London Design Fair 2016

Rive Roshan at the design fair 2016

Installation by Rive Roshan using Kvadrat Divina


This year, Tent London & Super Brands London celebrated its 10th anniversary and was rebranded as London Design Fair. The fair at the Old Truman brewery hosted over 500 exhibitors from 29 countries, making it the most international fair of the Festival. Exhibitors include independent designers, established brands, and international country pavilions, such as 100% Norway, Portugal, China, Sweden, India and Italy.

I felt that the overall standard of this year’s fair was high. There was a strong emphasis on handmade crafts and designs using mostly natural and organic materials. The pavilions that caught my attention were Inspiring Portugal, China academy of art and Scotland: Craft and design.


ceramics made at Cerdeira village  serip

Gencork  Kit Miles and Moooi Carpets   Corvasce Design

Top left: Ceramic crafts made at the Cerdeira artist village; Top right: Lighting by Serip; Bottom left: Gencork and BlackCork by Sofalca; Bottom middle: Kit Miles and Moooi Carpets; Bottom right: Cardboard chairs by Corvasce Design


I am a big fan of Portugal or anything Portuguese, and so I was particularly intrigued by Portuguese designs. Cork is one of Portugal’s most popular raw materials, and it is often featured in the creation of local crafts and designs. Aside from cork, a range of beautiful crafts were on display to show the craftsmanship from the Cerdeira artist village.


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Forest and Found

Wooden & woven spoons  img_8227-min  yuta segawa

Jie Yang

img_8259-min   Liang Liu

Top left: Leonora Richardson‘s ceramic cylinder cells; Top right: Ceramic lighting by Mamoutzis; 2nd row: Handmade wooden objects and textiles by Forest and Found; 3rd left: spoons by Wooden & woven; 3rd right: Yuta Segawa‘s miniature vases; 4th row: Ceramic designs by Jie Yang; Bottom right: Ceramic designs by I Liang Liu


Fung and Bedford

img_8251-min  calendar by An everything  caroline mcneill-moss

glass marbles by kosmosphaera

Top: Fung & Bedford‘s origami installations; 2nd middle: Paper calendar by An everything; 2nd right: Brass sculptures by Caroline Mcneill-Moss; Bottom: Giant glass marbles by Kosmosphaera




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Scotland: Craft & design pavilion – 3rd left: Naomi Mcintosh; 3rd middle: Julia Smith ceramics; 3rd right: Lizzie Farey; Bottom row: Utopian surface tiles and condiment Set by Jennifer Gray


I thought the most impressive pavilion at the fair was the Scotland one. The Scottish designers and makers’ work demonstrated their ability to combine traditional skills with new digital technology to create outstanding pieces of craft.


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Design east exhibition – Top left: Relation textile by Lang Qing & Tea ware by Wu Peiping/ Gu Rong/ Chen Jun; Top right: Blue by Li Jie; 2nd row: Black T by Hu Ke; Bottom left: Feelex by Gong Qiaolin/ Qiu Kushan/ Wang Weijia; Bottom right: Meditation seat ware by Gao Fenglin/Nanoin design studio


Another pleasant surprise was the Design East exhibition that featured a range of impressive work by designers and craftsmen from China. The exhibition challenged our perception of Chinese-made designs, and revealed a changing design landscape that is taking place in China today.



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2nd right: This is India exhibition; Bottom middle: Claymen; Bottom right: Jerry can water flask by Cobalt design


Out of all the trade fairs at the design festival, I enjoyed this show much more than others. I think sometimes emerging designers and craftsmen are more daring in their creation, probably because commerciality is not their high on their priorities. Designers and craftsmen have to follow their intuitions rather trends, and it is always encouraging to see people following their hearts than their minds.

London Design Festival 2016

Elytra Filament Pavilion

Elytra Filament Pavilion

‘Elytra Filament Pavilion’ by experimental architect Achim Menges with Moritz Dörstelmann, structural engineer Jan Knippers and climate engineer Thomas Auer.


What is going to happen to the UK in the future? It is hard to tell. As a multicultural mega city, how will London cope with the aftermath of Brexit? And what can London’s design community contribute in order to reduce the negative impact triggered by this decision? Maybe it is too early to say, but I think there is an urgency for designers to explore this topic and try to solve the possible scenarios that are likely to occur.

I have been visiting the London Design Festival for years, and I felt that the festival has lost its spark in the last few years. Aside from being overly commercial, it has become rather superficial and dull. This year, there had been overall improvements, but it still felt like an event aimed at the industry rather than the general public. Perhaps the turbulent times ahead will ignite more creativity and debate; though in the meantime, the new Design Biennale was a welcome addition to the festival.


The Green Room   Liquid Marble

landscape within

Top left: ‘The Green Room’ by London design studio Glithero; Top right: ‘Liquid Marble’ by Mathieu Lehanneur; Bottom: ‘Landscape within’ by Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta


As usual at the V & A museum, there were temporary design (or art) installations scattered around the maze-like building. The most frustrating part was to navigate around the building and locate these installations. For those who managed to locate them all deserved prizes for their skills and patience.

One of the pieces that stood out for me was ‘Landscape within’ located in the foyer (though not included on the map). The fascinating digestive machine was created by London based interdisciplinary art and design studio BurtonNitta, supported by The Wellcome Trust and researchers from University of Edinburgh.

I spoke to designer Michael Burton about their exploration into our gut system. The digestive machine is designed to filter out the impact of heavy metals on our health due to increasing food contamination on our planet. This machine uses engineered bacteria to separate food from contaminating heavy-metals, resulting in safe consumption and nano-sized metals that are a valuable resource. Its intriguing construction of a tube within a tube, mirrors our own body plan, and it certainly attracted much attention from passerby.


