Tapped by luxury brands such as Perrier-Jouët and Vacheron Constantin to come up with cool window displays, Chinese design firm Benwu Studio knows how to turn up the glam. But their work—which ranges from installations to cheeky accessories and rigorously considered furniture—is grounded in a deep appreciation of the natural world. Last fall, the designers were the talk of Shanghai with a pop-up shop they designed for Maison Hermès; the coup de foudre was a screen of 8,000 recycled leather scraps that evoked autumn leaves.
Benwu Studio’s 27-year-old cofounders, Hongchao Wang and Peng You, were introduced through their parents, who, at the time, thought the two industrial-design students might have something in common. Wang and You began their collaboration in 2012 as they were finishing their undergraduate studies, and continued their side projects while pursuing master’s degrees at Switzerland’s ECAL and London’s Royal College of Art, respectively. Early on, the duo used what was freely available as raw material for creative exploration: combining bundles of sticks from a nearby park with neon resin in their Twig Vessels. Among their forays into furniture is the sculptural Sumo chair, a fresh vision of Asian heirloom furniture—one that supports traditional artisans and is made of sustainable (and affordable) American hardwood, rather than endangered rosewood.
The team has since grown to four with the addition of Qiyun Deng (an ECAL alumna) and Wei Ge (a graduate of RCA), with offices in Beijing and Shanghai. "The same thing drives us all—when we are confused and looking for direction, nature is always a good reference," Wang says. "There are infinite possibilities there."