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Refined and quirky creations

THOSE who value refined but quirky forms manipulated through impeccable craftsmanship may want to check out the concept and attitude behind Shaoo and Shaoo Shadow, two jewelry labels created by Shanghai-born designer Tong Wenwei.

Tong's creations combine femininity with an edge in a way that is wearable everyday without looking ordinary. Beyond the carved jade rosettes, leather collars and lace patterns, her jewelry reflects a modern fashion attitude: classic, feminine, yet with a slight rock-chic.

Given her upbringing in an artistic family, Tong said it was her father and grandmother who most shaped her early appreciation of beauty. Her father is a famous calligrapher and antique collector. He helped develop Tong's interest in Chinese culture and art. Her love of vintage fashion was influenced by her grandmother, an actress in 1930s Shanghai. Her granny was always interested in Western fashion and culture, which Tong picked up at an early age.

After graduating from the Fine Arts University of Shanghai, Tong moved to Paris to study fashion design at ESMOD International in 2000. She launched her first collection, a leather jewelry line in 2004 at Colette, which became a great success in Paris.

Despite old-school touches, Tong let her imagination run wild without boundaries. Her designs are intricate, using leather laser cutting, which in her hands is a modern adaptation of Chinese paper-cutting techniques and shadow puppetry.

"I figured out that leather is light-weight, easy-to-wear and always looks sexy," Tong said. "The funky, lace leather designs would easily mix and match with any kind of outfit: a basic T-shirt, a party dress or office wear. The statement piece simply spices up even the most basic look."

Her signature lace pattern leather pieces were featured in top fashion magazines and high-fashion malls and boutiques around the world within two years of the brand's inception. At the same time, Tong began to hunt for a new material and wanted to express herself in a more luxurious manner.

She opted for jade.

"Jade is known as the 'royal gem'," she said. "In the long history of art and culture through all the Chinese empires, jade has always had special significance. I thought it was such a pity that the precious material never really reached Europe and other parts of the world."

Normally jade is associated with the color green. Tong wanted to break this association by using black and white Hetian jade (Chinese imperial jade). All of her jade pieces are hand-crafted by Shanghai-based artisans who have more than 30 years of experience. One piece of jewelry usually takes a month to complete.

Despite employing Chinese materials and skills in her jewelry creation, Tong's designs are mostly inspired by European art, fashion and culture.

"I consider Sandro Botticelli my muse. Botticelli had a way of capturing intense emotions in his paintings. I also look up to Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld in terms of how they do things and their in-depth knowledge of fashion," she said

The Shanghainese jeweler represents women of today: elegant, smart, witty, yet with a strong character. "It is important to me that my creations express the essence of the woman who wears it," Tong said.

Now, Shaoo is carried at high-end boutiques and department stores like Colette in Paris, Liberty in London, and Bergdorf Goodman in New York while Shaoo Shadow pieces are sold in 11 countries. Locals can find her Shaoo Shadow collection at Alter in Xintiandi.


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