If you live in Beijing or Shanghai you may have noticed a couple of small shops, one tucked away in leafy Sanlitun (Beijing), the other in the trendy Fuxing Lu (Shanghai) with an attractive and strange name: Rouge Baiser followed by the name Elise. Nicely Made in China decided to investigate and met with the French owner, Elise de Saint Guilhem, to talk embroidery, mixing colors and the differences -or the lack of- between Chinese and Western clients.
Elise, how and when did Rouge Baiser-Elise begin?
I arrived in Shanghai in 2001. As I had previously studied law, I felt I wanted to do something different. I had always been fascinated by handmade embroidery, and the idea of setting up a business of embroidered household linen imposed itself. At the time there were few nice shops around town and when I saw the house from the 30′s where we are now, I just fell in love with it. and we opened the shop on Fuxing Lu in Shanghai in March 2003. The Beijing shop opened in 2006.
Why Rouge Baiser-Elise?
It’s because I wanted something quirky and original. For me Rouge Baiser represents a gift that you give someone or give to yourself, and Elise comes as a signature.
Where does you inspiration come from?
Most of my inspiration comes from nature. I also like Mark Rothko‘s work which is very colorful and simple. For example, I conceive my bed linen as a painting – either a very simple and colorful embroidery or a more overdone pattern but in very discreet colors – 4 shades of grey for instance. It’s quite a subtle balance.
Who’s responsible for the design?
I am. I go to museums and walk around gardens to research patterns that I will use later in my design. To help me, I have a Chinese assistant, Shirley, and I’ve now begun to work with a US-based French designer who will be working on Rouge Baiser’s new collection.
Who does the embroidery? How did you find them?
I first went to areas where I knew I would find a strong Chinese embroidery tradition. It took a while to find them but we now work with about 20 professional embroiderers. All excellent!
What type of material do you use?
I use a mix of linen and cotton from the North of China. Nowadays, we can find very high quality cotton percale here.
How would you rate your collaboration with the Chinese workers?
My bond to China is very strong and many workers have been with Rouge Baiser since the beginning. We now have 7 full-time employees – I think they felt that we would be « traveling » together for a while. These people give me a lot, but beyond the business idea, I want to help people around me to advance, without being naïve, Rouge Baiser is still a business.
How many collections do you produce every year?
We produce 2 collections a year, usually with 2 topics in mind and 1 color range. I create the colors that I then ask companies to make for me. At first, the dyers are always a bit wary of my color schemes – caramel bed linen or grey with a touch of violet. But then, a year later I will find the same articles with the same colors at trade fairs!
Who is your clientele?
In Beijing our clientele comprises 30% local people -by that I mean people who have not traveled abroad- and the rest are foreigners – in which I include Chinese who’ve returned from abroad. In Shanghai the ratio is 20 / 80. All our clients basically like the same products. For example I find it very satisfying to see a Chinese client choose a bedlinen set which some time later a German client also buys. I think people still associate embroidery with the bridal trousseau and there’s something universal about that. Another very gratifying point is that people sometimes ask if our products are imported which is proof that high quality can be and is produced in China.
There seem to be more and more China-based companies being run by people who are not based in China, as in your case. How do you make it work?
Rouge Baiser was set up as a WOFE (wholly owned foreign enterprise) in 2007. In order to manage a Chinese company from abroad you need a couple of trusted collaborators in the company and you need to travel to China every 2 months or so. I have decided to remain the general manager and I am in contact with the office daily. But I also try not to interfere too much when I know that they are super busy.
Where can NMiC readers find your products?
On our website: www.rougebaiser-elise.com or in one of our shops.
299-2, Fuxing Xi Lu, Shanghai 200031,
Tel: (8621) 64 31 80 19