Image: Derrick Santini
November 01 2010
Yann Debelle de Montby
I had a dream when I first came to China 14 years ago, exactly in August 1996. That was my very first trip to China and the then mayor of Shanghai had invited me (and a few other people, all of us involved in fashion). Totally unexpectedly, it was love at first sight; and I wanted to settle almost immediately in this incredible city. Well, things never go as planned; it took me exactly 10 years to realise this dream.
We came to settle in Shanghai in summer 2006 and we have no idea if and when we may leave China. One of the reasons I was totally taken by its charm was the welcoming attitude of the Chinese – their true generosity, their kindness towards children, and the fact that they were very keen to learn from us (part of the welcome, I think). So the dreamer that I have always been, had to be prepared to share his dream and to try to be generous and patient.
That’s what I have been doing for almost five years. And it’s been more rewarding than anything I would have imagined. Yesterday, I had a meeting with someone I met few years ago in Beijing – a very high-ranking minister of the Chinese government and by now, essentially a friend. We were talking about my wish to start a programme designated to teach service and attention to detail throughout China.
I do feel that, unfortunately, most of the foreigners are coming to China to grab a slice of this fast-growing market but very few are actually trying to give anything to China. They are more than willing to sell their luxury products in bigger and bigger – often soulless – stores. I believe luxury is about the capacity to make your customers or potential customers dream about something they probably truly don’t need, but that they really want, because the brand represents something very special and unique – something that tells them a story, and is linked to emotion. Hermès, for instance, does it with a unique talent and I truly hope that this brand will continue to do so and to make us all dream.
After few hours with this gentleman, we went over to some friends for an early dinner of the very famous and unique hairy crabs of Shanghai – a delicacy with a very complex and codified method to prepare and eat (the Chinese being very strict with balancing the hot and the cold, the Yin and the Yang). So a crab, which is considered cold, has to be balanced by using a sauce with a lot of fresh ginger, which is considered hot.
It’s very much about balance here, in this way. It’s not unlike all my interior and landscape design projects being so deeply influenced by Feng Shui. I actually have to often work very closely with Feng Shui masters. Endlessly fascinating China.