Major brands beware: Shanghai's vintage-fashion scene is booming
Shanghai’s former French Concession is filled with fashion boutiques that have a tendency to look the same.
Though numerous, the offerings are often uniform: the same handful of designer garments.
The originality of the summer collection at William the Beekeeper is the happy exception.
Radiating coral and canary yellow, the picnic- and nautical-inspired garments sold in this vintage boutique offer reprieve from the pedestrian glitz.
William the Beekeeper was one of the first fashion stores in Shanghai to sell only vintage and vintage-style clothes. Its stock includes both American vintage-inspired items as well as high-end secondhand pieces
“When we first opened four and a half years ago, it was beyond everyone here,” says Cairn Wu Reppun, the 30-year-old store owner from California. “[People] thought, why would we wear old clothes?”
Most of the clothing in the shop is from Kaileeni (Wu Reppun’s label) and is created from original vintage fabric obtained from California and Asia.
The store also houses local designer brands such as Josie Chen (rock 'n' roll style jewelry) and Finch. Antique Chinese dressers (also for sale) display jewelry, such as the red coral “Double Happiness” bracelet that changes color depending on the wearer's body’s balance.
- More on CNNGo: Guilty pleasure: Les Lucioles' vintage bags
Items such as warm, red dresses accented with rope drawstrings, and flowing chiffon frocks, recall the aesthetic of big-box boutique Anthropologie.
“The look is a mixture of edgy and classic; a play between masculine and feminine, soft and hard,” says Wu Reppun.
(Article continues below image)
Place in local fashion scene
Fashion in Shanghai is often synonymous with major brands and logos. But Wu Reppun believes Shanghai shoppers are moving towards subtle and classic looks as they become more sophisticated.
"The fashion scene has changed so drastically [since I've opened my store] it's blown my mind,” Wu Reppun says.
She noted that as people become more experimental in creating an independent style, they rely less on pre-matched outfits or pieces, such as the ubiquitous shirts with sewn-in collars and cuffs with a matching print. This is where local designers make their pay.
"Designers have a lot of influence here," says Wu Reppun. "Shanghai is over-saturated with boutiques, but not designers."
William the Beekeeper’s loyal customer base -- evenly split between Chinese and foreign -- hints at a growing preference for specialized designs.
“There definitely is a real place here for niche brands, one that remains fairly unfilled,” says Lisa Movius, former correspondent for Women’s Wear Daily and contributor to British Vogue.
“Small designers with a local and community appeal have particular potential to resonate -- and it is a mixture of luck, quality and the zeitgeist whether they will,” Movius continues. “William the Beekeeper no doubt has that potential, and is something unique in the retail terrain here.”
(Article continues below image)
Wu Reppun tries to feature green designers and recycles fabric scraps to create smaller items, such as clutches.
In this spirit of reuse, she also orchestrated Closet Swap at Cotton’s in May, an event for Shanghai fashionistas to trade their own clothes for desired pieces.
Her family shares her business acumen. Her husband William (after whom her boutique is named) and his family keep bees for harvesting honey. The honey from their farm outside of Honolulu makes its way to William the Beekeeper’s counter.
Although you can't swap your old clothes for new ones at Wu Reppun's store, you may soon have the chance to have the styles you were eyeing custom-fitted: the top floor of the downtown studio is being renovated to become a personal-styling area.
While most commissions are for higher-end items or evening-wear, Wu Reppun is also committed to helping customers (on an hourly basis) learn how to wear new styles and put together different looks.
William the Beekeeper
84 Fenyang Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu
tel: +86 21 3460 3282
Tuesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.- 7:30 p.m.