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Retail Wrapping

Retail design in Asia's top cities is setting the pace for the rest of the world. This week’s In Focus looks at how Hong Kong leads the way in creating retail concepts that attract customers.

The Prince's Building
in Central recently underwent a facelift, transforming entire sections into showcases for international
luxury brands
Much of what draws the headlines about design in Asia, particularly Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, is scale. Walk down Canton Road in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district or along Central in the city's financial area, and you’ll find flagship stores of every big-name luxury brand represented. The trend towards grand and showy shopfronts is changing the face of modern retail design. 

“What you have in the West is name-brand stores adapting to old, maybe 18th century buildings. Think of Ralph Lauren on Bond Street,” says Keith Griffiths, Chairman of Aedas design practice. The firm is responsible for the design of the Prince's Building, a prestigious five-story mall in Hong Kong's Central. Anchor tenants such as Prada and Gucci feature massive shimmering facades that look like stand-alone stores. These and similar shops, which work much differently from models in the West, have defined upscale shopping across Asia, according to Mr Griffiths.       

“If you go to the West, name brands are far more constrained. In the East, brands have complete sway with what they want to create. In designing a mall, entire sections of it become showcases for brands. Cartier, Van Arpels and Chanel fronts almost create a set of individual, terraced buildings.” The same is replicated across major hubs in the Asia-Pacific and in China.       

Integral Art

With each brand looking to design bigger, better, flashier facades and interiors, branding has become front and centre, a calling card that draws people in and distinguishes each from its competitors. From inventive window displays to sleek interior décor, brands seek to define themselves instantly. The use of arts and culture has been one way of doing this. 

Aedas set up Archisans, an art sourcing and commissioning service in 2010. Whereas artwork was once considered peripheral, it is now being incorporated into a central design, according to Regina Chan, Archisans Director. 

“Compared to 10 years ago, you certainly notice more art pieces and installation being put in retail spaces. A lot of developers understand art is a very effective communication tool, for example, to elevate the branding of a property and to create a gathering point in space,” she says. New art conventions such as multimedia or Asian-inspired work are more readily used, she says, and are expected to grow. 

Meeting Point

Keith Griffiths 

Keith Griffiths, Chairman of
Aedas design

The mall as a meeting point is key to Asian shoppers and is being fostered in two ways: elevated walkways are being built to connect malls, and spaces are being designed as multi-use entertainment venues. In what has become the norm, walkways connect malls across a district, linking everything from public metro interchanges to hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. Shoppers no longer need to cross streets or leave air-conditioned comfort from the moment of arrival to departure.       

They frequently mix shopping with other entertainment forms and may eat, drink, have their hair or nails done, view movies or experience a new computer game after purchasing a designer bag. These boundaries will continue to merge, according to Mr Griffiths, who is already seeing a blurred edge between retail tenants and mall area. “The whole thing will become a stage set,” he says. 

Walkways also help direct and control people flow. Hong Kong remains a destination city, where consumers hunt for new prestigious retailers. Brands looking to open doors into the wider China market are encouraged to make the most of the walkway element, designing stores as brand showcases, according to Yardley Wong, Managing Director of the Warrantex Fashion Group Ltd, a brand management and distribution company that brings retail concepts to Hong Kong and the mainland.       

 Sjoerd Hoekstra

Sjoerd Hoekstra,
Director of Three Dogs Retail Design

Sjoerd Hoekstra, Director of Three Dogs Retail Design, agrees. “International brands new to Asia should be aware of their brand recognition here. The retail experience should create an appropriate positioning for the brand and its products,” he says.       

Luxury's impact has spread throughout the market. Operators have become increasingly aware of the power of retail design, and often turn to luxury materials to boost brand image, across all tiers, according to Mr Hoekstra. At the same time, store design life spans are shortening, with retailers seeking to wow customers with increasingly bigger visual impact.       

Smell the Leather

Hong Kong-based Three Dogs Retail Design was behind the look of Crocs shops in Hong Kong 
Hong Kong-based Three Dogs Retail Design was behind the look of Crocs shops in Hong Kong 
As design seeks to reflect societal trends and habits, technology will play a bigger role. Mr Hoekstra already sees an introduction of touch-screen technology and computer applications, but says the concept needs developing to truly engage shoppers. “Customers quickly lose interest because, other than a bit of novel entertainment, there is no real value,” he says. So far, he says, technological installations are no more than gadgets. 

Others think there is even greater space for interactivity in Asian retail design. Sounds and smells could be used to heighten experience, according to Gregor Kreusch, Director of Gate 8 Ltd, which Mr Kreusch set up for companies to source, design and manufacture retail concepts. “Imagine picking up a shoe and smelling the leather smell,” he says. Shoppers might also hear a basketball on court when they seek training shoes, or hear Chinese strings and a trace of incense when buying Asian-inspired collections. “These are the first steps to entertainment retail,” says Mr Kreusch.       


Gregor Kreusch


Gregor Kreusch, Director of Gate 8 Ltd

Gate 8 has just signed up to re-sell the German lighting brand Bäro. Mr Kreusch hopes to convince retailers of the ecological benefits of good lighting, as well as its aesthetic effect  the way light can be used to highlight product quality or positioning. European environmental regulations will pave the way for ecological advancements in Asia that will affect design decisions, he says.  

More than Glitz

While luxury has set the pace, shoppers are demanding a new direction and greater creativity. Consumers with luxury fatigue are seeking new exclusive experiences, which brands at all levels can interpret, according to Mr Kreusch. “They've seen the golden walls, the glitzy chandeliers,” he says. “For consumers in Asia, shopping is a lifestyle. They love doing it. They deserve more than just a product on the shelf.”

Related Links
Gate 8 Ltd
Three Dogs Retail Design
Warrantex Fashion Group Ltd


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