ON THE YELLOW SILK ROAD
In Hong Kong, Shanghai Tang fan Jodie Minus bags an unexpected bargain
THE editor is in Hong Kong, en route to China, and she has phoned me with a shopping tip. Apparently there’s a Shanghai Tang warehouse store in Hong Kong and she has the address. It has been slipped discreetly to her, scrawled on the back of a business card.
She knows I am heading to Hong Kong tomorrow and, like her, I’m a Shanghai Tang fan. The label was established by Hong Kong-based David Tang in 1994 with the mission of ‘‘ revitalising Chinese design by interweaving it with the dynamism of the 21st century’’. This translates to luxurious fabrics, quality craftsmanship and quirky details. Tang essentially wanted to challenge China’s reputation for cheap, poor-quality products.
His catalogues show rich young things lounging in black silk pyjamas, vibrantly coloured signature Tang jackets and exquisitely cut cheongsams, the figurehugging dress immortalised in the West by Nancy Kwan in TheWorldofSuzieWong. There are also pictures of silk-lined lacquer boxes, hand-painted dishes, chinoiserie lamps, umbrellas and slippers. Shanghai Tang prices are exquisite, too, which is why the thought of buying direct so appeals.
My fellow travellers are keen to take home fake designer handbags, so on the first evening we set off from our hotel, the Langham Place (in bustling Mongkok on the Kowloon peninsula), for the ladies’ market on Tung Choi Street where we are immersed in the commercial world Tang loathes: stalls of badly made scarfs, underwear, dresses, handbags and jewellery.
Next day I head by Star Ferry to Central, Hong Kong Island, to visit the Shanghai Tang emporium in the Pedder Building (12 Pedder St; there are smaller Shanghai Tang outlets in the Peninsula and InterContinental hotels and at Hong Kong airport). At the Pedder Building flagship store, ‘‘ Mr Singh’’, resplendent in lime tunic and fuchsia turban, opens the door for me.
There are colourful leather handbags embroidered with gilded goldfish, long silk cheongsams and miniskirt versions with graphic Mao prints.
I also check the menswear, homewares and gift sections, passing the in-house Imperial Tailor, which employs the traditional methods of early 20th-century Shanghai tailors.
A made-to-measure cheongsam can be ordered here for a princessly sum. Instead, I pick up scented candles and hair accessories, which are gorgeously wrapped and boxed.
I ask some savvy local shoppers about the editor’s tip, but they shake their heads and point out the clothes are made in China, not Hong Kong.
When I mention the area near the New Territories, where the store is supposed to be, they shake their heads harder and tell me it’s just an industrial area with ‘‘ nothing worth looking at’’.
The next morning, I set out regardless. I walk down Nathan Road — Hong Kong’s version of New York’s Broadway — which runs down the centre of Kowloon. Nathan Road is butted horizontally with Boundary Street, the official demarcation line between Kowloon and the New Territories, and towards the end is a proliferation of stores selling 22-carat gold bling.
I veer left into a small neighbourhood of tile and tap shops, fabric wholesalers and the odd noodle bar. I pass a silver mirrored door that advertises, in shiny black deco script, ‘‘ dancing allowed’’, along with a retro silhouette. If this shopping quest is a success, I will celebrate here with a dance.
At last I reach my destination: a glass sliding door. It once may have had something to do with Shanghai Tang but not any more. Shelves are stacked to the ceiling with sumptuous fabrics.
‘‘ Shanghai Tang?’’ I ask a
smiling young man. With a sweep of his arm, he indicates the open doorway on my right. In the next room are silk lamps, hatpins, beads, braid and tassels hanging in wooden birdcages. Further on, in the far right corner, is what I am really looking for: samples of cheongsams in flocked and embroidered silks and velvets and, on another rack, striking silk-lined pashmina scarfs and wraps just like those I saw at Shanghai Tang yesterday.
The scarfs and wraps retail for about $HK2000 ($300), but here they are $HK380 and $HK480 respectively and some are even more beautiful than the ones stocked in the main store (perhaps last season’s), designed with swells of cherry blossoms and perfectly detailed.
The salesman takes me to look at the fabrics, which his company supplies to Shanghai Tang. He says he can organise a Shanghai tailor to make cheongsams for clients using the same fabric; it takes about three weeks but costs one-quarter of the in-store price.
I purchase a few scarfs and promise myself to return for an evening dress one day, but right now I feel like celebrating at the club where dancing is allowed.
I push open the door into a darkened den of booths where two scary-looking men are loitering. One leans in close to me and croaks, ‘‘ This is a place where men come for women.’’
Oh, horizontal dancing then? I don’t think the editor would like that one bit and I sidle out. The Shanghai Tang warehouse store is at 115 Kilung St, Sham Shui Po in northwestern Kowloon, north of Tai Kok Tsui and east of Cheung Sha Wan. The area’s Apliu Street is well known for its cheap electronic goods. More: www.discoverhongkong.com; www.shanghaitang.com.
That’s a wrap: A Hong Kong model wears a cheongsam from famed fashion label Shanghai Tang