expression of a certain message is the most important vision of the brands future . The European Aristocrats will be soon animals for zoo, but we need them for expressing some glamour of a brand. The behavior of the future global princess is very much related to the brands and those will be developing a new form o f aristocracy too.

China has to start from its great own tradition to create a future brand in furniture or whatever. The popular Chinese book ‘THE TALE OF THE RED CHAMBER’ is describing in a powerful way the development of luxury in the decadence of the Ming period. Seldom I got involved in such an elegant description of the most sophisticated sense of luxury. When PauYù had the dream of divine in the bed of his aunt it described in an intense way how refined the vision had already been. His becoming Buddha is the essence of luxury, because when you really reach that stage you are beyond and you are receiving the gift of the highest luxury that is self fullfillment. I think that China has to work on an own brand out of Chinese tradition and has to learn how to integrate all their traditions, including the cultural devolution and all the rest. I believe in a strong power of China, but the grace of this energy will manifest in the grace of showing the way of an International dialogue.  ‘I WANT TO BELIEVE’ a fantastic exhibition by Cai Guo Qiang at the Guggenheim Museum in New York  enlighted me on this topic. The artist work anticipated the explosion of the Chinese will to relate with the rest of the world in a certain way. The Chinese fire work is a form of great luxury.

The way is given normally by art, the only problem is to interpretate the signs. The NAMOC in Beijing is already a bridge towards certain understandings, as the UCCA and the whole institution of the 798.  Also Shanghai is following with the RAM and the MOCA and these institutions we have tolay down the first steps knowledge and create a patina  that will give to a brand a certain credit.
The real ambassadors of this bridge that has been created between East and West have been the family Phua that with a great capacity and insight have anticipated everybody already nearly twenty years ago and they started to work with a lot of precision in translating the taste into a Chinese mentality.



Star House designed by Stephan Hamel, Da Vinci Furniture, Shanghai,2010


Copyright Stephan Hamel, October 2010, Milano


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