Friday, September 12, 2008

Shanghai | turnSTYLE: Chris Buckley

turn·stile –noun
1. a structure of four horizontally revolving arms pivoted atop a post and set in a gateway or opening in a fence to allow the controlled passage of people.

turn·STYLE - noun
1. Justina's snapshot profiles of cool people in Shanghai who are creating and defining China style.

Serendipity rules my writing. When I need information, it mysteriously appears. I flip open a book and find the one fact that I am missing. Or I encounter experts with the knowledge that I am missing. (The latter happens more often than I care to admit given my vast ignorance on so many subjects.)

That's why it's so apropos to kick off my new blog column Shanghai turnSTYLE with Chris Buckley, purveyor and designer of Tibetan rugs. The novel I'm writing right now features a weaver. I know nothing about rug weaving, but I needed a crash course. Fast.

Serendipity brought me to Chris, an expat who's made his life here in China since 1995. There I was, browsing the web for information about Tibetan weaving when I happened on Chris's website for his rug boutique, Torana House. His shop happens to be ensconced in my favorite neighborhood within Shanghai. On my favorite street. And featured on his website is the very rug that I had been picturing in my head as I've been writing. Coincidence? Or fate. If you are to believe my new novel, there is no such thing as coincidence.

Chris embodies new design in China: east, reimagined. Rather than slavish replicas of traditional Tibetan designs, Chris' designs pay homage to the old, yet makes them relevant for today's taste.

"All of us in Shanghai are collectors of some sort," Chris told me.
That's true, I think, of the expat community in particular. All these professional expats I've met over the last three weeks go from one international assignment to another. What are they but collectors of experiences. They thrive on the new and different and adventurous.

What I found the most inspiring about Chris is that his mission with Tibetan rugs supercedes merely making a living at something he loves: textiles of all kinds. But that through his passion for collecting, he is using his livelihood to archive culture. To keep it alive. Something like 99% of Tibetan rugs today are actually produced in Nepal or India. By employing an entire village in Tibet and retraining them on the ancient craft that their ancestors pioneered, he is preserving a craft in partnership with them. That includes eschewing synthetic dyes where possible and creating the organic from techiques that are getting lost: developing colors with the raw materials of the land. Madder, Tibetan rhubarb, lichen. Fermenting them for days. Documenting this process in writing so that this craft is not lost forever.

I love that. People helping people. Preserving culture. Moving craft forward. Finding your passion. Embracing the serendipity of one trip to Tibet to change his career from product designer to textile designer.

And I love how one of Chris' favorite rugs is called "FIRE." That perfectly captures the energy that is Shanghai today: this city is alive. Its creativity is on fire.

1 comment:

Janet Lee Carey said...

Thanks for showing us the gorgeous rugs! So great to meet Chris, someone keeping that beautiful Tibetan tradition alive.

You seem to find like-minded people wherever you go.

Here's to synchronicity in rugs and writing in Shanghai.


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