Shop til you drop

To let anyone who’s shopping crazy loose in Taipei is akin to leaving a child alone in a giant toy shop.

Purses 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Purses 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
TAIPEI – To let anyone who’s shopping crazy loose in Taipei is akin to leaving a child alone in a giant toy shop. The city has endless streets of shops. In the central hotel area, in addition to local brand names such as Shiatzy Chen, who together with her husband built up an international chain of concept stores, the window shopper will come across familiar international brand names that include, among others, Dior, Gucci, Valentino, Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Zara and Mango.
There are also many Japanese stores and stores partially owned by Japanese, such as the elegant Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store that stays open till late at night.
There are also convenience stores open around the clock which have vending machines selling bus, train and airline tickets.
The convenience stores also sell a huge variety of ready-made meals which can be heated on the spot.
They even sell two slices of vacuum-packed bread for people who don’t want to waste the best part of a loaf. The convenience stores also have laundry facilities, newspapers and magazines, and can serve as drop-off points for deliveries for people living in the area who know that they won’t be home when the delivery arrives.
The classically elegant Shiatzy Chen has been in business for 40 years, but like many Chinese has a remarkably young and unlined face.
She started out as a fashion designer, after being apprenticed to a tailor when she was a young girl. She is not a graduate of a fashion design school, but has an innate sense of fashion. Her styling is very European, except for one Chinese signature detail. Almost all her designs feature traditional Chinese embroidery, which to her regret is becoming a dying art. From fashion she ventured further, adding accessories, then furniture and furnishings. Still not satisfied, she added tea shops that also serve food.
She has close to 50 concept shops in Taiwan as well as stores in Paris, Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland, Macao and Malaysia. In addition she holds fashion shows in various European capitals, Asia and South East Asia. When asked if she would be prepared to come to Israel she smiled, shook her head and said: “One step at a time. Israel is a little too far.”
However, for Sophie Hong, another prominent designer, Israel is not the least bit too far. If she’s invited to bring a collection to Israel, she’ll do it gladly – and her designs are truly breathtaking. Curiously, many fashion designers do not wear their own creations.
Hong is the exception to the rule, dressing with quiet drama that nonetheless has an undercurrent of flamboyance.
The reason for this may be that she also designs the colorful, gloriously embroidered and true-to-tradition costumes of the Chinese Opera and the Chinese Opera Museum located at the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts, where the visitor gets to see some amazing acrobatics by student performers, followed by a Chinese Opera performance.
Although the sets for Chinese Opera are absolutely minimal, the costumes are many and varied, and the colors and footwear are all symbolic. Tiffany Lin, who guides visitors through the museum, explained that white stands for selfishness, black for being fearless in the face of power, red (the favorite Chinese color) for loyalty, and green, blue and yellow for bad temper.
Hong is also a textile designer who creates her own textures and natural plant dyes, a painter and jewelry designer. She combines all her talents in her studio-cumboutique, basing many of her jewelry and fabric concepts on the tangled roots of plants. The results are riveting. A designer who believes that fashion no matter how sophisticated should also be both flexible and comfortable, she prefers styling that is loose rather than tight fitting, but even her fitted jackets are cut in such a way as to feel free of constraint.
Yet for all that, there is a sense of precision.
She also has a feeling for faux, and several of her pieces which look multi-layered may feature double or triple facings or collars, but are in fact a single, non-layered item. Her collars tend to be generously cut so that they can be adjusted to either stand up dramatically or fall shawl-like across the shoulders.
When designing fabrics – and that includes the texture – she uses special techniques that make the fabrics reversible with different colors and different textures on each side, with one side looking as if it has a lace surface and the other in a completely different color, looking like raw silk. Her jewelry, mostly in silver, is bold and striking.
A graduate of the Fashion Department of the Shih Chien University in Taiwan, she continued her studies at the Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo and subsequently the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
The influences of all three can be seen in her work.
Hong started her own business in 1977, soon after leaving school, and began exporting in 1996. Her distinctive creations can be found in boutiques in Europe, the United States and other parts of Asia.
The thought of expanding her markets to Israel appeals to her, and to do so would be a forward step in Taiwan’s quest for visibility.
Hong is also a Francophile, and has been since her first visit to Paris in 1994, where she did a course at the School of the Chambre Syndicate de la Couture Parisienne which led to her being accepted as a trainee at both Dior and Chanel.
Although she may an unknown in Israel, Hong is well known in the world, especially as she also operates a boutique in Paris, and some of her designs can be seen in fashion museums in various countries, including France.