Interview: Isabelle Pascal-Pons

Upon entering the nondescript door on Mao’er Hutong, you are suddenly transported to a world of tranquility, thought and beauty. At once a philosophy and a lifestyle, WUHAO Concept Shop is a place where guests become part of the landscape, encouraged to immerse themselves and interact with the products, explore what’s hidden within cabinets and drawers, relax and ‘live’ in the space.

The store’s contents evolve with the seasons. Starting with seasonal key words such as ‘wood’, ‘green’, ‘vision’, ‘new yang’ and ’emergence’, WUHAO collaborates with Chinese and international fashion and product designers, jewellers, artists and local craftspeople to bring each ‘cycle’ to life.

Founder extraordinaire Isabelle Pascal-Pons, is dedicated to supporting young designers establishing a platform both here and abroad. Travelling extensively and visiting graduate shows, she unearths unknown talents that are at the forefront of innovation.

Later this month, she takes WUHAO to the bustling streets of Dashilar, where an exciting pop-up store is being created for the inaugural Beijing Design Week. Transforming a derelict early 20th century former teahouse into a unique space featuring installations and lifestyle experiences, WUHAO @ The Teahouse will bring design and Pascal-Pons’s vision to the wider public.

Leading up to its opening, Co-incide spoke to Isabelle about her experiences and Beijing’s burgeoning design scene.

How do you see art and design in its present stage in China? Have you seen a change in the design scene in Beijing over the past few years?
When I came to Beijing for the first time in 2002, I felt the energy of the people. What’s happened in my opinion is that although I felt the energy 7 years before, it is only 2 years ago that people started to get involved and create projects. Some small shops opened up like Dong Liang, the museum shop at UCCA, so it (the city) began to be more open and have something for design.

How did the idea of WUHAO come about, what were your intentions for the store?
When I opened this space in the centre of Beijing, it was something quite unique. I chose not to have it in a mall or a normal shop, instead I wanted it to have a special link with Chinese history and background. People can come and experience whatever they want, use the house as a home, sit on Chinese designer chairs, drink from a cup by a young designer and try on clothes. It is a very good way to discover all these young talents.

I also wanted to create a space which belongs to young Chinese people, to reflect a part of their heritage and invite them to use it as a playground. Many of my friends are originally Chinese and upon returning to China after living or studying in the UK, US, France, or Germany, they often ask themselves what it means to be Chinese and what is the contemporary version of being Chinese? WUHAO is based on this, it is a space for experimenting and exploring what it could be.

You work with and support many Chinese artists and designers from various disciplines, how and where do you find these talents?
For 10 years I travelled a lot and met many people, so I’m sourcing all the time. I often find designers who have just graduated. Each time I go to the graduations shows, I select the ones that are interesting and I will showcase them and make an exhibition with them first. If the reaction from the audience is good, I will then produce them.

With many Chinese consumers favouring Western and luxury brands over local brands, do you see a shift in that attitude? Are more Chinese people becoming aware and interested in local designers?
Many Chinese customers were only focusing on the big brands like Louis Vuitton but now they are beginning to want something more exclusive or designed by a Chinese designer, so this is a big change. I think now is a changing time, people are more open to this (design) and wanting something that is exclusive, unique and unusual.

If you look at our collection we have 80 percent Chinese and 20 percent foreign designers. My clients at the moment are split 50/50 but the people who attend our events are mostly Chinese and they are my best customers. They are beginning to integrate design as a part of their lifestyle, so we try to provide them with a lifestyle space where they can buy something for the house, clothes, furniture and something for the kids. It is a completely holistic project and gives them an experience.

A lot of people say that there is no taste in China and I really don’t believe them. I think that people just need to be more confident and to develop their own taste.

Can you tell us about your new project WUHAO @ The Teahouse at Dashilar during Beijing Design Week?
I have always wanted to have a Teahouse in the shop but it was not possible here. When this project opportunity came about, it was the perfect time to make it happen.

The location in Dashilar is near the a big commercial street, so it will attract more people. The Teahouse will be a place for people to come, enjoy a tea seated at a very special tea table made by a young designer, drink from a unique cup. Everything in the store will be like this. We welcome everybody in the same way, it could be a VIP or a young student, we take the same time for them and this is very important to me.

Each day one of our designers will be at the Teahouse to talk about their work. This will give them a platform to really involve themselves, talk to different people, improve and discover something else.

Descibe your perfect day in Beijing.
I really love to walk in Beijing and watch the people. If I’m not working, I like to take a big walk, discover the streets and then have brunch. Sometimes I go to my secret place, to read and know it is a place for me. I also like visiting galleries and shopping, there’s always something happening in the city. In the evenings I like to entertain with friends or go see a show. A perfect day for me really is to be able to enjoy what the city offers.

WUHAO Curated Shop
No.35 Mao’er Hutong, Dongcheng District

WUHAO @ The Teahouse
No.9 Zhu Jia Hutong, Dashilar West Street, Xijie District
16th September – 10th October