Unidentified Acts of Design

Unidentified Acts of Design

Unidentified Acts of Design

Unidentified Acts of Design exhibition


In the nearby China gallery, a thought-provoking exhibition ‘Unidentified Acts of Design’ sought out instances of design intelligence in Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta outside of the design studio. The research project examined how design managed to evolve unexpectedly in a region which has been named the factory of the world. The landscape of the Chinese design scene is changing rapidly, soon or later, we may have to alter our prejudices on the term ‘Made in China’.


When the Pike Sang, the Birds Were Still   designer souvenir  Silk leaf by Julian Melchiorri

Northern Lights

gardens by the bay  gardens by the bay

Top left: ‘When the Pike Sang, the Birds Were Still’ by Pauliina Pöllänen; Top middle: Designer souvenirs pop-up shop; Top right: ‘Silk leaf’ by Julian Melchiorri; Middle: ‘Northern Lights’ by V&A Museum of Design Dundee; Bottom: ‘Mind over matter: contemporary British engineering exhibition’


silver speaks

waves by Nan Nan Liu  Stuart Cairns' ‘To Make a Thing’

Junko Mori

Juxtapose cups by Cara Murphy   Rajesh Gogna's Retro-ism Ice Tea for One

Top: ‘Silver speaks’ exhibition; 2nd row left: ‘Waves’ by Nan Nan Liu; 2nd row right: ‘To Make a Thing’ by Stuart Cairns; 3rd row: Stunning silver works by Japanese artist Junko Mori Bottom left: ‘Juxtapose’ cups by Cara Murphy; Bottom right: ‘Retro-ism Ice Tea for One’ by Rajesh Gogna


Upstairs in the silver gallery, I joined a curator’s talk on the ‘Silver speaks‘ exhibition, and learned more about contemporary silversmithing and the ideas behind the beautiful pieces. Perhaps the pieces are not all functional, but the exquisite work reflects high-level of skills, techniques and concepts that can be viewed as art pieces.


100% design 2016

100% design at Olympia


Despite being one of the largest and longest-running trade shows at the festival, I honestly think that 100% design needs to re-evaluate its direction because I thought it was the most uninspiring show at the festival. Compare to about 10 years ago, the show has somehow deteriorated over the past decade (partly due to the change in management).

The show used to promote design innovation, diversity and international young talents, but now the focus has switched to showcasing kitchen and bathroom designs by big commercial brands. During my visit, the huge venue was very quiet, and I left within the hour because I found the show rather ‘soulless’.

The two other major trade shows, Design Junction and London Design Fair (a new name for Tent) have made some significant changes and improvements this year, so it’s time for the team behind 100% design to step back and focus on making the show exciting again.


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Nanjing Jinhe art packaging   Log Stack Cabinet by Byron & Gomez

Top left: Almira Sadar; Top right: Handcrafted wall covering by Anne Kyyro Quinn; 2nd left: Nanjing Creative Design Center; 2nd right: AteljeMali; Bottom left: ‘Mountain Lake City & Forest’ by Nanjing Creative Design Center; Bottom right: Log Stack Cabinet by Byron & Gomez 



100% design 2015

100% design 2015 donar at 100% design 2015

100% design’s new venue in Olympia; right: Donar


Having visited The London design festival for many years, I somehow feel that the festival is losing its spark/edge. The guide is undoubtedly getting thicker and heavier (not sure if anyone enjoyed carrying this design festival ‘bible’ around for 10 days), yet the festival itself has become more ‘business’ like.

This may sound mean but as far as I can remember, this year’s design trade shows were by far the least inspiring. Since when did design become so boring and safe?! Although 100% design moved from Earls Court to Olympia this year, the vast venue was unexpectedly quiet during my visit.


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1st, 2nd and bottom right: Soso Studio; Bottom left: Hi design Shanghai; Bottom middle: E-Y products


At the entrance of the show, one couldn’t help but notice the conspicuous booths from China. One of them was Icon’s Hi Design Shanghai, which featured ten Chinese emerging and established design brands for the first time in UK. It is interesting to see how Chinese designs have evolved in a short period of time; and although the Chinese design scene is still immature, many young Chinese designers are developing their own styles and utilising traditional skills and craftsmanship that have been passed down for centuries.


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Although I was disappointed with the show and the products in general, I did benefit from the insightful talk on the future of design by trend forecasters and 3D researcher. As we have seen in recent years, sustainability, ethics and upcycling have become the predominant factors in design; and designers are now rethinking human’s relationship with nature and consumerism. “How to make consumerism the answer rather than a thread?” is the question that designers have to deal with. It is almost ironic to talk about sustainability at these design trade shows because there are simply too many unnecessary products that are being made, and it is quite evident at these shows.

I left the show pondering how I, as a designer, e-tailer, consumer and citizen be more responsible of my actions; and at the same time make other consumers be more conscious of their behaviour. These changes cannot be made overnight, and they require collective power/movement. I believe that more collaborations and dialogues between different industries and sectors are necessary in order to create a global shift that focuses more on the quality of life than short term profits or economic gains.


Eat, drink & shop in Shanghai French Concession

The former French Concession in Shanghai is a large and historical where you will find beautiful colonial architecture, Western-style eateries, cafes and bars as well as glossy shopping malls and independent shops selling fashion, gifts, furniture, design and home accessories.

This is not a comprehensive guide, it is only a rough guide to some of the shops in the area:


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2nd row: Retro Revo; 3nd row left: Casa Casa; 3rd row middle & right: Brut Cake; Bottom: Piling Palang


Anfui Lu:

Piling Palang (no.183) – Founded in 2009 by Chinese designer, Deng Bingbing, the colourful objects here are inspired by ancient Chinese symbolic motifs, patterns and shapes. Most of products are skillfully crafted by local craftsmen using ceramic, cloisonné or lacquer, and are infused with contemporary elements to create decorative or functional pieces.

Casa Casa (no. 201) – A furniture store featuring a selection of modern and classic furniture and home accessories from top international designer brands.

