Alison Chi, daughter of famous interior designer, finds her own niche

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 March, 2015, 6:06am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 March, 2015, 6:06am

You can choose your friends but, it seems, rarely can you escape your DNA.

Alison Chi tried, embarking first on communications studies in Paris, then real estate and hospitality in New York, before being drawn to interior design. Perhaps that is not surprising, considering her father is Tony Chi - influential tastemaster, style virtuoso and inductee into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.

Yet it's not her celebrated dad with whom Alison has joined hands to introduce her new luxury lifestyle brand, Tzelan, but with her lower-profile mother, Tammy Chou, who has held the reins of Tony Chi and Associates for more than 20 years, infusing her own sense of beauty and elegance.

As if to play down the link - albeit while sharing hip Manhattan office space with the family firm - the pair maintain that they are "just a mother and daughter on a life-long mission to rediscover integrity in interior design".

Tzelan, in fact, is Tammy's Chinese name, interpreted in English as "a space of purity", which seems fitting with the brand ethos of the company, which is only a few months old.

Alison, as managing director, and Tammy, as brand ambassador, are joined by a team of interior, product and graphic designers who work with them to realise unique designs with "a certain function they can't find [elsewhere]".

"We take a holistic approach to the way we design, thinking about all aspects of a product and not just the aesthetic form or colour, to create a bespoke feel," Alison says.

"A design sensibility that mixes tailor-made [influences] with modern manufacturing process gives our products quite a unique niche in the market."

While aligning themselves with the family's hospitality heritage - some Tzelan designs can be found in the Park Hyatt Shanghai, Andaz New York, Intercontinental Geneva and Park Hyatt Moscow, with upcoming hotel projects in Singapore, Chengdu and Hong Kong - Alison says the new company's aim is to "push the boundaries" of high-end hospitality design through products people can take home.

The underlying constant is her famous father, whom Alison says remains "the pinnacle of all of our inspirations".

The multifunctional vibe of the New York-fringe Tudor home of her childhood, where her parents pulled down walls to open up the space; the family's assignment in Bali, where visiting the villages of artisans instilled in her an appreciation of traditional craftsmanship; her mother's gentle, tasteful aesthetic, all manifest in Tzelan's collections.

Products are currently available through the brand's partner manufacturers and their distributors, and the new Tzelan House showroom in New York.

Alison is "pushing" for space in upmarket department stores in key cities, including Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. She also hopes to have at least one Tzelan House showroom open in an Asian location this year.

Through Tzelan, Alison is scratching an itch she now knows had been niggling all along. If so, why not just join her father's company?

"The fundamental difference is that my interest has led me towards objects from hospitality, whereas Tony Chi and Associates' legacy is in design and space," she says.

"The two are very much related in a lot of ways - the DNA of Tony Chi runs through Tzelan. But my passion has always been in everyday products you can take home and share with friends."