China’s biggest design show opens in Shanghai today. Design Shanghai, on view until 12 March 2016, will host around 300 exhibitors and welcome more than 42,000 visitors. International design brands like Vitra, Magis, HAY, Cassina, Moroso and Swarovski will be in residence alongside many established and emerging Chinese designers and brands. 'We started off two years ago with about 80 per cent international brands, now we are at the 50/50 mark and it’s good to have that balance,' says Ross Urwin, creative director for the international trade fair.
Of the homegrown designers to look out for, the Xiamen-based duo WUU is at the top of Urwin’s list. Wuu’s designer Chen Furong won the AD China Emerging Designers award in 2015, an initiative set up by Urwin, for his 'innovative approach and contemporary aesthetics'. Chen returns this year with his own stand and more pieces exploring the use of concrete in small everyday items. In the past, he has made unexpected table accessories such as cellotape dispensers and tape measure holders out of the construction material; this year at Design Shanghai, WUU will be showing a series of concrete tabletop containers and accessories decked out in brilliant ultramarine blue and featuring contrasting elements such as brass lids and bases. With confirmed participation in this year’s Wallpaper* Handmade event in Milan and the launch of a new lighting range in the summer, 2016 is set to be a big year for WUU.
Highlights among the products being showed as part of this year’s emerging designers platform include Yuan Liang’s 'Water Ripples' series of low and high stools and tables made out of recycled newspaper (created in response to what he sees as the environmental degradation of life in Chinese cities); Beijing-based Yin Sheng’s sculptural table, seat and shelf made out of walnut and vegetable tanned leather; and Mario Tsai’s 'Basket Tables', the lightweight metal frames of which make them easy to lift and move around.
With the exponential growth in creative studios, design companies and architecture practices in China (over 10 million at the last count), design is an emerging and growing trend that is destined for big things, believes Urwin. 'When I came to China eight years ago I worked for a fashion brand and it was all about the new season’s bags and shoes,' he says. 'Then art really took hold of China and everyone was mad about art. Now it’s time for the design world to shine. There’s a new design movement that is coming from China and it’s really exciting.'