10/16/2015

Lost in translation


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Finding yourself in China, unable to speak a word of Chinese, is kind of a problem. Not a big problem, mind you, but still. It’s a problem. A few weekends ago, I paid a visit to Shanghai, a bustling megalopolis of a city where everyone pretty much spoke Chinese—and not much else.

Sure, some of them could speak and understand broken English, but even the ones who can would ask, “Do you speak Chinese?” When I reply in the negative, they would surreptitiously force each other to talk to me instead, and it made me feel bad. I would then hallucinate that they’re talking trash about how dumb I am or how stupid my hair looks. I’m sorry for ruining the party, you guys. I’m trying so hard here. On the plus side, my Charades skills have never been more useful. Have you ever had to mimic the word “sanitary pad” to a confused convenience store clerk at seven in the morning? It’s an experience of a lifetime, trust me.

This wasn’t what I thought Shanghai would be like. In my mind, it was so cosmopolitan that everyone talked like they were in Crazy Rich Asians. (I mean, they probably do, I just didn’t understand them.) I didn’t expect to be blocked off on social media (how will I find the cute expats???) or to be yelled at by a cab driver when I couldn’t pronounce Maoming Road properly. Again, I have never felt more lost. But even as this communication breakdown wore me down as the days passed, I found myself taking on the challenge instead. I wanted to know why this place, one full of modern skyscrapers and Western retail labels, still remained so completely foreign. What in the world is in Shanghai that keeps people coming?

In fact, I continued to ask myself this as I walked to the UNIQLO Magical For All Store, a global collaboration with Disney Consumer Products that offers the retail brand’s LifeWear apparel with a touch of Disney magic. Much like how I wanted to know why Shanghai was so enticing, I wanted to know what kind of universality Disney really had—would this kid-focused brand work well with a largely grown-up market? I may have grown up loving Disney films, but I hardly itch to wear Mickey Mouse gear to work. And I think many young adults like me can relate.

When I was given a sneak peek of the Magic For All Store, days before its launch, I realized that my doubts were totally for nothing. This is the thing with teaming up with a brand like UNIQLO, though. They really know their stuff. I say this as a wearer of the brand, not just as an observer: they don’t follow trends or create trends of their own. This is what Mr. Tadashi Yanai, president of Fast Retailing (UNIQLO’s parent company) said. UNIQLO creates clothes made to live with us, the kind that stretches and moves with our own ways. The kind that grows with us as we grow older.

That philosophy was definitely on their minds with the creation of Magic For All—none of the temporary glitter and the disposable thrill that a knockoffs can afford. With over 12,000 square feet of space, they really managed to capture the imagination of every possible dresser and dreamer. At the store’s entrance is a 180-cm tall Mickey Mouse, and 100 Mickey Mouse figurines created by artists all over the world. (My favorite is the one that looks like pizza, of course.)

The Disney magic is just as strong now than it was many, many years ago. You don’t have to go as far as Shanghai to find it, although I do guarantee that a visit to Magic For All will rekindle that spark.

Other sections of the store include The Future, with rows of shirts and sweaters from different Disney films. In this section, I also got to try the Shout Mickey, a special are that allows customers to take a photo of themselves in-store. Basically, they just have to shout “Mickey!” towards the lens as a sort of shutter, and you can send the image to your phone as a free souvenir of your visit. The Youthful Adventurer section is the kids’ area, where plush Mickey Mouse toys can also be found. For girls in search of their personalized fairy tales, I would recommend the Colorful Fairy Tale area, where I was awed by Minnie Mouse and Frozen-inspired displays and items. No need to Let It Go in this area, that’s for sure. (I swear, that’s the last corny joke.)

And because Magic for All is all about creating your own kind of fantasy, there’s also the UT Factory for embellishments and custom designs. You can create your own printed shirts with the vast selection of UNIQLO and Disney imagery. If not, you can pick out any clothing in the store and have it embellished with tons of iron-on Disney patches. The UT Factory can’t be found in all UNIQLO stores, so I would say this is one must-visit. With customized services starting at just 20 Yuan, it would be a bummer to miss out.

One (such as myself) would think that Disney only meant princesses and animated mice. Not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. But the geekery is strong in Magic For All—like many of the teenage boys who lined up at the launch, I drooled over their Star Wars collection, which included sweaters, T-shirts, and even thick blankets. At that point I really didn’t know what not to buy. Best part is, UNIQLO will soon start rolling out items featuring other Disney characters and even Pixar favorites. That includes Marvel’s Avengers, by the way. As if it could get any better than this.

During my short trip to Shanghai, I visited the Magic For All store every day, from its hush-hush behind-the-scenes peek to the grand opening day. Each time I found myself ogling at something new, finding something to take with me, and wondering how the hell I’m gonna take it all home. (I did. But barely.) And if the long lines on their launch day is any indication, is that that Disney magic is just as strong now than it was many, many years ago. You don’t have to go as far as Shanghai to find it, although I do guarantee that a visit to Magic For All will rekindle that spark. These shirts, these trousers, these sweaters… we don’t need to speak the same language for them to remind me something important. Magic really is everywhere. And it’s for everybody too.

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The Disney MAGIC FOR ALL Store can be found on the 5th floor, UNIQLO Shanghai Global Flagship store on 887 Huaihuai Zhong Lu, Huanpu District, Shanghai. Store hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Selected lines from Disney MAGIC FOR ALL collection are also available in Uniqlo stores in the Philippines. For more information, visit www.uniqlo.com.

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