Brut Cake (no.232) Founded by Taiwanese designer, Nicole Teng, most of the home accessories here are handmade from recycled materials. There are also reclaimed/re-upholstered furniture and ceramics with a rustic feel. The products and even the shop’s interior feel very Japanese as I could imagine walking into a shop like this in Tokyo’s Yanaka district… hence, to find a shop like this in the middle of Shanghai was a pleasant surprise!

Retro Revo (no.248) is a British company specialises in handmade industrial European and American vintage designs including furniture, lighting, carpets and accessories. Inspired from the Industrial Revolution era, all their products are newly produced by craftsmen outside of China, hence, most of them come with hefty price tags.


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Top: Baker & Spice cafe; 2nd row left: Sunflour bakery & cafe; 2nd row right: La Mer cafe; Bottom row left: Vinyl Ganesh; Bottom row middle: Wagas


There are also several bakeries/ cafe on this road including Baker & Spice (no.195) and Sunflour Bakery & cafe (no.322). Located not far away is Wagas (7 Dong Hu Rd), a popular cafe chain which also owns Baker & Spice. To be honest, I find these Western bakeries and cafes in Shanghai pretty pricey while the food is just mediocre. I couldn’t help thinking that in the nearby cities like Hong Kong or Taipei, I could get better quality food at much cheaper prices.

Vinyl Ganesh (No 5, 438 Shanxi Nan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu) is another relaxing and comfortable cafe that has a Taiwanese vibe and lots of books available for browsing and reading. The service was pleasant and the coffee was not bad but priced between 40-60 RMB, the coffees are pricier than similar cafes in London, Hong Kong and even Tokyo! I am not sure how much locals earn in Shanghai, but hanging out in cafes seem like an extravagant activities here!


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Top left, middle & 2nd row left: Shanghai Lan-Lan Chinese handprinted blue nankeen; Bottom left: Song Fang Maison de the; bottom middle: Madame Mao’s Dowry


On Fumin Lu, there is a retro gift shop, Madame Mao’s Dowry (no.207) that sells propaganda posters, memorabilia and homeware from the Mao period, along with contemporary fashion and jewellery from local and international designers.

In the evening, my friend took me to Dr Wine (no.177), a 2-storey chic French wine bar for drinks and snacks one evening. The place was packed with expats, and although the wine and cheese was good, I found the noise level and smoke (smoking is not banned in Shanghai) quite unbearable, hence we did not stay long there.

Along Julu Lu, there are many independent fashion shops, including a few interesting menswear shops. There is an interesting Russian/literature-theme cafe on this road called La Mer (no.677), own and run by a friendly Chinese lady who spent 20 years living in Moscow. Although the ambience is spacious and relaxing, I found the service slow and patchy. But thanks to the hospitable owner, I was able to explore the beautiful colonial building (now home of the Literature club, which I will write about on the next blog entry) behind the cafe.

Other interesting shops in the area include:

Shanghai Lan-Lan Chinese handprinted blue nankeen (no.24 Lane, 637 Chang Le Road) is well hidden in a small lane off the quiet Changle Road. There is a pleasant garden outside of the 2-storey old villa, and once inside, you will find a big showroom full of handprinted blue nankeen products. The traditional dying technique uses a starch-resist method, indigo dye and cotton fabrics to produce primitive but artistic textiles that can be turned into clothing, fashion accessories, soft home furnishings as well as wall hangings. The sales woman was not very friendly initially, it was only when I showed interest in purchasing and asked her for the prices (most of the prices are not displayed for some reason) that she became friendlier! The products here are not cheap but they are unique and of high quality, hence, I ended up buying a few items for myself and as gifts. Next to the shop’s showroom is Shanghai’s Hand-printed Blue Batik Museum founded by an old Japanese woman, Kubo Masa, and it records the revival of this traditional Chinese craftsmanship.


Spin (360 Kangding Rd, near Shaanxi Bei Lu) Founded in 2004 by art director Gary Wang, Spin is an art gallery featuring beautiful, minimalist and reasonably-priced pottery, designed and made in-house.


Triple Major (25 Shaoxing Lu) is a 4-storey conceptual fashion/lifestyle store that sells quirky fashion and accessories by independent designers/labels such as  Daniel Palillo, Lazy Oaf, Henrik Vibskov, and emerging local talents. The shop also sell Japanese ceramics, magazines and books published by independent publishers. The founder, Ritchie Chan, is a Hong Kong native who used to study in L.A. and this shop in Shanghai is his second outlet after his first in Beijing and an online outlet.


Song Fang Maison de Thé (227 Yongjia Lu) is a 2-storey tea house set up by a Parisian Florence Samson 10 years ago. It is hard to miss the bold blue graphic banner from the exterior, and once inside, you will find this cool graphics being used as tea containers and as gift packaging. As much as I like the graphics, I find the gifts sets quite pricey, but if you want to bring back souvenir to impress family and friends, then this place has some good options. The tea house is located on the first floor.


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Top left: Cold noodles at Noodle Bull; Top right: steamed fish head with chillies at Guyi; 2nd row left: steam bun; 2nd row middle: Xinjiang style hash brown at Xibo; 2nd row right, Main & bottom right: a noodle bar; Bottom left: the famous Shanghainese xiaolongbao


While walking around the French Concession, I was hoping to find some authentic and ‘hygienic-looking’ street stalls selling local fares, but this proved to be a very difficult task. It seems easier to find croissants than dumplings in this area! Finally one morning, I stumbled upon a few food shops near the corner of Xiangyang Lu & Changle Lu (with many locals queuing outside) selling a variety of steamed buns, dumplings, scallion/sesame pancakes and sheng jian bao (fried buns/dumplings with pork and broth inside) etc. I had a sesame pancake and a vegetable bun, both were tasty and a lot cheaper than the bakeries/cafes down the road.

At lunch time, I found a small noodle bar (not sure of its English name) on Yanqing Road, the place has a rustic/industrial feel to it and it serves handmade noodles (served with kimchi) at reasonable prices.

