Down Fuzhou Lu way, just off the Bund is one of Shanghai’s hidden shoe treasures, and believe me when I say there aren’t many. Unless your taste runs to vinyl flip-flops, that is. If you’re interested in having hand-made shoes, you could read about Will’s hand-made shoes, but if you need an off-the-shelf instant purchase then Suzhou Cobblers is the place.
Their shop is like an exquisite jewel box filled with rainbow coloured silk slippers, hand-embroidered in Suzhou style (Suzhou, not far from Shanghai, was once the centre of China’s silk industry). I love this chartreuse pair with peonies, but they also do gold fish, chinese vegetables, birds and lucky numbers.
Find them at 17 Fuzhou Lu, 10am to 6.30pm every day.
When I decided to break my silence and talk about shoes I knew there would be no stopping it. Now I’m going to tell you about the handmade shoes in Beijing. The Nei Lian Sheng store is at the other end of Dazhalan Jie to the dumpling restaurant I visited yesterday. This place has been turning out traditional Chinese cloth shoes since 1853, similar in style and construction to those made by the Moganshan shoemaker
The outside of the store is highly decorated in gold, blue and red, and as you pass through the wide gold-trimmed doors you feel as though you have stepped back in time to an era when retail shopping began. I imagine the interior is laid out in much the same way as it has been for the last hundred years or so, the inside walls lined with shelves of cloth and leather shoes, and the wooden and glass cabinets displaying more of the same. A central island of shelves is surrounded on four sides by more glass cabinets, and these display the shop’s premium shoes made from coloured and embroidered silk.
Of course I had to buy a pair – I chose a simple black traditional design with straps, they are as comfortable as slippers and will be perfect for tramping the streets of Shanghai in summer.
See how the sole is made from folded layers of fabric, stitched together? And how it is heavily hand-worked with tiny little stitches in hessian thread? How lovely is that?
As you well know, I am a shoe obsessive, but I have been trying to keep shoes out of this because it’s all about Shanghai, not shoes. But if the two happen to intersect……
I was actually of a mind to keep this place completely secret, because it’s too incredible, but I can’t help telling you about it. On Fuxing Xi Lu is a small, wonderful hand-made shoes shop. If you’re thinking it will be cheap, it’s not, but it’s about one sixth the cost of having made-to-measure shoes done anywhere else in the world. And I know about these things.
You go in, choose a style, choose the leather for the outside and the inside (Italian or local leathers, according to your taste and your budget). Then you have an outline of your foot made, and a multitude of measurements taken.
Now for the hard part. You wait four weeks. Four weeks to make anything in Shanghai is completely unheard of, in a city where new buildings pop up practically overnight and a custom tuxedo can be whipped up in three days. If you’re not too fussy, you can get a cashmere coat made overnight, but the sleeves will probably be held on with sticky tape. So it’s quite reassuring to know that your shoes will take time to make, and will be made properly.
The results you can see for yourself. A perfect pair of oxford brogues, with a bit of whimsy on the toe in the punched detail and the stitching.
At the base of Moganshan mountain is a small village where my attention was drawn to a tiny shop, an old gentleman visible through the window working a treadle sewing machine. He was making shoes by hand. Only two kinds – canvas, for summer, in black, and corduroy for winter, in black, or red. The plain black shoes had jazzy blue-striped innersoles, and were the only concession to decoration. I bought a canvas pair, and I bet they last longer than my Converse sneakers.
Shops in Shanghai often have….interesting……English names. These names usually have very little to do with what’s sold inside the shop. Need a new sofa? Don’t go to “Sofa” then, because it sells sneakers. So I was quite surprised to find a shop on Fuxing Lu that sells what you think it does. I just never imagined that selling cooking pots and shoes side by side would be a goer, but you know me……always on the lookout for a place that can solve all my culinary and shoewear needs in one go. Why hasn’t this concept taken off everywhere??