Maison & Objet is looking east for the first time in 2019 with the Rising Talent Awards honouring China. For many years now, China has been a hotbed for design opportunities for both local and international designers.
“Chinese designers are realising the power of their own proximity to an established manufacturing base, and are taking full advantage of it,” says China-based Italian designer Luca Nichetto, who is one of the jury members of the awards alongside famed architects and designers Tom Dixon and Neri&Hu.
China’s burgeoning design scene started slightly less than two decades ago and it reflects the country’s aim to become a global player in design, creativity and innovation. Life in modern China moves quickly and the design industry’s rapid development reflects the society’s growth and progress. The decision to focus on China’s young designers is a testament to the country’s rapid design-led development, reflecting Maison & Objet’s efforts to remain at the forefront of international design progress.
“Currently, the Chinese middle class is very much interpreting design as art, but as it shifts to more design. It will be exciting to see how it will impact both Chinese design and what we from the West will learn from it,” explains Nichetto.
He is also witnessing a new wave of young Chinese designers doubling their efforts to forge a new identity — some are even exploring new ways to delve into the Chinese psyche and multicultural influences for inspiration. It is also crucial to look at how the new generation is folding in the centuries-old rich Chinese craftsmanship, heritage and tradition into the future of design in China. We take a look at the six rising talents of China, some of whom are making it a priority to think about how their work impacts the world.
Industrial designer Mario Tsai lives on one credo — ‘use less, design better’. After graduating from Beijing Forest University where he majored in Furniture Design and Manufacturing, Tsai travelled around China and Nepal to experience different lifestyles. He moved to Hangzhou in 2013 where he opened a shop with his younger brother, and in 2014 set up the Mario Tsai Studio. He has since worked with clients from China and Europe, and has participated in furniture fairs globally. With a focus on research and sustainability, Tsai’s tactile collections offer a clean, modern aesthetic.
He is committed to reducing excess material usage and improving both society and the environment through his works, which include the aluminium tube-inspired Pig Side Table and the thoughtful, efficient Pure Desk.
Design director Chen Xingyu co-founded design brand Bentu in 2011. The former Industrial Design graduate from Guangzhou University works to meet the problems of a rapidly developing society, recycling materials like coal cinder, construction waste and bone ash into furniture, lighting and accessories.
His Guangzhou-based studio is known for experimentation, exploration and innovation, combining environmentally friendly materials with commercial appeal — an approach which has him won numerous awards, including the 2017 Red Dot Design Award. Bentu’s latest Terrazzo Collection recycles ceramic waste and offers hope for a sustainable furniture industry in the city of Foshan, the world’s largest ceramic industry hub.
Shanghai-based Ximi Li holds a Bachelor of Industrial Design from the China Academy of Art, Shanghai, and a Master’s Degree in Furniture Design from the Polytechnic University of Milan. He worked for leading designers Andrea Branzi and Luca Trazzi in Italy.
Upon returning to Shanghai, he joined internationally acclaimed Neri & Hu as Chief Designer for six years. In 2016, he launched an independent design studio Ximi Li and furniture brand Urbancraft. His works focus the integration of east and west. He shares: “With my experiences in China and Italy, I ask myself if my designs can be understood by Europeans and if Chinese will resonate with my designs.”
Growing up in China’s capital city, Beijing-born Frank Chou witnessed first-hand the dynamic changes afoot in his hometown over the past few decades. After graduating from Beijing Forest University, he travelled between China and Europe, accumulating international industry experience in furniture design, engineering and trade work.
In 2012 he set up Frank Chou Design Studio, where he produces elegant, long-lasting, functional pieces, which represent contemporary Chinese thinking, yet finely balance the needs of modern Oriental and future Oriental lifestyles. Chou has attracted worldwide attention through exhibitions at international design shows and collaborating with global brands, both as a designer and strategic consultant.
“Both East and West have played big parts in my life — and in understanding both of them, I find inspiration. These experiences made me as a person and a designer, and I am still evolving. After a while, I stopped seeing design as a set of skills, rather it has become something very personal, a part of me,” confides Chinese-born Hongjie Yang who currently resides in the Netherlands.
His powerful works explore the divide between nature and culture, the born and the made – all of which has been widely exhibited across the globe. His exquisite pieces appear naturally-formed, but closer inspection shows the intervention of technology. His works pair sharp lines with a rubble-like texture that appears to deconstruct. His latest aluminium Synthesis Monolith Mirror, Coffee Table and Bench portray an evolutionary arc, starting from a primitive historical context and moving towards a smoother, elegant finish.
Chen Furong, founder of lighting, furniture and accessories brand WUU, designs timeless, research-driven collections which blend handcrafted techniques with a modernist vision. Born in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, he studied at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts, majoring in Integrated Design.
After graduation in 2012, he travelled with some friends more than 10,000 kilometres across China in a van, interviewing local creatives for an exhibition called Metaphysics. This led to his decision to embrace design as a lifelong career. Chen founded his Xiamen-based studio in 2014 and later that year participated in an artisanship revival program, where he worked closely with local craft artists in Fuzhou, combining technology with traditional crafts.