It's easy to grumble in Beijing, especially when it comes to the colorful world of shopping: clothes are too small, bargaining is too tiring, garments on offer are too tacky for words and so on and so forth. At first glance yes, there does seem to be an overabundance of lace, pearl accoutrements and general patter slapped on to clothes (and sometimes even shoes!) that clearly don't need it. As a result, there's too much reliance upon "tried and trusted" Western brands like Zara and MNG.
But this is totally unnecessary, and lazy quite frankly; and it took a trip back to the "shopper's paradise" of Europe for me to realize this. Sure, it's great to sniff around Topshop and H&M and pick up whatever the clones of the day are wearing back home, but style isn't about prescription. It's about finding items that work for you, and there's certainly no reason why this can't be achieved here.
One trend taking the West by storm, which is easy-peasy to replicate in Beijing, is the acid-bright color palette. Zesty neon yellows, hot fuchsia pinks and electric blues are at last finding favor with the hipsters in London and New York, but have been available in our fair city for ages. As I flipped through the racks at Oasis, I thought they had a nerve charging GBP 50 (RMB 752) for a blue jersey dress, when I knew I could pick up a similar number at a much more reasonable RMB 130; especially comforting, as I can't imagine prancing around in '80s throwback clothing much longer than it takes for that particular trend to die.
Brits went nuts when supermodel Kate Moss launched her own range of clothing at Topshop, resulting in carnage on Oxford Street when the collection became available, and stock sold out in about ten seconds (or thereabouts). But that same look, again, can be achieved here, and at a fraction of the price. I was stunned to see a waistcoat in her collection (retailing at around GBP 30, RMB 452), as Surface in Jianwai Soho was selling something almost identical months earlier, before the Moss collection launched. And that famous vintage-look poppy-print tea dress (GBP 120, RMB 1,807) which had British fashionistas wetting themselves can be replicated here at Quancaohua in the Nali Mall. Whilst not identical, the style is similar, and the pattern is gorgeous. Our version is a much more reasonable RMB 670 – another bonus.
There is something quite ironic about the storm of people rushing to copy Moss's look – particularly when a lot of her appeal comes from her originality. But if you're going to base your look on hers, you do get bonus points for picking up exotic and highly original knickknacks in the lesser-known malls and boutiques in the East.
The main advantage of shopping here in Beijing, rather than on the high streets in the West, is that you're more likely to come across something unique and individual, which, as Kate Moss has proven, is the key to being stylish. Sure, there's a lot of junk out there, but there's also a hell of a lot in the way of fantastic threads. It just takes a bit of patience and imagination.