At the hub of cultural exchanges between China and the West, along the “Silk Road”, the caves of Dunhuang stand out among the art treasures of the world by possessing a special geographical and cultural significance.
It was during a visit to these legendary caves in 1997 that Qeelin Creative Director, Dennis Chan, had a revelation and decided to play his part in bringing modernity into China’s arts and craftsmanship, as well as letting the world discover the best of China. Qeelin was born.
Elite Traveler: Can you please tell us about yourself and how Qeelin got started?
Dennis Chan: I was brought up in Hong Kong and spent some time in London. I started as a design consultant. I myself collect watches and jewelry. In the early 90s I began brainstorming about how I should get into the luxury retail business as my own brand, long-term.
I stepped into China for my first time in 1997 and was very inspired and intrigued by the culture. Although rich in history and culture, I noticed that China does not have its own jewelry brand or hero they can call their own.
France has Cartier and Italy has Bulgari, for example. China has over 5,000 years of history and so many craftsmen, but unfortunately no luxury jewelry brand to call its own. I wanted to create a modern unique design that Chinese people could be proud of.
One thing I learned very early on was that in order to play in this game, you need to be international, which is why we launched Qeelin in France. I was lucky to receive very good feedback from friends I knew in the industry, encouraging me to move forward with my dream. My now business partner, Guillaume Brochard, was one of my supporters.
In 2004, the year we started Qeelin, award-winning actress Maggie Cheung wore a Qeelin piece at the Cannes Film Festival. What a powerful image that was. This put us on the map in a new way. She has been a muse for us ever since. Because there were so many copies in Hong Kong after this, however, I knew I needed to come back and position Qeelin from here.
ET: That is fascinating. You are quite the visionary to start this way.
DC: My business partner, Guillaume, is French. Launching in France made sense for many reasons. Over the last nine years we’ve established 21 boutiques worldwide.
ET: Can you please tell us about some of the awards you’ve won?
DC: We won the telephone booth award from Taiwan, which means all of their phone booths are of Qeelin design. I was also part of the team in London to design their latest telephone booth. When I was in Warwick, I designed helmets for jet-fighter pilots, all of which are very high-tech.
When you look at our jewelry you will notice that we are unique. For every piece, we start with a design. All collections are made of precious metals and stones, such as the finest white, yellow and rose gold, platinum, diamonds, sapphire, ruby and naturally, the Chinese national stone itself – jade.
DC: All of our pieces are designed with a contemporary lifestyle and a Chinese touch in mind. Some specific designs, like the Yu Yi lock, are designed with strong emotions as this stands for protection and has been a symbol of protection for a very long time in history throughout Asia. People know the meaning well. This is a powerful design.
Another special design, more on the playful side, is the Bo Bo necklace, inspired by the Panda Bear, which I happen to be wearing right now. When I lived in Warwick, I lived next door to a teddy bear museum, which I visited every month. At that time I started to collect antique teddy bears. As you can see, the Panda Bear is the perfect example of East meets West. Another special collection are the robots, which I also collected at one point, another example of modern lifestyle design.
ET: What does Kering, as a major shareholder, bring to the table for Qeelin?
DC: Kering is greatly helping us to expand. Before we joined Kering, we had 14 shops. We now have 21, all within one year. From a legal standpoint, they offer very beneficial advice, guidance and backing as well. We are proud to be part of the Kering family, especially as such a young brand.
ET: Where are your boutiques located? Where can we find Qeelin?
DC: At the moment, Qeelin collections are available in Paris, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. We have 11 boutiques in China, seven in Hong Kong, one in Paris and two in London.
ET: What does the future hold for Qeelin?
DC: We want to continue to grow organically. There will be a strong focus in mainland China, but this doesn’t mean we will stop elsewhere. We have plans of opening another boutique in Paris. We are also looking at opportunities in Ukraine and Dubai.
ET: Dennis, thank you for sitting down with us. Congratulations on all of your success. We wish you all the best and look forward to seeing more from you.