Shanghai Social Diary: Shopping in Shanghai

Shanghai at dusk.

After living in Shanghai for almost a year and exploring the city daily, I thought I’d found all the unique places. But personal shopping guide Francine Martin, whose company is called East of the Sun, led me to some delightful new discoveries.

New York public relations guru Susan Magrino recommended Martin. And after reading about her in Shanghai Daily, China Daily, and The New YorkerPatty Mark covered her in “Off the Avenue,” in June 2008—I made plans to spend a day with her. Although I’m not a shopper, I’m always on the lookout for something special, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Shopping on the Bund, the famous waterfront of Shanghai.

The Bund is undergoing complete reconstruction.

At 8:30 a.m. on a steamy, 97-degree day, we were grateful to be in an air-conditioned car as my driver began our round of markets, specialty shops, and boutiques.

As we rode, Martin filled me in on her background. Born in America, she’s lived abroad for four decades, growing up in France and spending time in Tokyo, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and, for the past four years, Shanghai.

She knows Asia well, and after years of escorting visiting friends and families, she knows what Westerners want to shop for, so she decided to make her
pastime a career.

First Stop: boutique carries a beautiful selection of silks. Hand painted silks.

Stunning shop.

Jade chopsticks.

Embroidered pieces.

Silk embroidered guest book.

Handbags galore.

Gowns from the fashion show.

Fashion Show finale.

She uses the same skills she developed in her former life as a financial editor—researching, staying current, finding reliable sources, handling details, editing out what’s second-rate and ordinary, and listening to a client’s needs.

For any traveler trying to make the most of her time in this city of 20 million people (and what seem like almost that many shops!), Martin’s a great resource, and not simply for her discerning eye and ability to find the best of everything.

Next stop: embroidered shoes.

Embroidered shoes in every color.

Gates to Shanghai’s Old Town contrast with the new Shanghai.

Shanghai Antiques Market in Old Town.

Market day with sellers coming to Shanghai from the countryside.

YuYuan pedestrian Bazaar in Old Town.

A wide selection of objects.

Browsing the weekend antiques market.

Using her Mandarin, she negotiates for you. She charges an hourly fee rather than take commissions (as many guides do), and she can get special discounts in a number of shops.

We took a break for a cool, quiet lunch in the 1930’s villa that houses the members-only KEE Club, then resumed our tour. The pictures are better than words to show you where we went and what we saw.

Jeanne Lawrence and Francine Martin check out the porcelain.

Take your pick.



Next stop: a leather good store.

Beautifully crafted leather goods.

Next stop: colorful shopping bags.

Chinese Qipao dresses.

Called Qipao in Mandarin or cheongsam in Cantonese.

Another Qipao store.

Next Stop: a cashmere shop in an Art Deco building.

Cashmere selection in beautiful soft colors. Inset: Mongolian long hair cashmere.

Lunch at the KEE Club, a private members club.

We choose the Chinese menu.

Poached chicken with thousand-year-old eggs.

A goldfish bowl in shape of an antiques lighter.

Next Stop: the historic Cixiu Nunnery built in 1869.

Cixiu Nunnery Altar.


Next stop: a stunning boutique with birdcages.

Embroidered cashmere blanket.

Luxurious lingerie and bedding.

A wide selection of silk goods for the house.

Custom made linens.

Plenty of gift items.

That was fun shopping here.

Next stop: buying pearls…visited by dignitaries, Barbara Bush and Nancy Kissinger.

Many choices of pearls.

Comparing the colors.

Pearls and diamonds too.

Next Stop: a trendy shop in a private villa in the French Concession.




Shopping in the French Concession District lined with plane trees.

Next Stop: boutique in French Concession.

Beautifully boxed specialty stationery. Inset: Shop carries Asian inspired goods.

We finished shopping as dusk settled over the Bund.

A day spent with Martin isn’t just about the shopping. You enjoy the city with inveterate explorer and an enthusiastic, knowledgeable guide. I wish I could keep her on retainer!


Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence.

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