November 23, 2009

Beijing: Where to shop

Going to Beijing, all the guidebooks urge visitors to shop at the markets, where stall after stall of vendors hawk camera batteries, fake designer bags, and gaudy cell phone accessories. To see the best of Chinese design, and find a few souvenirs actually worth carrying home, it's best to avoid those tourist traps.

The latest, brightest, and shiniest mall in Beijing is the Village at Sanlitun, which boasts an Apple Store, a Vero Moda, and a Uniqlo alongside Chinese brands such as b+ab, izzue, and G2000. Hidden in the basement, behind the cinema, is a sprawling design shop with housewares and T-shirts by local designers; while not named on the mall map, it's more than worth the trouble of finding it.

In the Gulou neighborhood, a pedestrian street called Nan Luo Gu Xiang has become a favorite of fashionable locals and expats alike, with its many bars and coffee shops, including the Pass By with its retro-Communist-style T-shirts. And don't forget the boutiques, with local brands such as NLGX and Plastered sandwiched between ironic, kitschy souvenir shops.

For Balenciaga and Alexander Wang, the place to go is Lane Crawford, which offers a concierge on every floor of their ultramodern department store, and plentiful shopgirls to assist in selecting items. They also stock Asian fashion designers such as Undercover, Commuun, and Toga whose wares are hard to find in the West.

Beijing: Eating and drinking

There's really no comparison between Chinese food in the United States or Europe and Chinese food in China. One is typically cheap, greasy, uninventive, and sometimes bland; the other is a smorgasbord of different cuisines, from Uighur to Sichuan to Cantonese, with an astonishing range of flavors and textures. In Beijing, the ever-present street vendors hawk all sorts of stuffed pancakes, roasted vegetables and nuts, and sweet or savory pastries, all for under a dollar; while restaurants range from tiny local dives to ultra-fine dining, with minimalist décor and maximalist prices, attentive waitstaff and jewel-like confections served in course after course. Beer is the usual drink with dinner, often Tsingtao or Nanjing.

The types of tea are innumerable; it's worth stopping by a tea shop to marvel at their selection, and possibly to buy gifts to bring home. In hipper neighborhoods, the abundant cafés offer bubble tea, along with wi-fi, espresso drinks, and a comfy couch for students or freelancers to lounge with their laptops. Unlike street vendors, brick-and-mortar establishments tend to charge something closer to Western prices; and Western chains, which include Starbucks and Coldstone Creamery, seem to charge about as much as back home.

Beijing: Architecture

After the blanket-thick smog, the second most striking thing about Beijing is the contrast between old and new. Construction sites are everywhere, and most of the city's old courtyard buildings, or hutongs, have been torn down to make way for mammoth, gleaming buildings that hardly even qualify as skyscrapers, since they're often as wide as they are tall. Many, if not most, of these structures house shopping malls, which provide an air-conditioned respite from the grimy air outside.

The remaining hutongs radiate out from the Forbidden City, and while some have been remodeled and gone upscale, in most of them life looks much as it has for ages: laundry hung out to dry, songbirds singing in their cages, old men playing games on folding tables, deliverymen on bicycles hawking handmade brooms and coal for fireplaces.

November 17, 2009

For the people, by... Adidas? The €1 shoe.

Having already pioneered the simplified 7-piece sneaker for their edgy eco-spin-off, SLVR, Adidas would seem like an excellent candidate to make the $100 computer of footwear: the €1 shoe. Toms Shoes are currently at the forefront of ethical footwear; but fresh off last year's scandal over underpaid workers at its Chinese factories, Adidas is looking to rehabilitate its image, and a charity shoe project could be just the thing.

Based in Bangladesh, the project would benefit that nation's poor by creating new jobs, as well as a product people just might be able to afford. Adidas would keep prices down by selling the shoe at cost, but no promises on the price just yet: €1 is "more of a concept," according to the company, and could change as the project develops. Following hot on the heels of the Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car, this shoe seems to be the latest in a string of products targeted at third-world consumers. Slightly more expensive than the free shoes being given away by Toms, it does give the world's poor one more option for protecting their feet.

At least, as long as they have the equivalent of $1.48 to spend: as of 2005, 880 million people were still living on less than $1 a day, and 80% of the world's population was living on less than $10 a day. On those budgets, free is still sounding pretty darn good.

MBF exclusive: S/S 2010 runway report out now!

As promised, here's a preview of MBF's exclusive look at the Spring 2010 runway shows in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. We've broken it down for you by theme and specifics, so if you were wondering which colors, silhouettes, fabrics, prints, or embellishments are going to be big this season... look no further!

The full report is available for $300 as a high-res PDF; email to place an order.

