Going shopping at the black market in Shanghai, China is an art unto itself. My friend Janet, a former flight attendant, was in Shanghai for a couple of years, and I went over to visit her for one week. Janet grew up in Hawaii, and is ethnically Chinese, Filipino and Spanish - she is very beautiful, and looked like a local. Her driver introduced her to the black market vendors he knew, getting her foot in the door, and from there, she made her own connections. This is not the shopping market to venture into without guidance. I expected the black market to be rickety stalls, and hush-hush deals; it turned out to be an enormous, modern, underground shopping mall.
Janet told me to follow her lead, and stick with her, as some parts of the “underground city” were off limits - the activity in those sections a little too criminal. Her driver dropped us off, and down the steps we went into the black market of Shanghai. The first store we went to was the preliminary stop in the process. Janet spoke to the male vendor, an older man who welcomed her with a familiar smile, broken English and more pens that she could use in a lifetime. Janet bought some small items, and motioned for me to do the same, which I promptly did. Now we could be taken to the serious shopping vendors.
Down one of the corridors of the labyrinth of the market we followed her vendor friend. We turned a corner and it was like walking into the Louis Vuitton store on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Blond wood paneling throughout, neat rows of designer bags like museum pieces lining the shelves, customers eyeing the goods with a sharp eye. Janet acknowledged the necessary “hello’s” and before I knew it, the far right wall opened up like a scene from a James Bond movie. This was the real deal goods - Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada - all lining the shelves of this private, and very small showroom. I picked out a LV summer handbag, and a brown and cream Prada handbag.
There was absolutely no way to tell the difference between an authentic designer handbag bought in Paris, and a black market bag bought in Shanghai. The most minute detail was covered. I turned my handbags inside out and could not find a stamp, or mistake. The handbags even came with the soft chamois storage bag, embossed with the brand logo. The Chinese can copy anything, and since they are the ones who make the bags for the actual French and Italian designers, it is easy for them to re-make them for the black market. Supposedly, some of the workers bring the leftover materials out of the factories; hence some of the areas Janet and I avoided in the black market.
There were people at the market with black garbage bags hauling merchandise both in, and out. Despite how “normal” this mall looked, it had a distinctly different feel to it. Two handbags were enough for me. My Louis Vuitton didn’t last six months; my Prada bag I still use, four years later. I am sure I could never find the market again, and don’t really want to unless I am with another local. It really is the safest way to go.