DUANMU: Building A Chinese Luxury Brand

November 17,2021

“Untold pieces of China’s cultural relics have been scattered through history like stars in the sky. Traditional Chinese aesthetics need no renovation nor transformation into a new form to make it in. It is fashionable in and by itself. Nowadays, what is needed is an appropriate interpretation.”

Has there long been an intrinsic luxury brand hidden in Chinese traditional art and culture? Mr. Tian Qi, the founder of DUANMU shared his answer with LuxeCO.

During the Spring Festival in 2021, DUANMU opened a new store at the well-known mall Shanghai Grand Gateway 66. The 60-square-meter store shares the same floor with other international luxury brands. According to DUANMU’s official website, its highest priced item “Lingbo” handbag is sold at 46,800 yuan, making it a bona fide “luxury goods.” Now, it has expanded its product line by making scarves with “horse” as the latest motif.

Founded in 2011, DUANMU set out to design tailor-made wooden cabinets for antique, artwork and other collectibles. From 2016 onwards, it has been making handbags and accessories.

In October 2019, at Christie’s auction in Hong Kong, DUANMU’s products were auctioned along with its counterparts of luxury brands such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. One of DUANMU’s auction items was sold at 137,500 HKD.

The wooden handbag with flower-pattern inlays is an iconic product of DUANMU. The fine craftsmanship adopted originates from the Tang Dynasty. It is made of 758 pieces of wooden parts, and the creation involves a total of 22 processes and 194 procedures.

“Inlay techniques are like computer programming. You’re looking for the best solution under limited conditions. However, silk scarves are like a canvas. You can print whatever image you want without any restrictions.” Mr. Qi has saved creative ideas that could not be realized in the design of wooden cabinets as paintings, and then printed them on scarves.

It was 1937 when Robert Dumas, the head of Hermès fourth generation, created the first in-house silk scarf design for the then 100-year-old luxury marque: a design he called “Jeu des Omnibus et Dames Blanches.”  It was based on a woodblock print and the artwork was inspired by an antique board game.

While the yellow carriages and board game elements were adopted in the first Hermès carré, DUANMU’s new silk scarf, however, draws inspiration from a catalogue showcasing premium horses from the Jin and Tang Dynasties. The catalogue provides an insight into an exhibition of overseas terracotta figurines made in ancient China.

“Horses are ubiquitous in the history of China. I hope I can introduce the unique ‘horse culture’ of China to the world.” Mr. Qi says, “I’ve been fascinated with horses since I was little. They remind me of heroism in ancient China.”

Eight renowned horses in different poses are printed on the 90cm x 90cm carré. It took Mr. Qi two years to study over 100 artworks at museums both at home and abroad to land the prototypes for this motif. The carefully arranged final pattern is an artistic representation based on archaeological evidences while taking into consideration how it will be worn.

At the bottom, located in the middle is the only one among the eight that has four limbs suspended in the air. Its prototype is a Sancai (tri-colored glazed porcelain piece) from the Tang Dynasty. The artwork is classified as Grade One National Artifact and is currently kept at the Xi’an Museum as its most treasured piece.

Four out of the eight horse images printed on the scarf are based on artifacts overseas. “The easiest way to find Chinese classical art and culture is to visit museums, but what I’m looking for is an alternative,” says Mr. Qi.

Mr. Qi told LuxeCO that to delve into classical art, the most crucial thing is to discover something “conventional, known to all, yet not thought through.”



Currently, DUANMU has four boutique stores located in Beijing and Shanghai. Its official website and Wechat mini-program are available. Consumers can also buy their products at online retail stores. In the future, more stores will be launched in Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Suzhou and so on.

Many founders of emerging Chinese brands aspire to take their labels international. However, Mr. Qi believes that

Chinese traditional art should be regarded as an equal to any Western fine art rather than an exotic hype by Westerners. However, to honor it the way it deserves, Chinese classical art should first and foremost blossom in its homeland.

DUANMU now offers increasingly diverse and interesting products such as earrings, combs, mirrors, cigar cases, cigarette boxes and jewelry boxes.

What Mr. Qi cares is not just the increasing volume of the business but also whether it would soon be considered mediocre by consumers in case of losing its force of impact or velocity.

| Photo Credit: Duanmu

| Writer: Jun Liu


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