The Art Of Tea
Temperatures are hitting negatives right outside The St Regis Shanghai Jingan, and I’m told it’ll only continue to drop over the next few days. But that’s not a problem, for I’m keeping toasty warm (with a jacket, no doubt) in its premises.
I’m here to meet renowned Chinese fine jewellery designer, Wan Bao Bao. Wan is a woman of many names and hats. To China, she’s the Red Princess — a status bestowed on her — granddaughter of Wan Li, chairman of the National People’s Congress.
To the elite, she’s the embodiment of a 21st-century woman. She’s intellectual, outspoken, and stands by her words.
To jewellery lovers, she’s an enchantress of gems. Under her fine jewellery line, Bao Bao Wan, she mixes tradition with modern sensibilities, turning loose stones into magnificent works of wearable art.
And to St Regis, she mirrors the brand’s commitment and excellence when it comes to keeping legacies alive. So much so that she was appointed as the first Chinese female St Regis Connossieur, joining the league that currently includes Nacho Figueras, Jason Wu, Jamie Cullum, Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig.
Growing Up As The Red Princess
Having grown up in Beijing’s Forbidden City, Wan lived a much more comfortable life compared to peers her age. “I was the only child, and I spent a lot more time on my own than with friends," she says. She recalls travelling from a young age, and had the opportunity to study in the US and France.
While onlookers may have deemed her childhood as ‘sheltered, it was in fact, quite the opposite. Wan struggled to reconcile her identify as a Chinese Asian woman who grew up in a communist country, with her newfound knowledge about the Western powers and their ideas of democracy. The silver lining though, was that Wan found a home in the St Regis brand, having stayed at various St Regis hotels around the world.
“One of my first memories of The St Regis New York was running up and down the grand staircase," she says.
Where Design Meets Her Eye
Taking the world to be her oyster, Wan would doodle whenever something caught her eye be it architecture or nature. Her creations act as timeline for memories in her life. The Pagoda ring encapsulates the Pagoda that was erected right beside her house. In another piece, a butterfly takes flight from behind a bamboo, and on the tip of the butterfly wing lies a single drop of dew.
Others depict her journeys. “It was my last day in Florence, and I wanted to take one last walk. I saw a church and I started sketching," she says. What became of the sketch was a gorgeous pair of three-dimensional Duomo earrings.
Today, Wan is back at The St Regis Shanghai Jingan — the newest St Regis hotel in China (and one of the newer hotels in Shanghai too) — to present a pendant she specially designed for the brand.
Wan Bao Bao, St Regis Connoisseur
The collaboration isn’t as random as you imagine, for this isn’t Wan’s first time designing something for The St Regis brand. When Wan was first announced as a St Regis Connoisseur in November 2016, she designed a pin in gold and mother of pearl for the butlers. The piece was presented to winners of the St Regis Macao’s Greater China Butler Award. It may seem like a one-off jewellery commission, but for Wan, it was an act of gratitude to the staff of the hotel. “Years ago as a student, I was staying at The St Regis New York when I fell sick. One of the butlers bought me porridge from Chinatown, and made me a coke and ginger drink," she recalls.
That small but simple gesture has proven to be one of the many reasons why Wan remains a loyal guest of St Regis. “No other brand offers the same level of service. It has always felt like a second home to me. I’m constantly inspired by the intricate details in the hotel’s architecture, decor, and design," she says.
The Afternoon Tea Ritual Necklace
For The St Regis Shanghai Jingan, she has crafted something similar in size to the pin, but on a different note. I’m presented with a tiny box, and in it sits a dainty teapot pendant fashioned from 18k rose gold.
“This pendant represents my interpretation of the signature St Regis Afternoon Tea ritual. The diamonds on the handle represent Mrs Astor’s love for diamonds, and the red ruby on the lid of the teapot is a nod to the brand’s signature colour, King Cole Red."
The idea may sound simple and straightforward, but for Wan, it meant throwing her first idea out the window, five months after she first started working on it.
“I thought of making a macaron pendant. I wanted it to be playful, I wanted to show the cream spilling or leaking out of the macarons. But it was too difficult, especially when the pendant couldn’t be too big," she sighs.
The macaron pendant may not have come to fruition just yet, but the pendant is an apt reflection of the brand’s lavish afternoon tea sessions, and more importantly, equally luxurious parties that Caroline Astor had a penchant for.
The teapot pendant is available online at the St Regis Boutique for €999 (S$1,618).
The St Regis Shanghai Jingan
1008 Beijing West Road
Tel: +86 21 6257 9999