Sunday, April 29, 2012

Store Review: Shanghai Tang 上海灘

Location: Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street
Type of goods: fashion and home accessories
Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Last fall, the landlord of Pedder Building, one of the last remaining pre-war commercial buildings in Central, kicked out long-time tenant Shanghai Tang to make room for American retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. When it comes to vying for the city’s most coveted address, a home grown label is no match against the muscles of a preppy frat boy. Since its eviction, Shanghai Tang had been on a mad hunt for a new home, until it finally settled for a hard-to-find, easy-to-miss building on a cul-de-sac in Central called Duddell Street. The three-level flagship store, the largest branch in the world, finally opened two weeks ago.

Shanghai Tang on Duddell Street

Shanghai Tang is not for Chinese people. Founded by pathological Anglophile David Tang (鄧永鏘), the label’s main clientele are expat women looking for a body-hugging qipao (旗袍) for their next formal dinner or wedding reception. After all, what white girl living in Hong Kong doesn’t want to look like Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love (花樣年華)? To the Cantonese population, however, Shanghai Tang is just a tourist trap. None of the label's faux-Chinese motifs or Hi-Lighter colors appeals to our esthetics. Local shoppers would rather pay a bit more and get their hands on a piece of Prada or Gucci. Let's face it, most of us think of Shanghai Tang as little more than an overpriced version of G.O.D. (住好啲). No offense to either brand.

One of Maggie Cheung's many changes
of qipao in In the Mood for Love

I actually like Shanghai Tang and I was curious about their new flagship. So last week I paid them a visit during lunch time. There weren’t a lot of shoppers, just a half dozen Caucasian women trying on clothes while the in-store tailor took their measurements. Knowing that their men’s clothes are designed for the larger-framed Caucasian man (that, and I don't wear Mao suits much these days), I headed straight to home accessories. Over the years, the home collection has grown beyond tableware and picture frames to include coffee machines (in collaboration with Nespresso), mahjong sets and even bicycles. 

While browsing, I noticed a velvet rope blocking the staircase leading to the third floor. I asked the store manager what that was. “A French restaurant, sir, to be opened in September this year,” she answered. “Will it look like another China Club, you know, David Tang’s restaurant?” I asked instinctively. The manager was quick to remind me that in 1998 Tang sold the business to the Richemont Group, which also owns Cartier, Dunhill and Montblanc. “The restaurant will look more like M on the Bund in Shanghai. There’ll also be a bar on the fourth floor,” she added.  Apple martini in a bright fuchsia glass, I like!

Generous shopping space at the new flagship store

Shanghai Tang's new flagship store makes for a very pleasant shopping experience, that is if you like their stuff and don’t mind the hefty price tag. The store has plenty of open space and the well-trained staff goes out of their way to be helpful. And if you have trouble finding the store, just head toward the noisiest spot on Queen’s Road Central. The building is next door to the Shanghai Commercial Bank construction site that runs an ear-spliting, ground-shaking pile driver everyday from dawn till dusk. Much to Shanghai Tang’s chagrin, construction will likely go on for another couple of years.

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UPDATE:  Since the flagship store opened this April, sales have fallen far short of expectations primarily due to its out of the way location. The store manager told me that shoppers, especially those unfamiliar with the Central area, have trouble finding Duddell Street. The noisy construction site next door doesn't help matters. Management has also abandoned plans to open a restaurant on the third floor, citing "difficulties in securing a restaurant license." That, I surmise, is her tactful way of telling me that no one would eat at a restaurant they can't find. When it comes to retail, it's location, location, location.


  1. “升了呢”的東方產品店而且, 姿整、企理、光鮮,但太別扭欠缺粗糙反而作狀失真。老外看中國的品味,像電影世界裡的中國人角色:總離不開蘇絲黃、唐人街餐廳老板或黑幫份子,最叻只去到李小龍level。恐怕未能感動、觸動一眾真正在港土生土長層面。


  2. One thing I note is that their fashion items are actually nicer nowadays though forget about the allegory to Maggie Cheung in "In the Mood for Love" and some of their jade pieces are not too bad. Still, this facade is so loud I bet someone Down Under can hear it.....


  3. Orientalism is just a joke , so as Fu Manchu. Nobody will take it serious ever. Unless we fall into the trap and get mad, which is unlikely happen to ppl around here.

    I wouldn't neglect the contributions of Shanghai Tang to repackage Chinese stuff and promote to Europe. I may not like the style, but my bias shouldn't block my attempt to decode how to transcend and globalized local symbols to western culture. Sir Tang is a master in this aspect. I still respect him even if I can do better than him some day.

    Nevertheless, I very much like I can have a piece of tailor made 中山裝 that envy by everyone. Just look at the 1.3 billion heads in our northern neighbour, what have they done all these years ?


  4. Too bad...I like that store...can't afford anything on it...but a girl can dream :)


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