Love on his sleeve

(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-04-12 10:19

While Beijing rushes with development, the city's maze of hutong never loses its charm.

Arriving in Beijing 13 years ago, designer Dominic Johnson-Hill (pictured) fell in love with these lanes and went on to form his fashion-forward brand based on life in urban Beijing.

Johnson-Hill's Plastered T-Shirts store is situated in Dongcheng District's Nanluogu Xiang, a reconstructed hutong and a favorite haunt of the city's expats.

Despite renovations and ongoing grand openings, the area has retained its essence of an inner sanctuary.

Heading down the lane to the north, you will find the shop marked by a blue and white sign featuring a large number 8.

"This design is the inspiration behind the Plastered T-Shirts logo. The blue part has the address written on it and the white part features the number of the building. We chose 8 because it is a lucky number," said Johnson-Hill.

Just as he has adopted the local secret behind this simple number, Johnson-Hill incorporated the symbols he has seen in the city.

He discovered the diversity and beauty of Beijing's everyday life, then turned to graphic design with ironic effect, which gave birth to Plastered T-Shirts.

"Many cities such as London and New York City have their own T-shirts, which are the symbol of those cities. But Beijing didn't have one," he said. "Then I decided to design Beijing-styled T-shirts and opened the store."

Through his designs, Johnson-Hill seeks to explore the diversity and latent beauty of everyday life in Beijing, rejoicing in the invention, humor and energy that make the Chinese capital such a unique and thrilling city.

His shirts incorporate potent graphics that are prevalent across the capital. There are the illegal street stickers for reselling old drugs, the "An Quan" (safety in Chinese) logo featured on kids' yellow caps, the labels from alcohol bottles of Erguotou and Yanjing beer, the old-fashioned subway tickets and the already disappeared 1.2-yuan-per-mile taxi.

Johnson-Hill said such images, though taken for granted, were in fact as iconic as the Temple of Heaven or Tiananmen, and should be celebrated.

Johnson-Hill, 34, left his native England as a teen to explore the world before making China his home.

"I started traveling when I was 17," he said. "I have been to many countries of the world. But I chose to stay in Beijing because I was in love with hutong when I first saw them and I like listening to Beijingers chatting."

Johnson-Hill now speaks fluent Chinese, so can converse with the residents of his Beijing courtyard.

His love affair with hutong continues, as many are replaced by car-friendly streets and high-rises

Cozy rather than spacious, Johnson-Hill's store is located at the west side of lane. Finds from second-hand markets give the space a museum feel, with a 3-kuai basin to 5-kuai kids' pedicab among the Beijing-flavored decor.

Johnson-Hill said his store is popular with young Beijingers, as well as laowai, who make up 60 percent of his customers.

Other T-shirts in his range feature a bikini-clad model posing for the camera in front of the Great Wall, and a surfer dude riding over text declaring this quality shirt a souvenir of "Beijing" and not Paris.

The T-shirts are made of cotton in rainbow colors, and come in sizes for men, women and children.


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