Where to get bespoke goods made in Beijing

Five of Beijing's master artisans who are at your service

China may be the factory of the world, but what if you want something that's not mass-produced? Time Out goes in search of five master artisans that specialise in bespoke services. 
The shoemaker: Yu Qigong

The shoemaker: Yu Qigong

‘Bare feet without shoes devalues a man,’ says shoemaker Yu Qigong when we enter his Gulou shop. This old local maxim may be less in vogue than it once was – Beijingers now preferring to show status through their cars rather than their calfskins – but it’s still true to many that the shoes make the man. 

Given the amount of time and effort that’s laced in every one of Yu’s shoes, it’s not surprising he’s so passionate about his profession. The shoes he makes are intricately crafted, sewn by hand, and all use soft Italian leather. And, naturally, they are fi tted to support your feet like a second skin. 

‘I have never bought a pair of shoes in my life,’ says Yu, with the flourish of a man who has been making footwear since he was a teen. 

It’s probably this dedication and respect for perfection that has gained Yu such a dedicated following; his clients often purchase several pairs in one go. But if you buy one pair and later decide you want more, you can place an order remotely – Yu keeps his client’s measurements on record for repeat customers. Despite Yu’s success story, shoemaking is a dying industry. ‘I would like an apprentice, but can’t find anyone,’ says Yu mournfully. Walk a mile in Yu’s shoes, and you too will be protesting the demise of this traditional art form. 

Price From 1,200RMB 
Production time Four weeks (due to a lengthy waiting list) 
Design boundaries Leather only; no high heels 
Make an appointment 136 6100 2780; datouyulao@aliyun.com

Lao Yu 37 Gulou Dong Dajie, Dongcheng district (6404 1406; 136 6100 2780). Open 10am-9pm daily. 东城区鼓楼东大街37号

The jeweller: Nicholas Favard

The jeweller: Nicholas Favard

If you’re looking for distinctive,personalised jewellery designs,Nicolas Favard is your man. Pitcha concept, specify which metals orstones you would like – titanium, opal and mother-of-pearl arejust some of the many materialshe’s worked with – and wait forthe magic to happen. Favardhas the experience behind himto deliver on almost anyrequest: with nearlya decade in Beijing,the Frenchmanfirst trained asan apprenticeof a jewellerymaster in hishometown of LaRochelle, beforeworking in Parisand Hanoi. 

‘The ring is themost symbolic andsignifi cant object,’Favard remarks. As such,he believes that all personalartefacts, especially jewellery,should be custom-made – a creationdesigned to reflect your tastesand experiences. Favard also has a penchant for the contemporary:‘I want to work on more funkyjewellery,’ he tells us. This explainshis preference for ‘ballsy’ clients,willing to push for unconventionaldesigns (who, he adds, tendmostly to be female). Don’tbe afraid to be bold here;Favard can handleit. His willingnessto embrace novelideas and sidestepmainstreamnotions makeshim a real lord ofthe rings. 

Price From 2,000RMB 
Production time Tendays to two weeks 
Design boundariesNo direct replicas 
Make an appointment 135 20334724; www.nicolasfavard.com;nico@nicolasfavard.com

Nicholas Favard 28 Sanlitun Bei Lu, Chaoyang district (6413 0818; www.nicholasfavard.com). Open 11am-7.30pm daily. 朝阳区三里屯北路28号

The embroiderer: Xu Dong

The embroiderer: Xu Dong

‘It’s a rare sight to see a woman ina qipao these days,’ sighs designerXu Dong ruefully. But even Xu doesn’texpect people to rock one of hertraditional Chinese dresses ontheir daily subway commute. Sheconsiders a much loftier purposefor her bespoke men’s and ladies’evening wear – the promotionof Chinese culture. ‘I seek tocommunicate Chinese culture withmy clients through my work,’ saysXu. Attending a function and wantto dress to represent? Luxuriate inher tailored and embroidered silksand follow in the footsteps of manya celebrity client, including JackieChan and Chow Yun-fat. 

For the ladies, our embroidererinsists that the qipao possessesa distinct feminine allure:‘Conservative in parts, but with anadherence to natural contours.’ Whatbetter way to respectably get awaywith a thigh-high split? 

