As China has been thrust headlong into capital C capitalism, and for some, shopping is a way of life. But others just need basic necessities, a perfect balance between form, function and price. Beijing's widely varied population has shopping spots to meet any shopper's needs, but many are off the radar for first time visitors. CRI looks at where Beijingers go to lighten their wallets.
by William Wang
It's a well-known fact that Beijing is home to a number of wealthy people whose everyday purchases preferably exhibit style and prestige. Luckily malls like Shinkong Place and Seasons Place can meet those requirements, also providing slightly less affluent visitors opportunities to rub shoulders with the elite (or famous), to browse the goods, and gawk at price tags.
Shin Kong's glassy and distant exterior almost seems to be a metaphor for the luxury stores it houses. Exterior windows are rendered opaque by patterns and brand names like Gucci, Chanel and Salvatore Ferragamo, all plainly laid out.
Within, a sprinkling of visitors wander the aisles, some well-dressed, others looking surprisingly average. More high-end brand names make their appearance, such as Coach or DeBeers diamonds. If you have money to spend, Shinkong will certainly assist you in doing so. A men's Italian custom tailored suit in the Prada store can run you 18,650 yuan (00 USD), which is both slightly more expensive than it would cost in Italy and definitely capable of going much farther.
Zhao Xinyang is a Beijinger, currently studying stage design in the capital before he moves on to Rome. He recently purchased a belt from the Gucci store. "There's a lot of stuff here. Like everything." He tried to explain the mall's attraction: "I come here too often. Once or twice a month."
Zhao has a particular appreciation for luxury goods, but admits that social pressure is a factor in his consumerism. "Chinese people and foreigners have different ideas about fashion. For example, I like some brands because I like the culture of the brands and the designers. Other people like brand name things just because they're popular. But if everybody buys those brands… I should buy them too."
Perfect examples are the Gucci and LV bags, particularly hot commodities in China, admittedly due in part to the dissemination of fakes. A real Gucci handbag can cost 18,000 yuan, a sizable sum more than the prices of the copies. "Here they're all real. None are fake," assured one salesperson, noting people's enthusiasm to possess authentic goods. Nonetheless, she admitted that the fakes do impact the market. "There are many similarities in the appearance [of the real and fake bags]. Some of the fakes look just like the real ones. They're made really well so it's hard to tell the difference."
At Seasons Place Mall, it's difficult to know if people's clothes are real or not, but most people do seem to dress well. The Financial District mall has given the bankers a place to spend their investments in style. The shiny shopping center offers expected International stores such as Dior and Tiffany & Co., but its focus is the three-story Lane Crawford, a retail store which amalgamates hundreds of luxury brands and designer products under one roof.
Beyond the theme of high-end clothing, Lane Crawford offers a host of other products ranging from luggage to bicycles to home ornaments and furnishings. Vertu cell phones are on display, incredibly costing up to a quarter of a million yuan (toned down from earlier diamond-encrusted versions). DJs appear from time to time to hype up the atmosphere in clubbier sections of the store.
The store has made a mark by targeting particular designers with particular followings. 'We have some particularly hot brands," noted a salesperson who withheld her name. "Christian Loubtain shoes are best sellers, but not many of them were produced," she said, holding up the red shoe, covered in stainless steel studs. "They're quite popular with customers. Some people even travel to other countries to get these limited edition shoes."
Although there's no questioning the quality of the clothing and goods in the luxury malls, there's also no denying the stylistic overlap between the high-end shops and places like the low-end Zoo Market. Whimsical detailing evident in Prada ties or Jean Paul Gaultier shirts seems like a direct injection from China's underground bazaars, whereas the Beijing Zoo Market also shamelessly rebrands foreign designers' works.
Even label conscious Zhao expressed respect for the Zoo Market. "There's fakes there, but it's okay because they're quite cheap. I personally shouldn't buy them, but they're not necessarily bad. The existence of fakes can help balance the prices of original, authentic goods. If there's only one product, you have to give them the price they want, but if there's similar competing products, the originals may lower their prices."
Whether or not the prices at Shinkong or Seasons are influenced by knockoffs is unclear. Those waiting for prices to drop are better advised to keep an eye out for Christmas promotions.
Shinkong Place (新光天地)
From Dawanglu subway station (Line 1), take exit A into the mall.
Seasons Place (金融街购物中心店)
From Fuxingmen subway station (Line 1 or 2), from either exit, walk 500 meters north up Jinchangfang Street.