The Art deco Ferguson Lane (376 Wukang Lu, near Tai’an Lu) is the home to several coffee shops, wine bars, beauty shops, fashion boutiques, art gallery, patisserie and restaurants.. I met my friends at the spacious Azul Tapas Lounge, a restaurant owned by the popular Peruvian restaurateur/chef, Eduardo Vargas. The dishes on the menu has Spanish, South American, and Mediterranean influences, but I did not detect the Spanish influences in the dishes we ordered nor did I think they were in tapas sizes either! However, the quality of food and wine was very good, and the service was fairly efficient, so overall we had an enjoyable meal there.

Guyi (87 Fumin Lu) is an institution in Shanghai serving Hunan dishes (often spicy) and it is very popular among locals and expats. We had to queue for 10 minutes even though it was almost 9pm when we arrived. However, the food was worth the wait, and the steamed fish head with chilies (see above) is a must (even for the squeamish).

If you are looking for something unique, then Xibo (3F, 85 Changshu Lu) is a good choice as it serves Uyghur cuisine from the Xinjiang region of China. The contemporary setting and view attract many expats, and the food is interesting and tasty. The restaurant also donates 25% of its profits to support charitable organisations in western China.


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Shops in Tianzifang


Similar to Xintiandi (which I found very commercial during my last visit, hence I skipped it this time), Tianzifang (off Taikang Road) has been transformed into a popular tourist destination from the regeneration of a former residential district. The neighborhood was originally built in the 1930s as a Shikumen ( a traditional 2/3-storey Shanghainese building) residential district. It was saved from demolition in 2006 thanks to the help of local residents and business owners.

Now the maze-like area has more than 200 small businesses from shops to cafes, bars, restaurants and art galleries etc. Although this area is very touristy and busy, it is quite interesting to spend a few hours getting lost here. There are many interesting shops selling fashion, arts and crafts, stationery and vintage/retro objects.


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Main & bottom left: Taste shop space; 2nd row left: traditional Chinese dolls at Old Shanghai; 2nd row right: Alan Chan creations; Bottom middle: Sky music box


The highlights of the area are as follows:

Sky Music Box (35 Tianzifang, Lane 248 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu) is a small shop/museum (accessible via some steep & narrow staircase) that sells and exhibits a wide range of handcrafted (some slightly kitsch) music boxes. It is a very unique place!

Old Shanghai (I am not sure of the English name of this shop… but it’s at Room 112, no.3, 200 Taikang Lu) – I wanted to buy every item in this shop! I love the 94 year old Shanghainese illustrator/ comic artist, He Youzhi‘s illustrations of old Shanghai. Not only you will find his comic books, post card sets but there are different merchandise that feature his wonderful illustrations. On the first floor, there are also traditional Chinese dolls on display/ for sale.

Taste shop space (Room 105, Building: 3rd, Lane 210, Taikang Rd) – Founded by photographer Viko Wu and her Japanese fashion designer husband, Yutaka  last year. Taste shop is a lifestyle shop that sells homeware, furniture, antiques, lighting and fashion accessories. The shop also stock many handcrafted designs including Futagami and Eclectic by Tom Dixon.


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Top right, bottom left & middle: Cafe Dan; Bottom right: interesting Korean snack


Cafe Dan (no.41, Lane 248 Taikang Lu) – a well-known cafe in Tianzifang that is owned and run by a Japanese, Taka, who is quite obsessed with coffee. I love the quiet/rustic style and relaxing atmosphere, but again, there is a price to pay for this… around £10-12 for a cup of coffee and cafe, which I find extraordinary expensive for a rustic-looking cafe!


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The exterior and interior of Liuli China Museum; 3rd row left: cafe Xiao San Tang; 3rd row right: The shop also sells the Shuriken magnets from Taiwan; Bottom right: MoCA Shop at People’s park


Liuli China Museum (25 Taikang Road) is a huge 4-storey glass building located right opposite Tianzifang. Founded in 2006 by by renowned glass artist and sculptor Loretta Hui-shan Yang and her husband Zhang Yi, the building not only houses a museum dedicated to glassware from China (all eras) and the rest the world, but there is also a Xiao San Tang and a shop that sells glassware, design and craft objects and books etc.

Another museum shop that is worth checking out is the MoCa shop at the entrance of People’s Park, 231 Nanjing West Road. I tried to get into The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (MOCA) on Saturday (bad idea!) but gave up immediately when I saw a queue outside in the rain. However, I quite enjoyed browsing in their small shop by the park entrance where you can find design objects created by local designers and design/museum exhibition-related books.


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10 Corso Como at Wheelock Square; 3rd row middle, right and bottom right: Marcel Wanders’ exhibition at the gallery; Bottom left: the exterior of nearby shopping mall


Surrounding the famous Jian’an Temple on the West Nanjing Road are highrises and shopping malls (what contradictions!), and one of new design destinations in the area is 10 Corso Como (North Annex, Wheelock Square 1717 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Huashan Lu, Jing’an) which opened at the end of last year. I am sure most people who are interested in fashion/design would not have missed the institution, 10 Corso Como when visiting Milan. Opened in 1990 by former fashion editor Carla Sozzani, this gallery/lifestyle & fashion concept store was the forefront of its kind, years before Colette in Paris and Dover Street market in London. I have previously visited their former shop in Tokyo (in collaboration with Comme des Garçons) and their original branch in Seoul, but this new shop in Shanghai is bigger (2,500sqm) than I expected. The 4-storey mecca (notice that 4th floor on the map above has been renamed as ‘5th’ due to Chinese superstition!) designed by Kris Ruhs not only sells fashion, jewellery, beauty products, art and design objects, books but there are also patisserie, café, restaurant and gallery.

Honestly, I was quite disappointed with this store because it is too glossy and ‘perfect’, obviously it is targeting the wealthy and local hipsters/creatives with growing spending power, yet it is formulaic without surprises… This is not what I expect from a successful brand that has changed the way we shop today.


