Image: Derrick Santini
October 26 2010
Yann Debelle de Montby
Last weekend. Off from work, trying to take some time away from the huge demand that we are getting, almost on a daily basis, at my newly created business in China, DDM (it stands for Dream Manufacturer). I moved four and a half years ago from London to Shanghai, with my family, to start a whole new life in China. A very challenging new life, actually, as Shanghai is a fascinating city, but the quality of daily life is pretty low. I’m desperately missing all the wonderful organic products in London, but also the long walk from Chelsea to Mayfair through Hyde Park in the morning. I nurse as well fond memories of my very early drive – 4 or 5am – through the empty streets of London in my beloved Alvis. I truly miss those moments; but I have to admit that my experiment with China as my base HQ is proving to be one of the most extraordinary times I’ve lived.
In July 2006 we moved into a huge, gorgeous Bauhaus house which, I was told, was given to the private pilot of Mao Zedong in the 1950s – an old gentleman who moved out in 2005, so we were the first foreigners to live in this beautiful, and surprisingly peaceful home in the heart of the ex-French Concession. We had 480 boxes sent from our London house – almost all were filled with books.
So on Saturday, I decided to finally spend some time trying to organise my big bookshelves. I was lucky to have some friends offer me some great books on recent trips to London and Paris: Tim Jefferies gave me one about Irving Penn’s Small Trades, and Paolo Roversi offered several copies of his rare photography books, Studio and Nudi. Paolo was actually in Shanghai a few weeks ago, for the opening of the new Hermès venture in China, Shangh Xia – a totally new luxury Chinese brand, the offspring of Hermès and a highly talented and beautiful young Chinese mother, Jiang Qiong Er (www.shang-xia.com); Paolo shot a beautiful catalogue for it.
On Sunday I’d planned to stay home all day; the weather was miserable, heavy rain from the tail of a recent typhoon, and I had no plans but to cook for my wife Cecile, my daughters Daisy and Ines and my son Jules. I’m an intuitive cook – I work with whatever I find in our fridge, which I think is very relaxing and at the same time, very stimulating for my imagination. I decided as well to polish my several pairs of boots, using the beautiful hand-stitched leather apron that my dear friend Tim Bent from Bentleys (www.bentleyslondon.com) gave me for my birthday in June. I walk a lot outside on construction sites for work projects; I think my signature look in China has become The Gentleman With a Savile Row Suit and Riding Boots!
But my day did not finish as expected. I got a call from my Japanese friend Satoko Yahata, who was in Shanghai and wanted me to join her at the opening of the new exhibition, By Day/By Night at the recently-opened Rock Bund Art Museum, curated by the talented Hou Hanru. The museum is just behind the Bund, in a beautiful 1920s building that’s been recently restored with great taste – something worth mentioning as, unfortunately, most of the restoration work done in Shanghai (and in China in general) is not very good; it rarely respects the true identity of the space, thereby killing its soul.
So I went out under the heavy rain, and spent few hours at the opening where I also ran into Lorenz Hebling, the owner and founder of ShanghART (www.shanghartgallery.com), arguably the most acclaimed contemporary art gallery in China. Lorenz was with several Chinese artists, including Zhou Tiehai, director of the Mingshen Art Musuem in Shanghai (www.minshengart.org), who’s a great art champion as well as just a great person.
So I suppose the best thing about living in China is that there is always something unexpected; I’m guaranteed never to have the same weekend twice – or, for that matter, the weekend I’d planned on having.