Monday, April 26, 2010

Chinese "Vintage" Design

Contemporary China is not known for its excellent design work in any field, as far as I gather. From architecture to graphic design, package design to fashion design, Western viewers tend to see the underlying concept of design in China as function over form.

And while I can certainly point to many aesthetically unpleasing examples of buildings, magazines, packages, and products in China, I have also been noticing not only an increasing number of boutiques that specialize in quality graphic T-shirts, notebooks, and trinkets, but also old-school package designs that I'm going to term Chinese "vintage." "Vintage" because to me, they look old-timey, and I do believe most of the examples I will cite are in fact well-established brands, but I deduce also that there is a growing collective yearning for nostalgia among younger generations and I wonder how much corporations play into that by creating new "vintage-look" designs.

In contrast to the graphic Ts and trinkets, I can't say that examples of this design aesthetic seems to be increasing in number; I think I've just lately been taking a closer look at the thousands and thousands of packages that I see on the shelves at supermarkets.

One such product is Bee & Flower bar soap. I was recommended these by a friend and former CHENGDOO Magazine columnist Jessie Levene, and I noticed on a trip back home that they are available at the grocery stores in L.A. Chinatown as well. I think these are a fantastic example of the type of package design I'm talking about: the printed-paper wrapping allows the fragrance of the soap to come through; a brief introduction to the soap (in Chinese, English, and Spanish) is included and attached to the package with the gold medallion sticker; each of the four fragrances comes in a different colored paper (sandalwood, brown; rose, pink; jasmine, green; bouquet, dark green) for easy recognition. The soap, by the way, is lovely as well. I've stowed a couple in my closet to ward off bugs, and I use them to wash with, too. Like the introduction claims, they do leave my skin soft and fragrant.

The iconic Shanghai bicycle brands Flying Pigeon and Phoenix offer more examples of this aesthetic. (See logos for both). I'd point you also to photos of my beloved Feige bicycle (which I bought twice, both secondhand; neither lasted more than a few months under my careless ownership), but I couldn't find any.

Much has also been already written in English about the Chinese wushu shoe brand Feiyue, whose design has been licensed to a French company that sells much pricier versions of this classic all around Europe; such shoes have been spotted on the likes of Orlando Bloom. Funnily enough, the shoes are trendy among subculturists in China as well, and they're apparently not very easy to obtain in Chengdu. Last year, I met a guy from Hangzhou who had brought several bags full of the shoes to Chengdu to sell during the Zebra Music Festival. In Shanghai, these shoes go for around RMB30 per pop. The Hangzhou roadside entrepreneur was taking in upwards of RMB100 a pair, he said.

And, of course, with the rising popularity of vintage design, here's a modern take on classic bicycle design.

Images from:
Bee & Flower soaps

Bee & Flower closeup

Phoenix bicycle ornament
Modern vintage bicycle
Flying pigeon logo

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