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Top left: Prada shop on Nan Jing Xi Lu; the rest: shops at the basement of Reel Mall


In the nearby Reel Mall (1601 Nanjing West Rd, Jing’an), it is home to many international luxury fashion brands, but the more interesting (in my opinion) shops are hidden in its basement near the popular food court. I would not have found this place if it wasn’t for the host of my apt because it is quite hidden. But there are many small independent shops selling fashion, jewellery and design objects made by local designers, and one of them is wtf* bikes, a local bicycle brand that sells very cool-looking bike frames and rims.


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Shanghai Propanganda poster art centre


Aside from shopping, dining and drinking in the former French Concession, there are also many galleries and museums and one of my favourite in the area is The Shanghai Propangda poster art center (Rm BOC, Basement, Block B, No.868 Huashan Road) hidden inside a residential block. (Tip: ask the security guard at the front entrance and he will give you a card with a small map that will direct you to the entrance). This gallery is really one of a kind and you will need at least an hour to go through the vast collection even though the gallery itself is not very big. These propaganda posters are very rare now because most of them were destroyed due to political changes over the years. The posters are important documentations that record the history of China in 20th century, and not surprisingly Mao is the key figure. Aside from posters and memorabilia, there are also school text books and magazines, but most surprisingly, some of the magazine covers (and some posters) reveal a very open-minded/ Westernised China where female nudity was acceptable… how fascinating! Next to the gallery is a small shop where you can find reproductions of the posters, books and souvenir.


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Shanghai museum of arts & crafts


Located inside a beautiful French Renaissance mansion, the Shanghai museum of arts & crafts (79 Fenyang Rd, near Taiyuan Rd) could be so much better… The museum showcases exquisite jade, wood, ivory, bamboo carvings, paper-cutting art work, lacquer ware, porcelain, embroidery, textiles and traditional clay dolls etc. There are also artists at work where visitors can see the production processes, yet when I was there, the artists/craftsmen were not doing much (one was even napping) and the display lacked information, the museum certainly needs a better curator… Even the display in the shop’s showroom lacks aesthetic appeal, it reminds me some touristy souvenir shops except for the high prices.


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Kunst. Licht Photo Art Gallery 


I stumbled upon Kunst. Licht Photo Art Gallery (210, North Ulumuqi Road, Jing’an) and I immediately felt very relaxed as I stepped into this 2-room and rather understated gallery dedicated to photography, which features established and emerging artists from China and abroad. The building itself is also quite interesting and has some art deco architectural features that compliment the colourful and bold photographs on the white walls.


Shanghai’s creative & design hubs

Until a few days ago, I did not realise that Shanghai was officially named as the 7th UNESCO City of Design in 2012. And what does it all mean? Well, here is the official description:

It is designed to promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world. The cities which apply to the network seek to promote their local creative scene; they share interest in UNESCO’s mission towards cultural diversity. This network of networks is structured around seven themes: Literature, Film, Music, Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Media arts, and Gastronomy.

The city has been investing heavily in the creative and design industry in recent years, and as a result, there are now over 200 creative hubs scattered around the city including: M50 (50 Moganshan Lu, near Xi Suzhou Lu, Putuo), 800 Show Creative Park (800 Changde Rd, Jing’an), 2577 Creative Garden (2577 Longhua Road, Xuhui), Red Town (570 Huaihai Road W, Changning) and the list goes on.

Since I was there for only 4/5 days, I picked a few to see what this ‘City of design’ has to offer:


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1933 Shanghai


1933 Shanghai (29 Shajing Lu, near Haining Lu, Hongkou district)

This is probably the most famous creative hubs in the city because of its unusual background and architecture. It was once a cattle slaughterhouse. Located in the historic Hongkou District above the Bund, the building (also known as “Old Millfun”) is not that easily accessible by public transport. Yet when you are there, the Art deco and maze-like architecture will blow you away.

Designed originally by British architect and built in 1933 by Chinese developers with British concrete, it survived demolition and is the last of three left in the world (the other two were in London and the US). After the RMB100 million restoration in 2008, the formal slaughterhouse has been used as a creative hub for architectural and design firms, with a few restaurants, cafes and design shops.

Before my arrival, I was expecting the place to be buzzing, but it turned out to be surprisingly quiet with some local visitors and ‘tourists’ like myself. There were only a few shops on the ground floor and a few restaurants that were opened, otherwise the place was eerily empty.

I spoke to my local friend about this and she told me that many Shanghainese believe that the building has ‘bad spirit’ because of all dead animals that have been slaughtered here. Apparently, many companies moved in but left soon after, hence, now the place only has a few offices and is mostly used as a backdrop for photo shoots.

I don’t blame the Shanghainese for being superstitious because as I was walking around, I did find the place rather creepy. I later found out that there are religious (Buddhist) elements in this building, i.e. all the windows were built facing west, directing the slaughtered animals towards the land for reincarnation. Yet in terms of architecture, it is an outstanding piece of work, so it is worth visiting if you are interested in architecture.

N.B. The restaurant, Noodle Bull within the building offers inexpensive and MSG-free Taiwanese noodles, it is a good lunch option.


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The commercial house 1913 & Manbo ceramics shop & cafe


The commercial house 1913 (160 Ha’erbin Rd, Hongkou district)

Only about 5 minutes walk from the Old Millfun is another new creative hub (opened in 2011) with a offices, shops, restaurants and cafes. The British style building once belonged to the British company, Hutchison Whampoa and first started construction between 1912-13. In 1935, the trade office building was completed and during the hundred years, more additional constructions were added including a large ice storage.

After almost a year of restoration by the cultural and creative development enterprise Dobe, the 6th creative hub has been restored to create commercial spaces for rental. Yet apart from 2 small pottery shops including Manbo on the ground floor, the other floors didn’t appear to be occupied, so I didn’t bother exploring further. The building and surrounding area was extremely quiet, which I found kinda odd for the highly-dense Shanghai.

