Sun, May 12, 2002 - Page 17 News List

An embroidered garden

As the only store offering handmade embroidered shoes, Little Garden has become a favorite shop of local women, thanks to a retro-Chinese chic fashion craze

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

The name is Little Garden, but there is no sign of plants nor the scent of flowers in the place -- only shoes.

The Little Garden Shoes Co is an aging shop with 65 years of history. Located in Hsimenting, where shops catering to Taipei's youth sell glossy accessories and sportswear, this old wooden house stands in stark contrast to its neighbors.

The shop doesn't even have a noticeable signboard. Only by walking close by can you spot the old fashioned Chinese calligraphy, Hsiao Hua Yuan (小花園).

It's no exaggeration to say that this is a fine garden for shoe-loving female shoppers. It is the world of embroidered shoes.

Entering the Little Garden, the variety of flowers adorning the shoes look no less ravishing than if they were real. Droves of customers, including me, come and linger, pondering which pair to take home. Posing in the mirror, we imagine ourselves as the flowers in the garden.

"Laoban, do you have this one with blue flowers?" asks one customer.

"No, out of stock. Only in red," the owner relies.

"No, you look good in blue or purple, not red," says another customer.

"Try these. This year's trend is peony or chrysanthemum patterns. The dragon pattern is out of date," the owner tells them.

Some 30 years ago, when Hsimenting was the most prosperous area in Taipei, Little Garden was a favorite shopping spot for the wives of wealthy businessmen or politicians.

And now, thanks to a trend in ethnic and Asian fashions -- so-called Chinese chic -- the garden has again become a hot spot among young women, especially Japanese tourists.

"There are two must-visit-shops for Japanese tourists coming to Taiwan. One is the steamed dumpling place, Din Tai Fong (鼎泰豐), the other is my store," said Franky Chen (陳弘宜),the proud owner of Little Garden.

As we talk, he's also busy attending to his Japanese customers with his fluent "sales Japanese."

"I heard that the shoes here are all cute and cheap. That's why I came here," said the 29-year-old woman from Japan. She was on a four-day trip to Taipei and showed me her Taiwan guidebook, published by Japanese Earth Walkers, which describes the store as the one and only place for original Shanghai-style embroidered shoes -- most of which are hand-made.

The guidebook is right. "We're the sole surviving embroidered-shoe shop in Taiwan," said the 58-year-old Chen.

The most distinguished products in the store are the 100 percent handmade shoes with a vamp, or upper, of black silk intricately embroidered with a colorful peacock. The inside is padded with soft cotton and hand-sewn to a leather sole. A pair costs NT$1,500.

Chen said these particular shoes are handmade by craftsman over 70 years old, and so in any given month there is usually only one pair available.

Chen is the third-generation owner of Little Garden. He said that the shop was established by his grandfather in Shanghai in 1936. It was located "in the foreigner's concession area, Sima Rd. (四馬路), which used to be called the `street of little gardens' (小花園街) because all the embroidered shoe shops were there and were referred to as `little gardens,'" Chen said. "We were `Chen's Little Garden,'" he said.

Like many mainlanders, the Chen family moved to Taipei in 1949, during the KMT's retreat to Taiwan.

"Until the 1960s, most Taiwanese wore Japanese-style wooden sandals. People were still poor and our customers were mainly the wealthy," Chen said.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top