The Qeelin story started when founder Dennis Chan embarked on a journey to search for his roots. Having lived abroad for many years, Chan returned to Hong Kong in 1985, somehow feeling a void in in his life, a sense of being culturally deprived.
Although he is Chinese, Chan admits that he came from a generation more likely to appreciate baroque or art deco design than anything Chinese. ‘Oriental’ was simply not chic then. He began to study the history of eastern cultures, and early in his research read The Travels of Marco Polo, a book written in the 13th century describing the legendary explorer’s travels from Europe to Asia, including his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan.
“700 years ago, there was nothing old fashioned about ‘oriental’ culture,” says Chan. “European travellers came to the east to worship the grandeur of Chinese arts, crafts, literature and civilisation.” Inspired by the travels of Marco Polo, in 1997 Chan visited Dunhuang, a historical garrison town in northwestern Gansu Province, an important stop on the ancient Silk Road, and a pivotal meeting point for east and west, well known for the nearby Mogao Caves.
On the walls of the Mogao caves are murals depicting the people, their lifestyle and society. The fine craftsmanship seen in the caves is a testament to the height of their artistic refinement. “If you ask me what I mean by luxury, I would tell you to visit the caves, and see for yourself what luxury meant then,” says Chan.
But at the turn of the 19th century the caves were also robbed and desecrated - murals hacked out of the walls, the Buddha sculptures and the art pieces stolen. “If we Chinese had a stronger country then, it wouldn’t have happened,” sighs Chan.