From China to Charleston
Guest contributor Hart Hagerty used her Mandarin to work as a lifestyle/fashion editor in Shanghai. Since 2012 Hart has also consulted for major brands and trend research agencies about the Chinese fashion market and is a resident Shanghai editor for LUXE City Guides and Travel + Leisure as she continues to expand her fashion brand HART from her new digs in Brooklyn, NY.
I am a native Charlestonian. A Roper baby. My parents grew up next to each other on Legare Street, where my grandparents still reside today. Charleston is quite the departure from my second home – Shanghai – where, after graduating from Vanderbilt, I lived for the last six years working as an editor and market researcher and launched a niche fashion line. After a wild, successful run in China, I am moving to Williamsburg to kick off chapter two of my career in NYC. But before settling into Brooklyn, I’ve been busy romping around my old stomping ground that has been morphed by a fantastic crew of cool creatives and their small businesses – indie designers, artistic non-profits, hip cafes, speakeasy bars and stunning restaurants.
You know what they say: “You can take the debutante out of China, but you can’t take China out of the debutante.” Maybe that’s why I can’t help but notice the nods to the orient peppered throughout the Peninsula.
Here are some of my favorite spots when I’m feeling homesick for Shanghai:
What: Xiao Bao Biscuit
Where: 224 Rutledge Avenue
Why: XBB is a favorite meet-up spot with my dear friend Harper Poe, who runs Proud Mary, a sustainable brand of ethically produced artisan accessories for major brands like Urban Outfitters. Here we feast on ‘Asian soul food,’ including Chinese favorites like whole roasted fish, mapo dofu (tofu) and jiaozi (dumplings). One of XBB’s owners is Duolan Li (a.k.a ‘D’), a soulful, gorgeous gal with Inner Mongolian roots and the patience to let me keep up my Mandarin with her. Joey runs the bar and makes a very mean cocktail with Sichuan peppercorns that just might knock you off your stool. I love the interior décor and vibe here – fun, fresh and modern.
What: John Pope Antiques
Where: 180 King Street
Why: One recent Saturday morning, a very fabulous couple dragged my tired, hungover body up the stairs and onto the portico of John Pope’s antique shop on lower King Street. Upon entering this treasure trove, my headache dissipated, assuaged by the beauty of Pope’s eclectic mix of antiques, art and curiosities from Europe to Asia. Pope has the requisite pretty Chinese porcelains, but I’m more intrigued by the wonderfully odd Chinese curios like ancient farming tools that resemble oversized donuts carved from stone. While other antique shops in Charleston are dusted with pretension and crowded with traditional colonial collectibles, Pope serves a more bohemian – yet supremely sophisticated – mix. I love his eye for the unexpected and eye-catching pairings like a sprawling set of antlers perched on a sink-sized clam shell.
What: Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen
Where: 218 President Street
Why: Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen – with a lavish, firecracker of an interior – never fails to perk me up during a mid-day slump, making it one of my favorite lunch spots in the city. It’s hard to resist hearty classic Shanghainese dishes like hong shao ro (braised pork) and scallion pancakes, but I tend to keep it light with the kale salad. The décor is as delightful as the food: the room comes alive with lacquer-red birdcages, vintage posters and bright primary colors popping against a checkered floor. On your way to powder your nose, be sure to scope out Lee Lee’s offbeat humor– owner Lily Lei has photoshopped her way into iconic images of celebrities, serving the likes of Hendrix and Nixon alongside Mao.
Where: 208 Coming Street
Why: One of my favorite places in Shanghai is the Flower Market. Slightly on the edge of the dense, this multi-story building is a giant refrigerator, containing dozens upon dozens of little wholesale vendors bursting with blossoms of every shape, size and color. Nearly every vendor carries peonies, an important flower in China. Once the national flower of China during the Qing dynasty, peonies are depicted in ancient Chinese art. Today, they symbolize lots of happy things from elegance to good fortune. It seems that Stems – my favorite floral design studio in Charleston – has as much respect for the peony as did the imperial court.
What: Uma Wang at Worthwhile
Where: 268 King Street
Why: King Street veteran boutique Worthwhile has long been a champion of under-the- radar labels that whisper – not shout – confident, original style. Their racks are filled with the familiar cooler-than-thou designers like Isabel Marant and Rick Owens. To my delightful surprise, I recently stumbled upon a familiar name in the shop: Uma Wang, one of China’s premier designers who I became friends with while in Shanghai. Uma isn’t just a pioneering designer; she is a visionary, an artist and all around cool lady. I am thrilled her avant-garde knitted sculptural pieces are in Charleston!
Photo credits: Peony and Palmetto image by Leigh Webber Photography, Uma Wang images via UmaWang.com, all other images provided by Hart Hagerty.