Manbo is a wonderful ceramics shop/cafe selling ceramic tableware and home accessories made by young local craftsmen/artists/designers. The shop’s name means ‘slow stop’ in Chinese, so it aims to promote slow living and the ceramics here also reflect this attitude and quality.


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Top row & 2nd row left: The Bridge 8; 2nd row middle & right, 3rd and 4th row: Jing An Design Centre/ Central POD


The Bridge 8 (8-10 Jian Guo Zhong Road, Xuhui district)

The Bridge 8 used to be the abandoned factory buildings of the Shanghai Automotive Brake Company. The site has been restored and opened in 2004, occupying over an area of 20,000 square meters in the city centre and is one of most well-known creative hubs in the Shanghai.

The notable architectural feature of this complex is its modern bridge that connects the two buildings. Yet the complex’s most highly regarded aspects are its energy saving systems of solar photovoltaic power generation system, solar water heating system and ground source heat pump air-conditioning system.

There are over 70 international creative enterprises located here, covering the fields of architecture (including one of my favourite architects, David Chipperfield) and interior design, fashion design, advertising, and Film & TV production.

Unfortunately, I got a bit lost and only arrived early in the evening, and so I didn’t get the opportunity to explore the site properly. I am guessing that the site would be more lively during the day.


Jing An design centre/ Central POD (595 Wu Ding Road Jing’an District)

Located not far from the Jing-an temple and the busy shopping district, this new ( since 2011) 3-storey building is a co-working creative and commercial space. Like the other hubs mentioned above, this building was also converted from a former industrial space built between 1930-70 and has been carefully restored by the architectural firm, a_a&d. ( though I read from another source that the building was once a bath house).

The building stands out for its environmental and sustainable aspects, i.e rooftop farming, natural air circulation, usage of recycled materials and low water usage. I love the bright and spacious space, and the use of mosaic tiles as flooring. Although there are only a few offices that are being occupied at the moment, the SeeSaw cafe on the ground floor is a very popular hangout amongst expats and locals.


After exploring some of these creative hubs and seeing less than 30% occupants (except for The Bridge 8), it made me wonder if there is a need for over 200 of them? The concept of restoring heritage buildings into creative spaces is viable if there is a demand, without the demand, these hubs are completely pointless. I am also wondering about the rental prices, are these hubs affordable to young designers, artists and new start-ups? Is this the reason why these hubs are not being utilised to their full potential? Whatever the reasons, I hope many of these hubs will not be abandoned when I next visit the city.


Design Shanghai 2014

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The exterior of Shanghai exhibition centre


For my annual trip to Asia this year, I decided to skip Japan and opted for Singapore to visit Maison et objet Asia ( the first show outside of Paris) and Singapore design week. But I also wanted to make a trip to China to find out more about their current design scene… and I came across Design Shanghai 2014, which coincided with my dates, hence I decided to check out the event.

Before my trip, I found out that the event would be organised by Media 10 Ltd, a British company that organises 100% design, Ideal Home show and Clerkenwell Design Week etc. And judging from the show’s partners and collaborations ( and the involvement of many international-renowned designers and architects), it assured me that the event would be more international than local and of a certain standard.

And then I was in for some surprises, both good and bad…


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The interior of the Shanghai exhibition centre


My first surprise came when I arrived at the venue, which turned out to be conveniently located close to where I was staying (which was not planned) near the Former French Concession area. I was quite stunned when I saw this massive Soviet-style building/ complex, it was only later that I found out about its history. It was built in 1955 as the Sino-Soviet Friendship Building to commemorate the alliance between China and the Soviet Union, and was once the tallest building in Shanghai.

My second surprise came when I was inside the building, not only everything is opulent, but each room is completely different in style (slightly schizophrenic), while showcasing incredible architectural craftsmanship (very Soviet). I could not help but be amazed by the detail of the ceilings, columns and lighting etc, and was completely distracted from the exhibitors…


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Top left & right: Design talks by Sharon Leece, Editor at large, AD China, British/Hong Kong designer, Michael Young and Rossana Hu from Neri & Hu


My third surprise came when I started to wander around the exhibition halls, all the brands seemed surprisingly familiar… it turned out that probably 60% (my rough estimate) of the designers/ brands exhibiting were British, and the rest was split between other international brands like Alessi or Flos and local Chinese ones. Judging from the name of the show, I expected to see more Chinese brands, but this was not the case. I later spoke to a British lady was one of the organisers, and was told that the show aimed to introduce high-end British designer brands to the Chinese market. And due to the craftsmanship involved, the designs could not be easily copied either. She later laughed and said that if I was there to look for Chinese designs, then I was at the wrong show. Oops.


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Top left & main: Ceramics at X+Q; Top right: Shanghai skyscrapper candles by Naihan Li; Bottom middle: a & a; Bottom right: Pearl Lam gallery


I guess it wasn’t completely at a loss, as I did find the design seminars quite informative and interesting esp. the talk on Chinese design trends by Sharon Leece, the Editor at large of AD China. She spoke of the retail and interior trends in China and the new creative/ design hubs in cities like Chengdu, Dali and Guangzhou, which I did not know before the show. I also attended another seminar by Hong Kong based British designer, Michael Young and Rosanna Hu from Neri & Hu talking about their recent projects in China.


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 Ceramic work at Kaolin


The show featured mostly high-end and craft-based designs, and one of my favourite Chinese brands there was Kaolin. Kaolin is a creative studio, founded by a ceramic artist, a designer and a media expert in 2012, which aims to promote young domestic ceramic talents to a wider international audience. The ceramic designs are quite minimalistic but beautifully crafted, using traditional techniques and heritage but in a contemporary way.