Regardless, Xu is attentive toevery detail when embroidering thebespoke garments; even taking intoaccount your phase in wu xing (thetraditional ‘five elements’). And if youdo want to wear ornate, traditionalgarments in the tunnels of Line 1,her range of casual wear is decidedlymore practical. 

Price From 3,000RMB 
Production time One week toten days 
Design boundaries Traditionaldesigns preferred 
Make an appointment 186 11755802

Ling Xi 46 Fangjia Hutong, Andingmen Nei Dajie, Dongcheng district (6406  3083; 186 1175 5802). Open 9am-6pm daily. 东城区安定门内大街方家胡同46号

The furniture designer: Max Gerthel

The furniture designer: Max Gerthel

‘I like designs where you can’treally define what time they are setin,’ says Max Gerthel. If you, too,hanker for timeless furniture that’lloutlast any trend, pay a visit to thisSwedish, Beijing-based creative. 

Although now an establisheddesigner (with WAM, a firm heruns with business partner Wula),Gerthel initially trained as anarchitect at The Royal DanishAcademy of Fine Arts, a backgroundthat has given him a sharp eyefor detail – demonstrable in hismodernist furnishings, whichmanage to be both clean-cut andquirky. ‘I aim to transcend theborders between traditional Chinesecrafts and contemporary Nordicdesign ideals,’ says Gerthel.Since working in Beijing, he hasalso incorporated influences fromthe city’s artists. Ai Wei Wei’strademark shocks of colour,for example, sometimesadd stark contrast to hisdesigns. But Gerthel’s workis beautifully subtle, too. His pieces often featureunexpected touches – onlyrevealed on close inspection– with otherwise moreobvious and practical forms. 

His piece Untitled, forexample, combines a simplewooden chair with a seat andback made from nylon bandsmore often associated withbags and clothing. ‘I am verymuch about utility… but ifyou combine things that youfind interesting into a new object,then you have succeeded in yourattempts to make a crossover work.’ 

Price Highly variable (as a guide, the Untitled chairs are prices around 1,500-2,000RMB each)
Production time Four to six weeks 
Design boundaries Contemporaryonly; no pieces from set periods 
Make an appointment 186 12838004; www.maxgerthel.net

WAM/ 万物 13 Heizhima Hutong, Dongcheng district (186 1283 8004; 180 0110 2820). By appointment only. 东城黑芝麻胡同13号

The hat maker: Elisabeth Koch

The hat maker: Elisabeth Koch

Nestled in a fl urry of feathers andbrocade, Atlanta-born ElisabethKoch strikes a sophisticatedimage. Beijing’s best milliner (orhat maker) is also quite the modelof reinvention, having left ‘thepinstriped world of banking’ inEurope to don the cap ofmillinery upon arrivingin Beijing in 2007. Sincethen, Koch has made hername creating one-of-a-kind‘statement’ headgear. 

Her talent was firstnoticed when she worea self-made ‘motorcycle’hat at an upscale Beijingparty. ‘Hats are meant toattract attention; altitude equalsattitude,’ asserts Koch. Since then,she has grabbed the attention ofChina’s high-fashion world: herhats have graced the covers of bothVogue and Harper’s Bazaar, beenworn by Taiwanese model Shu Qiand photographed by celeb snapperMario Testino.

But what if you’re after somethinga little more conservative? Koch’screations aren’t solely for thefashion elite; she can just aseasily make you a classic beret,or similar. Which is not to say thatKoch is getting complacent; someof her recent work includes eightconceptual headpieces designed toembody ‘disappearing images withinChina’, including a butterfly, anendangered black-faced spoonbilland even a temple. 

‘I want my name to besynonymous with hats,’ says Koch.She’s not quite there yet, but, forinnovation alone, we most certainlydoff our humble cap to Beijing’squeen of headgear. 

Price 900RMB (Blue Label); from2,000RMB (Pink Label) 
Production time Three days 
Design boundaries Anything goes 
Make an appointment 139 10431832; contact@elisabethkoch.net

Elisabeth Koch D-204 Club House, Glory Gardens, Xingfucun Zhong Lu, Chaoyang district (139 1043 1832; www.elisabethkoch.net). By appointment only. 朝阳区幸福村中路锦绣园公寓D座204单元