Shanghai's trendiest fashionistas, hippies, hipsters and artists are flocking to Tianzifang (Tiánzǐfāng, 田子坊), one of Shanghai's youngest art districts, to browse the boutiques and lounge about in the many stylish hole-in-the wall cafés.
A decade ago, Tianzifang's art scene began with a single four-story former candy factory being renovated into an artist's factory and art quarter. Today, it's a bustle of locally owned art shops, interior design stores, jewelry and clothing boutiques, bag shops, cozy cafés and restaurants—all tucked into a tiny bohemian oasis. Though Xintiandi and Moganshan Lu must be mentioned for sake of comparison, there's really nowhere else like Tianzifang in the city.
At one time, you might have occasionally had to duck some hanging laundry and stumble into the back door of someone's house while in search of a toilet. While those days are mostly gone as the area has developed, it still retains much of its feel as being immediately and organically connected to the surrounding neighborhood, not a sterile development drawn up by planners and corporate architects.
Of course, Tianzifang isn't everyone's cup of chai. If you're in search of brand name labels and wider selection of merchandise, Xintindi might be more appropriate; if you want to see a large collection of contemporary Chinese art, Moganshan Lu is the place to go.
On weekends Taikang can get quite crowded, so book ahead or prepare to wait to get a table at a café. If you're looking for a Chinese experience, Taikang might be too globalized for your tastes. On the other hand, some fear that Tianzifang will cave to the pressures of the franchise market and submit to the bland, consumable design imperatives preferred by needy yuppies.
Shop, wander, eat, sit at a café with a novel, gather with friends, soak up the atmosphere. This is definitely a place for a Sunday brunch at Bohemia, Café Mojo or Kommune, or a weeknight diner date at Alyssa or Ups Café. At night the cobbled alleyways are lit by strings of white, twinkling lights.
Some good shops to check out are: InSH (specialty T-shirts), the Pottery Workshop, Jooi Design (cool bags), Casa Pagoda (arty interior design), Nuzi (art, books, knickknacks) and La Vie (Hong Kong designer clothes).
Photo © Michael Vito
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