Even when we’re traveling, Strategist staffers are never really “on vacation.” That’s because we would not be Strategist staffers if we did not scour whatever place we visit for great new products we can bring back and tell everyone about. My husband and I spent the past two weeks in China, zipping from Hong Kong to Shanghai to Beijing, and (to his chagrin) stopping at every mall, stall, and boutique along the way. Sadly, some of the stuff I bought — like the made-to-measure suit I got at William Cheng & Son in Hong Kong, the oversized “Enimals” rain jacket with one too many drawstrings that I picked up at Magmode in Shanghai, and the tomato-shaped pillow made from scraps of red silk that we found at one of the many stores inside Beijing’s Forbidden City — is not available online. But luckily, a lot of it is — including a new-to-me status candle, a comically large tote bag that I managed to pass off as carry-on luggage on our return flight, and a sleek pair of rubber booties to slip over my actual shoes when it rains. Read on for all the things we found on our trip that you can get without taking the 16-hour flight.
You can’t throw a rock in Hong Kong without hitting a Chanel store — or an outpost of any other blue-chip luxury brand, for that matter. And although those stores have their devoted customers, I tend to prefer smaller, more curated shops like the Sun Street location of Kapok, a local retailer that sells a selection of clothing brands alongside a curated assortment of home goods and accessories. That’s where we picked up a couple of these candles by Mad et Len, a brand I hadn’t heard of before but has been making its products in the south of France since 2007. The Terre Noir scent we got, according to the brand, “carries the soulful gravitas of forest soil, bark and minerals laced with the warmth of aged wood.” That translates to a smell I’d describe as rich, decadent, and somewhat seductive. All the candles come in supercool metal vessels with lids that have a very wabi-sabi feel. They’re a bit less flashy than Diptyque ones but no less elegant. And because the vessels aren’t plastered with ornate labels, they seem like something you could more easily repurpose into subtle but stylish storage for jewelry or other tiny trinkets once all the wax has burned.
Kapok also had a selection of home stuff from the Danish-inspired brand Hay, a Strategist favorite for its good-looking pieces at many price points. We couldn’t resist grabbing this set of cute dish sponges for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who love a nautical theme.
I knew I’d be walking out of Kapok with this Hay shopping tote the minute I locked eyes on its pattern, which recalls that of the plastic shoppers you see people lugging around Chinatown here in New York City. Except this model, which was apparently designed by the brand for the 2018 Milan Furniture Fair, is impressively sturdy and big enough that I can fit inside it. It’s not available via Hay’s U.S. online store, but I think it’s worth the extra shipping you’ll pay to get it from the Finnish Design Shop — not only because it will fit all of your weekend farmers’-market finds but also because it can double as a carry-on in a pinch (just insist that it folds down enough to fit inside the overhead compartment, which is all I had to do to get it — and all the souvenirs we stashed inside — onboard).
A few days after arriving in Hong Kong, we needed to make the requisite pharmacy stop for some medicine to clear our groggy minds and soothe our funky stomachs. While doing so at Watsons (which I took to be the Chinese equivalent of Walgreens, as its stores lined the streets of each city we visited), I wandered into the beauty section, where I asked an attendant what the most popular mask was, figuring we’d need something to do while waiting for the meds to kick in. Without hesitation she pointed me to the Birds Nest mask, a two-part treatment featuring a snail-mucin-loaded sheet mask and a cream to rub on your mucin-laced face after masking. The mask itself is kind of slippery and precarious; you can’t really do much other than lie there and wear it. And together, the mucin and cream feel a bit heavy on the face post-application — but they also genuinely (and immediately) brighten, at least to the naked eye of someone who dabbles in, but is in no way obsessed with, masks. Even after a shower, the healthy glow seemed to linger — two strangers guessed I was ten years younger than I am. That said, they were our hotel concierge and a woman we paid for a cooking class, so they could have just been angling for bigger tips.
In addition to the aforementioned rain jacket with one too many drawstrings, I also picked up a kooky and very inexpensive rain slicker like this one. I noticed it while browsing the many souvenir stalls at the top of the Peak Tram in Hong Kong (but saw them at similar shops in Shanghai and Beijing, too). Far more protective than your average poncho, it has a hood, actual sleeves, and a button-down front — and this similar style from Amazon boasts an extra feature in its drawstrings. The smock’s transparency makes it (kind of) fashionable, but because mine (and likely this one too) is all plastic, it is not breathable at all, making it oppressive to wear in humidity of any sort. Thankfully, the cooler months of fall seem like the perfect time to give it a spin.