ON THE YEL­LOW SILK ROAD

In Hong Kong, Shang­hai Tang fan Jodie Mi­nus bags an un­ex­pected bar­gain

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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

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