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.
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