AN INTERNSHIP in Shanghai some seven years ago sparked Singaporeans Jessica Wong and Pamela Ting's interest in their Asian culture and roots. Fast forward to today, the duo have turned that interest into Scene Shang, a newly launched furniture and homeware range, which has influences from traditional Chinese and Art Deco styles. "Being in Shanghai expanded our view of who we are," says Ms Ting, a former vice-president with an American bank. Even after completing their internship, the two women, who are both 30, returned annually to the country for holidays. Two years ago, they tossed up the idea of creating a furniture range of their own. "Sure, it would have been easy to simply import pieces that we like back to Singapore, but that was not enough for us," says Ms Wong, the former co-founder of Oats, a graphic and interior design firm. "We wanted to add our own touches."
Scene Shang is the result of this. The Shanghai-based duo say that the name is a play on words. Scene sounds like xin (meaning new in Mandarin), and is also the same character for Xin Jia Po (Singapore in Mandarin)," says Ms Wong. "While Shang can be short for Shanghai, and it is also the character for appreciation in Mandarin."
The two, who first knew each other when they were Raffles Junior College schoolmates, left their day jobs last April to concentrate on Scene Shang. Last May, they embarked on a two-month-long backpacking trip to Guangxi and Yunnan provinces to uncover forgotten crafts. Since August, they have been based in Shanghai so as to work closely with the Chinese craftsmen to build the pieces. Part of the job requires them to visit factories where the pieces are made. "We chose to work with craftsmen from the lesser-known regions, such as Anhui province, as they are more willing to produce smaller quantities," says Ms Ting. They chose to work with Chinese craftsmen, "because you can no longer find such craftsmen in Singapore", says Ms Wong.
The architecture graduate designs the furniture while Ms Ting, who holds a degree in economics and finance, is in charge of business development. Key pieces in the collection include The Starlet, a glass display cabinet for storing whiskey, retailing at $1,590.40. The duo had spotted a similar looking cabinet in a Shanghainese resident's home. Ms Wong replicated the design, while giving it a slight modern look, and picked a matte black finish for it.
Another piece the women are especially proud of is the Shang System, a set of customisable furniture that includes a tray, drawers and a stool, all made from solid elm wood. "Visual symbols such as 'ears' and slants commonly found in Ming Dynasty furniture are paired with a contemporary, regularised stacking concept crafted entirely by hand," says Ms Wong. Customers can choose to buy the individual pieces, or to buy a set, comprising of a tray, one drawer and a stool for $756. Additional drawers are available for sale, and can be stacked on top of each other.
The Yuan series of side tables that come in different heights and shapes, retailing from $368, is also note-worthy. Ms Wong took inspiration from two important symbols of the Chinese classical gardens: the hexagon, which represents universal humanness, and the plum, which represents good living. These symbols are paired with materials bearing weathered patinas such as recycled elm wood to show the presence of nature. Ms Wong explains that the wood used is recycled from homes that have been torn down in the Jiangnan region, while the legs are done in a geometric pattern that is very typical of Chinese designs.
Adding a softer touch to the collection is the Embrace Me series of cushions, which depict Art Deco architecture in Singapore. Each retails for $18. "This is our way of recognising Singapore's presence in the collection," says Ms Wong. She created illustrations of iconic Art Deco style buildings in Singapore, such as of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and The Cathay, from photographs, before printing them on fabric. Despite being based in Shanghai, the two say they are deeply rooted in Singapore. "By placing ourselves out of Singapore, we notice more that's happening here," says Ms Wong. Ms Ting adds: "Being in Shanghai is an immersion experience."
The duo are exploring working with Chinese ceramics and stones, and are planning to launch a second collection at the end of the year. For now, the pieces are sold at a pop up store off River Valley Road. Ms Ting is in touch to retail the pieces through department stores in Singapore and also through an online platform.
- Scene Shang pop up store runs from tomorrow till May 10, at 10A Institution Hill. Opening hours from 2pm to 8pm on Sunday, and 11am to 8pm from Monday to Saturday