[Designers on Design Part III]: The Maturing Elegance of Jean Georges

Riding on the momentum of our Designers on Design series, here is Part III in which CreativeHunt heads over to Jean Georges Shanghai with an interior designer to talk about the architecture through the eyes of an artist. 


You can read Part I (The Nest) & Part II (Saigon Mama) of the series here.

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Neri + Hu are a design powerhouse in Shanghai. They set trends. See: Mercato, and then every restaurant for the next two years that used distressed wood, tile, and metal. Unfortunately, they are such a powerhouse that they wouldn’t bother talking to me. So I did the next best thing, which is take an interior designer, who is a major fan of the new Jean Georges design, to the restaurant for a look around. This is when I learned a quirk of the interior design world in Shanghai: It small and sensitive. Very sensitive. In order to talk about Neri + Hu on the record, my designer, who has done dozens of her/his own projects around Shanghai, made me promise to keep her/his identity secret.

Designer X: Designers are very sensitive. It’s different than with chefs. We are not used to be criticized.”

On design magic:

Designer X: When I first saw pictures of the new Jean Georges, I thought, 'wow, they made a complete departure from what JG was before': a very masculine place, one that almost smells like cigars and business. It was very dark. But look around. This is the same space. You can see how the design magic can work in the same place.

On doing a restaurant in white:

Designer X: Neri + Hu did a mostly white restaurant, which would be unthinkable in Shanghai ten years ago. And despite it being almost all white, it looks so beautiful. Its elegant, luxurious, with all the thin golden touches. But it’s not overpowering, not overly luxurious, it’s very mature. Making a beautiful restaurant that is completely white… There is thin a line from looking cheap to looking not cheap. White things are normally cheap. There are not many places that are white in Shanghai.

On the gender of the restaurant and the power of female customers:

Designer X: They made a sex change. It’s a different gender now. The new space is very feminine, and I think — think, I don’t know — that’s where designers are headed, because they know women have the power now. If a woman wants to go, the man will follow. Most of the people are pretty young. In JG before, it was kind of older. I think they are now targeting this younger Chinese generation who has money — in their 30s and early 40s. Before this, JG before was just too old. Old businessmen coming to The Bund to do business. But this atmosphere is more friendly. It’s not casual but it’s more welcoming than before.

On the ‘language’ of Neri + Hu:

Designer X: The design has this retro kind of 1950s elegance, in these very thin golden lights, in the glass spheres at the bar, all the round mirrors next to the table. They are just so good with the details. They are big now – they have an industrial design department – so they custom-make all the light fixtures, all these details, the metalwork. This stuff is all very 1950s but overall the language of the design is still talking about it in a contemporary way. That’s very Neri +Hu.

On the changing definition of luxury:

Designer X: Shanghai is getting more mature. They are willing to accept things that 10 years ago they would not accept. Ten years ago, Chinese people would look at this restaurant and think it’s too simple, everything is white. Now, people don’t have to see chandeliers everywhere. It is still luxurious.

On originality:

Designer X: The new JG is quite original; very unique. I can’t think of another place that looks like this. No one expected the new JG to be like this. People were like ‘whoa, that’s…’ When I first saw it, it was a big surprise. And very beautiful. These glass panels, with this faded, milky treatment, where part of them is transparent and part is opaque. It’s a very elegant way of dividing space. Smart, smart guys.

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Coming up next, CreativeHunt talks to Glam. Don't miss out on next week's interview!