November 16, 2009

Fashion goes digital with an LED gown

As a lower-powered alternative to conventional lightbulbs, LEDs have lately emerged from the stuff of blinking signs into many aspects of our daily lives. Times Square and Las Vegas are already famous for their flashing, colorful LED billboards, but lately we’ve been noticing a few NYC buses and subway entrances festooned with LED advertisements. As fashion channels developments in the world around us, it is no surprise that designers have been adapting this technology into their collections.

Hussein Chalayan tried it first, creating seemingly magical LED-lit dresses for his fall 2007 collection, and now, the Galaxy Dress, a new project from London-based smart textile company CuteCircuit, sparkles with more than 24,000 LEDs and 4,000 hand-applied Swarovski crystals. Its circuitry is hand embroidered on a layer of silk, creating a soft, fluid fabric. Although this dress is lightweight, ironically, the heaviest part is not the lights, but rather the 40-layer pleated silk organza crinoline.

The Galaxy Dress is still in its prototype stages, but demonstrates how clothing can create new forms of communication as technology pushes fashion into unmarked territories. Although it may not yet seem realistic to wear LED lit shirts or dresses as an everyday look, current developments like headphone wiring in snowboard jackets and solar-paneled laptop bags might have seemed crazy a few years ago, too!

via: Ecouterre

November 12, 2009

RTR update

Well, we snagged a password to the much-hyped Rent the Runway and after a good rummage around the site, we're simply underwhelmed. As it stands, the site carries 124 dresses and two jumpsuits by 27 (mostly contemporary) designers, and some of those dresses don't even appear to be in stock yet. Prices are about 10% of retail.

For anyone imagining they'd rent a Narciso, Thakoon, or Alexander Wang for their night out in Boise, be prepared for disappointment: the site's sizes tend toward the small end, its tastes toward the mainstream and girly, and some items don't even ship outside of New York.

Still, all the hubbub around the launch shows there's a market for this service, if they can just iron out the kinks. Here's hoping they can get it right before their adoring public gives up the dream.

Dresses by, from left, Hervé Leger, Richard Chai, and Proenza Schouler. Photos via Rent the Runway.

November 9, 2009

Something borrowed, something blue...

For your average fashion fan, without benefit of Anna Wintour's six-figure clothing allowance, the closest she'll come to owning a runway dress is buying a Forever 21 knockoff. Two recent MBAs in New York had another idea, though: why not rent designer dresses to women at a fraction of their retail price?

Their new online service, Rent the Runway, offers the chance to attend a party in high style for as little as $50 for 4 days, dry cleaning included; and as an online service, it's just as convenient for the birthday girl in Nebraska as it is for a debuting actress in New York. With all the complications of making sure a dress fits long-distance, it remains to be seen whether the business model can turn a profit, but interest is certainly running hot: A feature on the company has remained among the top 5 on the NY Times' most emailed list since it came out yesterday morning.

Photo via NY Times

November 5, 2009

Happy days are here again!? And other runway news.

Well, from the sound of it, things are looking up: The recession's over, say the experts! Sales are up at Saks and Nordstrom, and expected to be even better for Christmas!

The good cheer was evident at last month's Paris shows, where the colors were bright, the skirts flirty, and we were blown away by this highly unusual trend: the fashion world's famously scowling runway models were smiling — let me repeat that, SMILING! — at, from left, Chanel, Sonia Rykiel, and Stella McCartney.

Of the latter's upbeat show, WWD wrote about Natalia Vodianova's smile,
"it telegraphed Stella McCartney’s optimistic spring message as obviously as Trey Speegle’s huge paint-by-numbers mural of the Arc de Triomphe emblazoned with a giant YES."
Oh, we did spot a few clothing trends, too, including white-on-white outfits; bra tops (an improvement over no bras, we suppose); bloomers; and Rodarte-style wrapping, to name a few. The full round-up from New York, London, Milan, and Paris will be available later this month in our Ready-to-Wear Report — now printed on recycled paper, or even eco-friendlier as a PDF!

Photos via WWD

November 3, 2009

Designers to watch: Toms Shoes

The phenomenon started with an ingeniously simple concept: For each pair of shoes purchased, another pair would be given to a child in need. The design was equally simple: a unisex canvas slip-on crafted with a folded toe, so the fabric didn't even need to be molded into shape. Based in easygoing Venice, CA, Toms Shoes spread like wildfire through the bleeding-heart San Francisco Bay Area, across the country, and abroad to places like Japan, Finland, and New Zealand.

At $44 for a basic style, the shoes won't break the bank, and unlike similarly priced Vans or Converse, it's a feel-good purchase, a no-brainer in an era of guilt-ridden shopping. This year, the company debuted its first shoe with — imagine — laces. And now, Toms is going high-end: their glittery holiday collection, priced at $78 to $125, will be sold at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. No word yet on whether the needy child also gets a pair of sparkly silver Toms for each pair of sparkly silver Toms sold!
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