Not so Petite… 3/3 “Meet Dang Dang”
April 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
I couldn’t wait any longer to meet the creative mind behind this place, and urged the waitress to let Mrs. Li know that I had arrived. In stepped Ling Li – her friends call her ‘Dang Dang’ – the creative mind behind each restaurant of the group and I was instantly conquered by her warm childish smile, and ingenious sparkling eyes.
With a non-stop smile and quasi-juvenile excitement, Dang Dang started unveiling the story behind these projects of hers.
Illustration designer by practice, DD worked in Japan and Canada, where she spent a few years and came back to the motherland in 2004.
“On regression to Shanghai, I immediately began looking for a studio – a place of my own to paint and draw”, says DD.
“I found this pretty little place that later would become Le Petit Jardin on XXX lu. My friends would often come by the studio and we would spend our afternoons talking about art, creation, and life in general. They would barely be a day with no visitor and my studio became the best chatting place for all my friends and friends ‘friends. At some point I invested in a coffee machine and started serving cakes and cookies that I would bake myself. Then friends became visitors, visitors became guests and I started cooking pasta dishes in our tiny kitchen for them. Le Petit Jardin was born.”
“I had no experience in the FnB and still haven’t!” says Dang Dang, very humbly.
“I just wish that people can feel good, but I even didn’t think too much about forging a concept that would meet the demand. Restaurants turned out to be the perfect receptacle for the art pieces I started collecting since our first trip to Europe few years ago”, Dang Dang says.
Le Jardin Secret, the second creation of Dang Dang and Sam, is full of antiques and as we moved on to look at some rare French framed gravures, forgetting any sense of time and place, I started to understand how her friends felt at first, as it is a secluded oasis – Narnian in its powers of escapism, away from Shanghai’s urban excess. At Le Jardin Secret, time seems to have stopped – sunlight seems brighter. This is a place for you to leave your problems at the doorstep, relax, untense those shoulders, and pamper yourself, may it be for lunch, dinner or a great afternoon teatime of chatting and book reading.
When staring at the chalk-written daily-lunch menu board, I did a double-take, looking at the shape of the peculiar grainy surface, and it took me a while before I recognized the head part of a French child’s bed, an ancient one, made of wrought iron and now partly rusted. Now serving as a menu board, hung on the wall of an elegant Shanghai restaurant. Now after all these years in China I haven’t seen so much expression of taste, and tried to understand more about its creator.
Dang Dang says this came very naturally but couldn’t name another person in her circle that feels the same way about arts and antiques. People like the result, she says, “but every time I come back from Europe and show my finds to my friends they call me crazy!”
“I don’t read interior design magazines or books; I just follow my inspiration when coordinating colors, and arranging a scene, very naturally. Now I’m even more surprised for I know how much Chinese people that admire arts and design would often struggle to develop their own ways of expressing – confining themselves with rules and techniques, to the risk of reproducing an original piece and missing their personal emotional contribution to the making.”
Le Jardin Secret, and its other family members: Le Petit Jardin, Le Petit Chateau, and La Petite Fleur, all share the fantastic atmosphere of some distant yet now-touchable fairy tale. This is eclectically coupled by the feeling of being plunged into some Japanese animation movie by Myazaki Hayao. I didn’t feel much surprise when Dang Dang confessed she was in great admiration with the Japanese director: “I’ve always loved Miyazaki’s works and my approach of the European design can be seen as similar with his, where memories of traveling, eating and drink in Europe would crystallize and come out in an attempt to recreate not the exact same scene but much more emotionally the feeling of a place and its atmosphere.”
Dang Dang’s approach is very unique, for nothing was done in the shadow of the FnB handbook. Dang Dang says she has always been looking to create, almost brick by brick, a refuge for herself and her friends and didn’t really find such place in Shanghai. So ultimately, she built her own. Looking at the number of guests this afternoon peaceably chatting over a cup of tea, laughing or absorbed in their reading, and feeling myself uplifted, and caught in the breeze of a positive spirit I can fully agree that Dang Dang was not the only one searching for her own little haven.
“随后，我找到了这个美丽的画室，后来便决定把Le Petit Jardin设在这里。我的朋友们当初经常到画室来，整个下午我们都会坐在一起讨论艺术创作和生活。画室几乎天天高朋满座，慢慢变成了我所有朋友和朋友的朋友最优选的交谈场所。从那时起，我买来了一个咖啡机为他们煮咖啡，并自己烘烤蛋糕和饼干给他们享用。朋友们成了访客，渐渐演变成顾客，我便开始在自己的小厨房里为他们烹饪意大利面。最终，我决定开Le Petit Jardin。”
Le Jardin Secret是当当和Sam的第二家店，店内到处陈列着古董。当我走进看到这些十分稀有的法国制造照相板，虽然不清楚具体年代和原产地，但我开始理解了她朋友们的感受。这里就如同一个世外桃源，就像Narnian逃避现实那样，人们在此可以暂时远离上海城市的压力和喧嚣。时间仿佛在Le Jardin Secret静止，阳光仿佛更加灿烂。这里可以让你忘却烦恼，放松自己，消除压力给自己最大限度的放纵。或在这里午餐，或晚餐，甚至花一下午悠闲地喝喝下午茶，谈心和读书。
Le Jardin Secret，Le Petit Jardin，Le Petit Chateau和La Petite Fleur的环境，都有着隐约的感动的童话气息。当当还折衷地加入了一些日本动画大师宮崎駿的创作灵感。其实当当当告诉我他是宮崎駿的超级粉丝时，我一点都不吃惊，“我非常喜欢宮崎駿的作品，我力争将自己的欧洲设计做的与他相似。将旅行和餐饮时的记忆通过设计呈现出来，虽然不可能完全一样，但我尽量表现自己的感受和当地环境。”