A few weeks ago I hit up neighboring Shanghai for some research, and it was my first trip there. What I discovered was that although it is a fairly close 2.5 hrs. from Tokyo, I was in for a world of difference.
I was especially interested in the shopping experience, and in a city where every luxury and white-bread chain brand alike have a presence here just because it’s the cool thing to do, I figured that if I wanted to truly get to the fashionable heart of the Shanghaiese I would need to peruse the select shops instead.
The first shop I went to was called “Alter” and it is lodged into the side of the humongous Xintiandi Style mall, much like RESTIR is at Midtown. In fact, I would liken it to RESTIR because this place is oozing so much chic it’s going to bleed to death.
The first thing you will notice is the incredible architecture, which I correctly guessed to have been inspired by Escher drawings immediately upon laying my eyes on the all of the stairs. A huge staircase is the centerpiece and it replaces a regular floor, inviting customers to climb up it and go wayward, getting lost in the selection of items. I was especially fond of the mannequins scattered everywhere, including the walls and ceiling. Even the fitting rooms (below) are a perception-bending experience.
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The owner is Sonja Long, a China-born and bred and Florence-educated woman who opened the store a year ago. Still in her 20s, Sonja is the face of a new breed of young savvy entrepreneurs in Shanghai. Here she is pictured with the Shanghai-based Anthony Moynihan, the shop’s personal stylist. He helped me pick out the juicy Sass and Bide outfit I tried on.
The next shop I headed straight to was Vanitas. Owner and buyer Rigel Davis was about 21 years old(!!) when she opened it several years ago. She has a really strong following on the Internet with a style blog, and often sells her wares to fans who like what they see on her.
Rigel came to Shanghai via Florida, and uses her international background to push an American urban, edgy style. Looking through her shop I got a London-ish vibe, although her best sellers are Helmut Lang and Acne. Vanitas has another outlet in Taiwan, and she is already ready to expand to a different Shanghai location.
It seemed to me that in Shanghai, if you were a fashion-conscious woman you were either in the “cute” ViVi style crowd (Japanese akamoji magazines have been in china for decades now) or a Paris Vogue “Rick Owens” crowd. There were no “underground” street style shops or hidden gems to stumble upon like in Tokyo. In fact, I ran into the first (and perhaps only) true vintage shop in the city, “William the beekeeper” on my final day there.
Yes, this was on my mind, and I kept my eye out for them. Unfortunately, neither Alter nor Vanitas carried any fashion from Japan, and only the big ones like comme des garçons and BAPE had much recognizability with people in the in-crowd.
Of course there was one select shop called The Gloss which actually had a selection of Japanese brands not in the grips of I.T., like Fugahum and Cherie. I wanted to hear about how these brands were picked up, but unfortunately Ben, the buyer, was on a business trip when I was in town so didn’t get to ask him about it.
Then there was this. A mysterious looking shop called “by” that opened in the Xintiandi mall near Alter, just days before I arrived. Sonja told me it was all Japanese menswear so I ventured inside to check it out. It was….amazing to be sure! Crystal, mirrors and gilded fixings blanketed the cavernous shop. And on the racks were the cream of the Tokyo menswear crop…. <Lad musician, John Lawrence Sullivan, the viridi Anne, Julius, factotum, etc>.
The shop guys were so new, they didn’t even have shop cards and had no clue on any background about their shop or it’s wares. I’m guessing it is run by I.T., only because there were *too* many pieces and they all looked the same. But the shop visuals were beautiful and exciting…like the giant chairs that might evoke an “Alex in Wonderland” image.
Thats not to say I didn’t do any shopping- although this is where sent my time and reminbi…at cupcake shops and cafes in the French Concession.^^