Disruption, Innovation and Fusion: An Interview With Adrian Cheng


Adrian Cheng, the young Chinese cultural entrepreneur, melds East and West so well: he was born in China, completed his higher education at Harvard, is under 40 (born in 1979.)

He is the grandson and designated heir of one of Hong Kong’s and China’s most influential business families, and is set to inherit a large part of the family empire that include the Chow Tai Fook jewellery chain and New World Development group, among others. The family’s controls companies with a total market value of $25 billion.

Shanghai exterior K11 Art Mall art by Sui Jianguo_Butterflies

But his interests and goals appear more extensive and diverse than just managing an empire that his forbears created. Hi interests involve the arts, creating a new, young, Chinese cultural identity, partially through the invention of the K11 Art Malls. These are curated platforms for young Chinese artists to display their work. The Art Malls are spaces for those viewers and visitors to see works of contemporary art, as well as better understand the time, subtext and meaning of contemporary, complex social issues.

The flagship K11 Art Mall in Hong Kong and Shanghai were both launched in December 2009 and June 2013 respectively. By 2023, a total of 24 K11 projects will be created in other cities across China, including Guangzhou, Beijing, Shenyang, Wuhan, Tianjin, Ningbo, and beyond, introducing a new retail experience, alongside art and culture, for everyone.

Shanghai K11 art museum –escalator

He has also founded and is the Honorary Chairman of the K11 Art Foundation, the first non-profit and non-state-owned art foundation in China to incubate young, emerging contemporary Chinese artists and promote public art education. KAF has forged partnerships with many art institutions for regional and international art projects. They include the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí in Figueres, Spain; Serpentine Galleries and Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; Centre Pompidou, Palais de Tokyo, and Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Armory Show, New Museum, and MoMA PS1 in New York.

In all instances, Adrian Cheng symbolizes the new, young, Chinese cultural identity, creating new ways of seeing and experiencing the fusions of art, commerce, and culture.

KHORA in nature

Last year, at the Business of Luxury Conference, sponsored by the Financial Times of London, I spoke with him face to face, about this idea of cross-pollinating diverse areas of emerging social awareness, art, and aesthetics.

Westwood Collections Past and Present at Get A Life Exhibition, at K11 Art Mall Shanghai

EatLoveSavor: Last year, when I interviewed you at the FT Business of Luxury Conference, you discussed your vision of creating a new heritage for young Chinese artists, through cross-pollinating different areas of art and aesthetics.  Is your cross-cultural collaborative exhibition, called Get A Life! with Dame Vivienne Westwood, the creation of K11 Art Foundation, the K11 Art Malls, and the exhibit of your KHORA furniture designs at Milan Design Week 2017, all dimensions of this fusion? 

Mr. Cheng: Cross pollinating creative talent and disciplines remains a core purpose. but I’m also interested in enhancing my cultural vision, called The Artisanal Movement. It encompasses all aspects of fashion, art, design, in order to craft these disciplines to lifestyles, interiors, and exhibitions. What this promotes and what my team and I do in all our projects, is to collect, connect, and collide – be it ideas, traditions, people, or forms of creative expression.

For example, the goal of our recent Get A Life! Exhibition is to forge cross-cultural art, design, and eco-sensitive conversations, as we collaborated with the renowned fashion designer. Dame Vivienne Westwood, with her team.

KHORA Collection

EatLoveSavor: How did this exhibition — fusing K11 art collections and Vivienne Westwood’s fashion brand come about?  What were the synchronies that allowed you to conceptualize this exhibition? 

Mr. Cheng: We began discussing what we could do to spotlight the environment and sustainability, within the framework of fashion and design, and how we could start a cross-cultural dialogue in China. This was also around the time when I launched the Shanghai K11 Art Mall, which houses our 3000sqm K11 Art Museum, so I thought, why not create an exhibition, using art and fashion as a compelling magnet to inspire people to talk more about the interconnecting relationships between fashion, art, and the world in which we live?

KHORA exhibition

EatLoveSavor: Dame Westwood’s fashion brand combines a dramatic fusion of art and disruption in both granular and overarching ways. Is it that the type of fusion that also reflects the mission and vision of K11?

Mr. Cheng: Our vision combines equal parts of fusion, disruption, and evolution. Young Chinese consumers want more than just buying things these days — they look for culture, stories, and substance as well. I founded K11 to create a hybrid space for commerce and art. And this has been successful. We have three new K11 Art Malls opening in 2017 – in Wuhan, Guangzhou and Shenyang – so the scope for staging cross-cultural exhibitions is growing all the time.

Adrian with main backdrop

EatLoveSavor: Reflecting this fusion idea a bit further, can you envision functional design, not only in fashion, but also in living space created by a fusion of visions of artist and artisan? 

Mr. Cheng: In April, 2017, I created an all-new furniture design exhibit, called Wander From Within, at the Villa Necchi Campiglio, Milan, coinciding with the annual Milan Design Week. I had the honor to co-design the collection with the renowned Japanese master designer Shigeru Uchida. The collection is comprised of three artisanal seatings, called Khora, and marks the last collection by Uchida-san, who died in November 2016. This exhibition in Milan is also a tribute to Uchida-san and his exceptional career.

The philosophy behind these furnishings infer the meanings of the traditional Japanese tea culture — one that finds calmness in the state of sitting, as the mind focuses on the light and shadows of its immediate surroundings.

The designs not symbolize the human-nature connection, but they also depict the intricacy and mystery of Japanese furniture composition.

KHORA close up

EatLoveSavor: What are your plans for Khora after Milan?

Mr. Cheng: Following the successful debut of Wander from Within in Milan, I’m thrilled to take my first furniture collection to Seoul, and on a world tour. With this collection, we are illustrating the power and role of furniture, and the essence of Asian sensibilities, particularly in the simple act of sitting down.


Susan Kime

Susan Kime’s career combines travel/adventure writing, blogging, and editing, both print and virtual. She was the Destination Club/Fractional Update for Elite Traveler, and senior club news correspondent for Robb Report’s Vacation Homes. She has published in Stratos, Luxury Living, European CEO, The London Telegraph, and ARDA Developments. She was the Editor-in-Chief of Travel Connoisseur, and the senior Luxury journalist for Luxist/AOL.com. She also wrote 95% of architecture/design articles for Urban Arches, a high-end arch/design website. She has written for JustLuxe.com, Pursuitist, JamesEdition, Joe’s Daily, About.com, Caviar Affair, and DestinationLuxury. She has a B.A. in English/Humanities and an M.A. in Counseling Psychology with two additional psychology certifications. She has taught Program Evaluation and Research Design at Chapman University, and has written extensively on affluence research. When not traveling, she resides with her Canadian husband and peaceful Beagle in northern Utah.

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