Macau has designer label stores, boutiques and emporiums like other cities have bus stops. The malls are crammed with them, the streets dotted with them; this city has got bling in – to coin a casino metaphor – spades.
But there’s another side to the former Portuguese enclave’s retail offerings: individual, unique, one-of-a-kind – when it comes to creative with a capital C, it pays to search out some of Macau’s more unusual and eclectic ateliers. Besides, shopping away from the mainstream is very often an entertainment in itself, and many of the owners seem to be more concerned with operating a pleasant environment than simply seeking out cold hard cash from yet another punter.
Take Worker Playground, for example. Housed in the Macau Design Centre, it’s a fashion label whose flagship product, a leather-sleeved varsity jacket, represents street culture while mingling vintage and modern styles. Worker Playground emphasises high-end fashion, with particular attention paid to detail and quality.
In Central Macau, Ox Warehouse used to be an abattoir – but it’s not just vegetarians who’ll be pleased by its new role as an art space workshop, gallery and mini café. The overall aim is to foster individual creativity and encourage experimental spirit by organising regular inspirational art workshops.
Zawood, on Pinto do Coronel Mesquita, presents something of a surprise: it’s almost like entering a jungle in downtown. Every piece of the solid wood furniture on display emits a natural ambience, as the owner is devoted to transforming old pieces of timber into useful and decorative artefacts for the home.
There’s a similar feel at Master Club Toy & Gift Shop on Rua da Gruta; here you’ll find anime books, figurines, and movie props, all designed in Macau and intended to develop the city’s thriving anime scene. Master Club also sells regular toys and souvenirs, including many limited edition items and collectibles. Of course, it’s not just children who find this shop so entrancing.
Smith’s Creation, on Rua da Bazarinho, is a goldsmith’s with a difference. The owner works on site using traditional techniques to fashion intricate and decorative pieces that are very reasonably priced. For anyone staying a while in Macau, there are also courses in gold-smithing.
Another truly individual craftsman in Robert Lai, who was born and bred in Macau and later went on to study at the School of Art in Chicago. Having designed costumes for such celebrities as Faye Wong and Eason Chan, he decided to launch his own label – Obèse Plein — and currently specialises in outfits that sport an unorthodox use of fabric combinations, multiple layering, fluidity and geometric influences. His studio is at Calcada do Gaio, and open every weekday.
It’s rare to find a shop which specialises in a single item, which is one of the reasons why Casa de Artesanto Nam Fan Lou, on Rua do Bispo Medeiros, is so unusual. Fans are part and parcel of Chinese culture, and have been prized since ancient times.
Nam Fan Lou sells a rich variety of novelty fans imbued with local flavour, be they folding, paper, round, silk, or bamboo. Fans themed with celebrities or decorated with intricate calligraphy are highly esteemed by collectors.
Travel inspires the owner of En Masse, on Rua de Luis Joao Baptista. As a result shoppers can select leather products and other knickknacks from around the world which have provided a source of inspiration. The shop is something of a travellers’ gathering place, and customers are encouraged to share anecdotes and stories with the staff.
AO2 Handbag Design Shop, in Sun Star City, does what it says on the tin. There’s a vast collection of bags here, made out of different fabrics with varied patterns featuring fresh, trendy simple and personalised styles, with a particular appeal for the younger crowd.
Books and vinyl may seem to be going out of mainstream fashion nowadays, but that’s not the case at Pin-to Livros & Musica, spread over two floors tucked away at the side of Largo do Senado. Customers are more than welcome to slow down, kick back and browse to their hearts’ content. The books concentrate on the humanities, art, and design, while the music section covers pretty much every genre under the sun.
Finally, San Lee’s name is one to conjure with in Macau. One of the city’s hottest fashion designers, he disdains colour for a palette of black, white and grey, which allows him to develop experimental clothes. His unisex wares are on display at weekends at ZICS, on Rua de Francisco Xavier Pereira.
Wherever you’re shopping in Macau, it’s worth recalling that bargaining is not unknown in smaller establishments. Gently requesting a discount if you are buying a large selection of goods is usually rewarded by a modest reduction, or perhaps a free gift. After all, it never hurts to ask.
Ed Peters is a freelance writer who lives in Hong Kong.