SHANGHAI — China has such a glut of malls these days that visitors to flashy cities like Shanghai may wonder whether any independent boutiques and handcrafted items survive. Take heart, shopping lovers, they do exist. Just venture way from the commercial (and, frankly, not very interesting) retail stores lining Nanjing Road and Xintiandi and explore the winding, tree-shaded streets of the former French Concession.
For Chinese fashion, the concept shop Dong Liang has established itself as a go-to source in the city, for both cutting-edge style and thoughtful selection. Opened in a charming villa in 2011, the original boutique features 30 women’s designers at varying prices, such as Yang Li, a fixture on the Paris runways and in the pages of Vogue, and Angel Chen, whose bright red raincoat emblazoned with the Chinese character for “dragon” in red sequins (4,680 renminbi, or about $707) is a showstopper.
Around the corner is Dong Liang’s men’s boutique, the Crow House, in another beautifully renovated old lane house, which has a rotating selection of pieces by 20 designers, including hand-dyed indigo button-down shirts and sports jackets (1,299 renminbi) by a co-founder, Nan Lang, and Feng Chen Wang’s graphic, 3-D-inspired sweatshirts (3,980 renminbi).
Tucked down a winding lane across the street is fabric of a more traditional sort — indigo cloth hand-printed with intricate floral designs known as blue nankeen. Though fashion-forward Chinese youths now consider the textiles somewhat outdated, the Chinese Printed Blue Nankeen Exhibition Hall (637 Changle Road, No. 24) aims to keep this craftsmanship alive by stocking a huge array of pieces made by artisans in rural Anhui Province, including cotton and silk scarves (from 195 renminbi), tablecloths (from 435 renminbi) and women’s blouses with Chinese embroidery (695 renminbi). At times, the cloth is artfully displayed in the tranquil yard behind the shop, billowing in the breeze.
For the Dutch designer Pim Gietelink, meanwhile, wood is the material of choice. And his nearly two-year-old boutique, Kate Wood Originals, named for his daughter, is full of the stuff. With a focus on sustainability and quality design, the shop specializes in watches made from rosewood, maple and sandalwood from North America and Southeast Asia (from 888 renminbi), as well as sunglasses (788 renminbi) and bicycles (7,500 renminbi) built from locally sourced bamboo. The shop will box the bicycles for air travel as an oversize piece of luggage.
For a refueling spot on rapidly gentrifying Wulumuqi Road, the choices can be dizzying — including poke bowls, banh mi and Turkish kebabs. The tastiest spot, however, is Slurp! (247-3 Wulumuqi Road), which serves authentic (not to mention super cheap) comfort foods from southwestern Yunnan Province on the border with Myanmar, such as highly slurp-able noodles topped with tofu, bean sprouts and pickled vegetables and irresistible pan-fried Yunnan goat cheese.
The final shopping stop is the granddaddy of high-design, handmade pieces, Spin Ceramics. Just north of the former French Concession in the Jing’an district, Spin’s studio overflows with gorgeous and creative pieces of porcelain: paperweights in the shape of dim sum (90 renminbi), “water bag” vases that appear to be melting off their wooden stands (280 renminbi) and wearable red and black ceramic bow ties (220 to 240 renminbi). The 15-year-old company has a highly successful business model: It pairs young designers in Shanghai with master craftsmen in Jingdezhen (the birthplace of Chinese pottery) to produce unique and modern, well, spins on traditional porcelain.
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