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Top left: Pusu Lifetstyle; 2nd row left and bottom left: Neri & Hu; 2nd row middle & right: Zizaoshe; Bottom right: a bamboo forest installation


Neri & Hu is one of the most well-known and respected architectural design practice working in China today. The practice not only work on architectural projects, but they also design and produce furniture, lighting and tableware; and founded the high-end furniture and lifestyle store, Design Republic, one the first to introduce international designer products and furniture to China.

Neri & Hu products are hand made and often inspired by traditional and everyday objects found on the streets of Shanghai. Heritage, craftsmanship and materials are important elements in their designs (see above), and it is no surprise that their designs are one of the best representatives in the contemporary Chinese design world today.


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Crowds outside and inside of the exhibition centre in the weekends, and exhibitors had to use tapes to keep the crowds away


Finally, my last surprise took place when I tried to return to the show for a talk on Saturday. If I hadn’t got my badge on the first day (even then, I had to queue for 15 minutes), I probably would have ended up queuing all day long to get in! The massive queue outside went around the block, and it was almost impossible to walk towards the seminar room ( which happened to be situated at the end of one wing). The crowds were pushing, shoving and snapping away regardless of other people around them. When I was trying to push my way out of the building via the narrow passage lined with exhibition booths, all the booths had tapes in front of them to keep the crowds away. It was something that I have never seen before at any trade or design shows!

The problem with the show was not to do with the quality of the designs or exhibitors, but the fact that the organisers did not separate the trade or press people from the public. Usually the trade or press people would get access to the show or event a day or two before the public, it seemed rather odd to use a ‘free and open to all’ tactic because the show was completely chaotic and out of control in the weekend. This arrangement also made it difficult for trade people to enquire information from the designers or companies (even on the first day). Meanwhile, I also received rude treatment by one of Chinese exhibitors when I tried to pick up a business card, probably because he thought I was just a random person from the public. This was really the last thing I expected from exhibitors who were there to ‘sell’ their work. And from what I saw, the majority of public there were not really interested in design, all they cared about was a free event where they could hang out, snap away in order to share on Weibo and seek freebies.

This is China after all, applying the British/international standard would not work here. Perhaps the organisers need more research into the behavioural patterns of the local Chinese before attempting to sell design to the Chinese market. I hope they will learn from this lesson and avoid the mishaps next year.


Traditional Chinese paper cuts

As promised, I shall continue to ‘show off’ my vintage collection… and this time, it is traditional Chinese paper cuts that I collected when I was young. As a child, I loved to draw, cut, fold ( origami) and build ( lego). Of course my cutting technique was hardly refined, but I loved folding colourful square paper into smaller squares and then cutting triangles, squares, circles and other patterns on it… The most thrilling moment was when I finally unfolded the paper to see my new symmetrical creations! Would kids these days be thrilled by this? I am not so sure.


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Paper cuts from Yangchow/ Yangzhou


Paper cutting is a traditional folk art/ craft that originated in China, and eventually spread to other parts of Asia and the rest of the world. Its history could trace back to the invention of paper introduced by Cai Lun ( 50-121 AD). And in 2009, it was recognised and listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Paper cuts are traditionally used for religious and ceremonial purposes ( such as funerals and weddings), and as decorations during festivals such as Chinese New Year. Red paper is often used with Chinese characters that represent good luck, joy, health and hope.


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Paper cuts from Yangchow/ Yangzhou


Traditionally, the patterns are either first drawn or carved by free hand, and then engraved by knives. The styles and characteristics of the patterns/ designs vary a lot in different regions whilst sharing similar/ common themes. Most of the time, the designs are symmetrical but the ones pictured here are all asymmetrical.

The first two sets seen here are from the southeastern city of Yangchow ( now renamed as Yangzhou), which is said to be one of the earliest regions to adopt paper cutting as folk art. A folk arts and crafts agency was set up in 1955 to revive the neglected art and skills, and in 2007, a Chinese paper cut museum also opened in the city, showing the importance of paper cut in the region.


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 Paper cuts from Nantung


The third set consists of 6 designs of chrysanthemum and it is from Nantung/ Natong. I had to be extra careful when I tried to photograph these designs made of thin rice paper because they are so delicate. I could see that they were all hand-cut with great skills and patience, a shake in the hand would ruin everything.

The last set, which has a very different style from the others is from the Northeastern county of Yuhsien ( now renamed as Yuxian) in the Hebei province. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, paper-cutting of Yuxian is especially well-known for its colourful and vivid asymmetrical designs of Chinese opera characters, insects, animals and rural life. The designs shown here are inspired by the mythical Chinese creature, qilin.

Since 2010, the county has been hosting an annual paper cutting art festival and opened its first paper cut museum in 2011, exhibiting over 1200 pieces of art work from across the country. The county is now home to more than 30,000 paper cutting artists and craftsmen, and their work are being sold worldwide generating more than 3% of the country’s GDP!


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Paper cuts from Yuhsien/ Yuxian


If you are interested in learning more about traditional Chinese paper cutting, there is more information via the following links: The art of Chinese paper cutting and Chinese Traditional arts and crafts.



Vintage Japanese & Chinese bookmarks

This month, I would like to ‘show-off’ some of my vintage stationery collection from both my childhood and travels. Even though I have loved stationery since I was a child, I never thought that I would be selling stationery one day, so life is really full of surprises sometimes!

Recently I found a bag full of vintage bookmarks in my drawer, all the Japanese ones were bought during my travels with my family to Japan when I was young, so they have sentimental values to me. These vintage Japanese bookmarks range from souvenir style ( i.e. Mount Fuji and Tokyo Tower) to the more traditional ones, but my favourites are the fairy tale/ folklore ones with storylines and characters… I have not seen these types of bookmarks around in Japan these days, so they are really quite special.


