When I first started going to China for work a few years ago, I got into the whole Weibo thing for a while, updating in my pidgin Chinese and generally being very “Yay China!” about everything. Then the few comments (and I don’t have a sizeable following on Weibo at all…) I got tended to be quite negative – why are you dressed like that, you’re fat, blah blah blah. You get the same sort of thing on Instagram these days. No biggie of course because eight years of blogging has thickened the skin somewhat, but in my head to go with what is a national stereotype anyway, conforming in China seems to be everything. Go slightly out of line – be it through your choice of slightly voluminous trousers, your shade of lipstick or worse yet, your natural body type (yes, I have puffy cheeks – AND WHAT?) – and you put it out there and you can be sure to face a negative barrage of feedback.
Therefore it was heartening to find some sort of alternative haven. A few days ago, I went up to Shenzhen to visit the designers ffiXXed for the book and they very kindly took me to OCT Loft – a creative assembly of studio and shops – where I met Timmy and Jason from Little Thing. The Chinese name quite literally translates into “Fetish” but that would give people the wrong idea about this magazine and shop. Timmy and Jason started their publication back in 2008 and has since built up a sizeable readership and cult following worldwide, and now they have added a shop to support all the sort of Little Things they like such as Indie Chinese and Asian labels, crafty bits and pieces from all around the world as well as their own clothing line Unilogical Poem. It’s sort of like an Etsy vintage explosion inside the space as labels like patchwork pieces by Lu Flux from London and vintage-inspired Ms. Min mash up with cutesy patterned tights, handmade jewellery, patchwork furniture (obsessed with the Brutcake chairs they had) and numerous kitschy knick knacks. It can be twee overload but it’s nonetheless interesting to see Little Thing foster a like-minded community. Little Thing regularly host events like flea markets and for the first time staged their own group indie fashion show last month, where their readers come together and suddenly, just when you think Chinese style seems so very carbon-copied and cookie-cutter-esque, out come a select group of eclectic mavens.
The magazine was especially interesting to delve into and I took away a few issues to find a very thoroughly executed formula that makes Little Thing something of a unique entity. I don’t *think* anything quite like it exists in other languages. It’s kind of like a strange hybrid of Lula, Oh Comely, So-En, and Frankie mixed up with any number of those super specialist Japanese magazines about cookery, gardening and crafting.
They have a love of labouring over the art of print, which has resulting in an opening page of paper cut pop-outs to go with the theme of every issue.
Every issue has a set theme, such as Paper, Necklace, Candy or Porcelain. They’re themes that feel thuddingly obvious and literal but in the magazine they manage to spin off in unexpected ways. The theme is anchored with a central editorial where they really let their imaginations run wild.
They don’t run a great number of fashion stories in the magazine but there’s still enough to show some breadth. Fortunately not everything is as OTT or kitschy themey as the central editorial.
The theme then gets put into a educational and historical context. The history of paper dolls, 18th century porcelain or Elizabethan jewels might be discussed. It’s a pleasant surprise of a tangent filled with depth and detail, that you can’t quite imagine popping up in style titles in the West. It’s well-researched (by my basic Chinese comprehension) and engaging and makes you wish other magazines would geek out on this level.
The themes also get put into a contemporary cultural context so they give examples of cloud/space inspirations in fashion (for their Air issue) or jewellery appearing prominently in film (for their Necklace issue).
Then every theme is explored through interviews and profiles with artists, artisans, tradesmen, craftspeople and designers working today. This is where Little Thing really excels as they seek to find names that aren’t necessarily household and then go quite indepth with their line of questioning. It’s not a pithy one/two line mention with a pic or two but a real exploration of their portfolio and way of working.
The obligatory street style element here is represented by a style diary of would-be Little Thing dream girls…
To round-off the lifestyle component of Little Thing, much is devoted to interiors with people like Emily Chalmers of interiors store Caravan, regularly contributing a column about decoration and thrifting.
Page space is also devoted to other lovely Insta/Pinterest friendly activities such as creating bouquets, eating healthily (but without the faddy diets) and other crafting techniques.
The point isn’t that I’m necessarily a Little Thing devotee. Flicked at speed, the magazine can like I said, be too twee for my own taste. But at the same time, in the context of a country that doesn’t necessarily have counter culture and rebellion against the mainstream ingrained into their mindset, Little Thing definitely is a breath of fresh air. Judging by the number of advertorials it does run and the healthy print run it has, it also seems to be paying to be as niche as it is. Cornering a specific aesthetic and mastering it is definitely one way of print media to weathering the great shift to digital. I believe you can buy issues overseas through their Facebook page here if you think you might be slayed by the world of Little Thing.