Life and style of the Art Deco era in Shanghai

The furniture, food and fashion of the Art Deco era in Shanghai

What was it like living in the age of Art Deco? Take a look at the furniture, food, fashion and graphic design of the era in Shanghai


The shapes and lines of architecture translated directly into furnishings, such as mahjong tables and chairs which were inflused with sleek speedlines and decorative panels; and traditional wedding ‘bedroom sets’ (which include dressers, drawers and cabinets) rendered in Art Deco styles. Chinese Art Deco favoured wood, as opposed to western Art Deco which was popular in the West.

"Old-Shanghai-Menu-crop"Food & Drink

If you’re not fortunate enough to live in a fabulous Art Deco residential block then you’ll have to infuse some grandeur into your life in other ways: namely, with a special ‘Shanghai cocktail’ derived from an original 1933 recipe belonging to DD’s, which was a popular watering hole in old Shanghai. The recipe, discovered by historian Paul French, the author of Midnight in Peking, features ‘one lump of sugar, the juice of half a lemon, two dashes of Grenadine, one piece of orange peel, one glass of Canadian Club Whisky’. You’re then instructed to ‘shake well and strain into a cocktail glass’. Enjoy! The Congress will also be hosting a ‘Last Dance Gala Dinner’ (see details, right) complete with – what else? – a vintage menu. The selection is a mongrel of different countries and cultures, reflective of Shanghai’s cosmopolitan make-up: from the Russian Chicken Pojarsky to the Victorian iced dessert, the Nesselrode Pudding.

"graphic-design-crop"Graphic Design

‘Calendar posters were such an important part of the visual landscape at that time,’ says art historian and anthropologist Karolina Pawlik. ‘Their graphic design is not necessarily pure Art Deco, but it has all these lovely details: the Art Deco cut of a coat or the patterns on a handbag, the pattern on a qipao and in elements of the interior design.’ Additionally, magazines from the period, such as Liangyou and Manhua, were well-known for their striking modernist graphic design covers; pictured below is an illustration by Liu Jipiao (for Gongxian). ‘When looking at these magazine covers and headlines pay particular attention to the exquisite transformation of the Chinese characters in them,’ says Pawlik. ‘Instead of customary strokes imitating calligraphy, we have geometrical shapes and straight lines which provided characters with a very modern look.’

Image courtesy of Liu Family Archives at


You can see the change in Shanghai simply by looking at the qipao, which moved from a loose, long-sleeved silhouette to something altogether more tailored in the 1920s, thanks to the import of Western cinema. Socialites and film stars led the way for ‘Shanghai’s new women’ with the modern qipao, which is now known as the standard, and even traditional silks began to be replaced by cheaper, newer textiles as mass production emerged.