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Unlike the Japanese bookmarks, most of the Chinese ( the Communist style) vintage bookmarks were discovered accidentally when I was visiting a Japanese designer friend living in Shanghai about 12 years ago. We stumbled upon a vintage toys stall at a touristy market in the city when the vendours were packing up to leave. Since we showed a lot of interest in the vintage toys, the passionate owner invited us to his narrow house behind the stall. After we greeted his wife, he told us to follow him up to his attic via a narrow set of wooden staircase where he revealed his ‘treasure’… an amazing collection of vintage toys, collectible memorabilia, old photographs of Shanghai, vintage stationery, adverts and packaging. My friend and I thought we had discovered Aladdin’s cave! We spent the next hour or two ramaging through his collection and ended up leaving with a bag full of stuff that most people would regard as ‘junk’. Among the ‘junk’ are these bookmarks that trace an important era in the Chinese history that was long gone… I doubt the small stall is still there now ( assuming that he has moved onto a more profitable venture), I am just glad to have discovered these seemingly unimportant bookmarks that reveal how life used to be in China only a few decades earlier.


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Chinese design now

King – Chair No.53 by Shao Fan at Chinese design today, Themes & Variations


Chinese art and design seem to be the talk of town in London lately… not only there is the contemporary art exhibition at Hayward Gallery, there is also a major selling exhibition of contemporary Chinese design at Themes & Variations, as well as a talk that I attended on Chinese design revolution” at the Design museum last week.

At Themes & Variations in in Notting Hill, 16 emerging and established Chinese designers’ limited pieces are on display and are all available for sale. The pieces range from furniture to photography, ceramics and even fashion pieces. There are many eye-catching pieces including Shao Fan‘s reconstructive chairs ( see above), Li Lihong‘s ceramic sculptures, Zhang Zhoujie‘s stainless steel coffee table and my personal favourite: the rock-like sculptures made of sponge by Su Wentao ( see below).


Left: Specious series: Black and red rocks made of hand-cut sponge by Su Wentao. Right: Memory box table by Jia Li.


Sometimes I get asked by my friends if I would stock Chinese design products, my answer is ‘of course’, I have even contacted a Chinese company before but unfortunately nothing came out of it. However, I admit that I am more cautious when it comes to Chinese design products, my main concerns are to do with quality control and the issue with copying.

Honestly, it is not easy to be ‘original’ these days especially when we are constantly absorbing so much information. Sometimes designers may not ‘copy’ deliberately but they are subconsciously influenced by images or concepts that they previously absorbed without realising. I am not trying to defend their actions but there is difference between ‘knowingly’ copy and ‘unknowingly’ ones, though where you draw the line is the question. The Chinese have had such a bad reputation for piracy that it will take time and collective effort to change the general public’s negative views accumulated over the years.


Chinese design at Super Brands London September 2012 displaying chairs by Xiao Tianyu (left) and Jiang Li (right).


At the “Chinese design revolution” talk at the Design Museum, Lorraine Justice, the author who launched a new book of the same title gave insights into the past and current Chinese design culture. Lorraine is the current Dean of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and previously she was the Director of the School of Design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) for seven years.

Interestingly, Lorraine defended Chinese ‘piracy’ when she showed slides of the famous blue and white Chinese porcelain-ware created in the 9th century, which as we know were widely copied by the Europeans from 16th century onwards. Besides the Europeans, many aspects of the Japanese and Korean culture, arts and crafts also originated from China, though they eventually evolved and integrated into their culture. So Lorraine has a point, copying has always existed whether we like it or not.

At the Q & A, when asked by some Chinese design students about the future of design in China, Lorraine predicted that fashion and graphics would take off quicker than industrial, products and furniture design partly due to the country’s poor distribution channels. Another problem is that big Chinese firms still favour hiring foreign designers over local ones, and with so many new design schools and graduates, many Chinese design graduates would end up being paid minimal wages and unable to truly fulfill their potential.


Shenzhen pavilion at 100% design London in September


In the past decade or so, more Chinese designers are being recognised worldwide and here are a few more names or companies that are shaping the current Chinese design world:

Neri&Hu – Founded in 2006 in Shanghai, the two US-trained architects returned to China to set up their design and research centre, including a retail design store, Design Republic. Their reinterpretation of traditional Chinese products in a minimalistic approach demonstrates that Chinese design aesthetics can be as ‘understated’ and ‘sensitive’ as the Japanese. Emphasising on high quality material and traditional craftsmanship, the design duo are well-respected in China and internationally.

Innovo Design – Founded by Zhang Lei in 2004, the Hangzhou-based product design collective also explores the traditional Chinese culture, but emphasising on the sustainability of processes and materials. In 2009, Lei met Jovana from Serbia and Christoph from Germany, and they started to collaborate on the “Future Tradition” project in both Milan and China.

Hesign – Set up by Jianping He in Berlin in 2002, and then Shanghai in 2005, the company specialises in graphic design, branding, publishing and cultural events organisation. Well-known for blening Chinese aesthetics with contemporary satire, his graphic posters have received critical acclaim and many international design awards around the globe.

Shang Xia – This is not your average Chinese brand, the brand was founded in 2008 by Chinese designer, Jiang Qiong Er ( who trained as an interior architect) and French luxury brand, Hermès. The collaboration includes furniture, homeware, tableware, jewellery and fashion, all of which are produced in China with an emphasis on craftsmanship and simplicity.


With the government focusing and investing more on the design industry ( unlike ours who is doing the exact opposite!), and with more international designers relocating to China to work closely with their manufacturers or local craftsmen, the future of Chinese design looks very promising. However, as the gap between the rich and poor widens in China, the word ‘design’ seems to be associated more with the intellects and privileges. Do the majority of the population below the middle class understand or even care about design? Probably not. If the aim of design is to communicate with people and improve their quality of life, then why should the lower classes be excluded from it?

When will local Chinese farmers be able to easily purchase cutting-edge farming equipments or use ‘design’ to promote themselves or their farms like many farmers do in the West these days? Unfortunately, I still can’t see that happening for quite a while.


Chinese design today at Themes & Variations ends on 8th December.