by Ashley Eldridge
Stuffed Mao Zedong dolls and candy wrapper curtains beckon from the windows of the Grifted shop on Beijing's famed Nanluoguxiang. Inside, irreverence reigns. Barack Obama, decked out in a Superman suit (all the more fitting post-Nobel), nestles up against Fidel Castro and miniscule Napoleon dolls. (The little dictator doesn't come full-size.) Bedazzled Buddhas and reindeer pandas dot pre-cut squares of wrapping paper. If Warhol-style prints have been done to death in the West, in Beijing they're leading the new wave.
PP, the shop's graphic designer and co-owner, a former New Yorker displaced to Beijing a few years ago for her husband's job, stumbled upon the original shopfront back in 2007 and bought it without a clue as to what she would do with the space. Eager to return to her sculpting roots, she lined up a team of local craftspeople and began sketching designs. And in a typically Chinese twist of fate—business cards gone Chinglish—Grifted was born.
"Gifted was so Hallmark-y - too clean, too nice for us. We needed something more edgy, so what began as an accident ended up working out really well for us," says PP. Grifted's affordable, Technicolor designs made an instant splash among the traditional clay teapots and silk qipao found in every other shop in the alley. Stores in Rome and London's Saatchi Saatchi Gallery in London now carry PP's designs. Nationalistic requests come with the international locations.
"People keep asking us to do a Sarkozy or a Berlusconi," says PP, who has plans to expand the line indefinitely. Carla Bruni might look fetching in violet plush, but Gordon Brown is probably best left in the flesh.
Prices range between about $1.20 for a square of wrapping paper to $17 for large dolls. Umbrellas, pillows, and select other items are available in-store only.
See more images after the jump.