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Big brand buzz
WITH a check-in system that required the flashing of an exclusive QR code for entry, a conveyor belt laden with the new luggage and leather goods collection, and booths manned by mannequins decked out as stewards and stewardesses, the sky's the limit when it came to setting up an aeronautical-themed pop-up for Chanel's Spring/Summer 2016 ready-to-wear and accessories collection. Called Chanel Airlines, the collection wasn't just unveiled at a run-of-the-mill fashion show, but a VIP preview of an installation at multi-label concept store, Pedder on Scotts.
"Singapore has reached a level of sophistication where clients are looking for a certain lifestyle," says Stephanie Donnet-Couette, managing director of Chanel Singapore.
"They are looking for experiences not just globally but in Singapore. They want local experiences, something that they can touch and feel."
And it does seem that our island nation is a mini-epicentre for the brand's buzz-creating activities. In November 2013, Singapore was the closing city to host The Little Black Jacket: Chanel's classic revisited by Karl Lagerfeld and Carine Roitfeld, a photography exhibition at the ArtScience Museum. A few months earlier, Chanel also presented the global debut of the 2013/14 Cruise Collection at the Loewen Cluster on Dempsey Hill, in the presence of no less than the Kaiser himself, Karl Lagerfeld.
The very first time a Chanel collection is available outside of its boutiques in Singapore, this partnership with Pedder On Scotts - on till April 3 - is one of many conceived by luxury brands in a bid to generate plenty of buzz in an economy that is as muted as a Kazimir Malevich painting. As sales slip around the world, particularly in China, where brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton have closed multiple stores last year, luxury brands here are streamlining their operations. Hugo Boss, for example, will be closing almost 20 stores in China this year, having inherited almost half of the 131 stores in the country from local retail partners.
"Although we are streamlining our stores, we are building bigger and better stores in prime retail malls with the right adjacencies," says a spokesman for the brand. "China's consolidation has been to reduce stores that are below a certain size into larger format stores that offer a full range of Hugo Boss merchandise. This will help showcase Hugo Boss in a more exclusive environment, and improve profitability for these stores."
Engaging the luxury shopper
Rather than adopt a Starbucks-style strategy of rolling out new stores, luxury brands have been quietly folding underperforming outlets, focusing instead on high-profile boutiques. Louis Vuitton, ranked the world's most valuable luxury brand in 2015 by Forbes, for one, has no plans to add to its stable of stores here in the near future. Instead, it has been refreshing its Ngee Ann City outlet and recently unveiled its revamped ION Orchard store. Renovation works for the Ngee Ann City store will be completed by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, luxury retailer the Pedder Group constantly rolls out initiatives not just to shout out about its enviable stable of trending footwear designers such as Paul Andrew, Sophia Webster and Charlotte Olympia, but to engage with the increasingly fickle and discerning luxury shopper.
"Experience is a very important medium in which to engage with customers," says Peter Harris, president of the Pedder Group. "It could be through designers' personal appearances (most recently the visit of English footwear designer Nicholas Kirkwood who not only dedicated time in our store but also spoke to the design student community in Singapore) or through the activity tables and pop-up spaces we use at Pedder on Scotts to host local creatives, giving them an opportunity to share with our customers their work." Despite a less aggressive expansion plan adopted by major retail empires, shoppers need not contend with the same old mix of stores when they make their regular pilgrimages to Orchard Road. A handful of marques have continued to launch new boutiques at high traffic malls along the shopping strip to tempt big spenders who still need a fix, despite the slowdown. In fact, annual footfall numbers for last year at ION Orchard exceeded 55 million shoppers, up 10 per cent from 2014.
"The retail environment has been challenging but our strategy of continually refreshing and innovating our offerings has enabled ION Orchard to stand out from the competition," says Chris Chong, chief executive officer of Orchard Turn Developments which owns the mall.
"We are running at close to full occupancy and have just completed our latest mall refresh which introduced new brands such as Tiffany & Co, Moncler and Van Cleef & Arpels. Many of our long-standing brands such as Dior, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Patek Philippe and Dolce & Gabbana have also expanded into flagship boutiques. We take this as a vote of their confidence."
American jeweller Tiffany & Co opened a street-facing duplex store last month that spans over 460 square metres. The two-storey facade is lit with the brand's iconic shade of Tiffany Blue and carved with a wheatleaf pattern similar to that which frames the entrance of its Fifth Avenue flagship store.
Amping up the exclusivity factor
"This spacious duplex store at ION Orchard is the perfect home for Tiffany's legendary collections and reinforces the commitment we've made to increase our presence in Singapore," said Marc Jacheet, group vice-president of Tiffany & Co Asia Pacific.
But it isn't all about the biggest, swankiest spaces. Luxe brands are also amping up the exclusivity factor of the shopping experience to ensure that the chic set gets more bang for their buck. At the new Van Cleef & Arpels boutique in ION Orchard, special customers are able to appreciate the French jewellery house's elegant creations in the exclusive Le Salon. Here, they may enjoy a cuppa while trying on a diamond-encrusted necklace in the shape of a zip in a private setting, boasting a cutting-edge system that synchronises the lighting and musical ambience of the space, triggered only when a client steps into the room.
"The new boutiques also present fresh concepts and bespoke offerings such as a personal stylist service and VIP salon in Dior, and a bridal salon in Tiffany & Co's only Orchard Road-fronting duplex to cater to shoppers' demand for authenticity and personalised experiences," adds Mr Chong.
Even as it streamlines its pool of stores, Hugo Boss is continuing to up the exclusivity stakes with a new made-to-measure service, carried out within a private room. The premium offering allows stylish gents to customise every detail of an outfit: the lining of a suit, the collar of a shirt, the pattern of a pocket square. Each outfit is painstakingly finished by hand in the brand's home base in Metzingen, Germany, with the aid of cutting-edge technology.
"Made-to-measure is the pinnacle of Hugo Boss men's tailoring," says a spokesman. "It is only available in 20 flagship stores around the world and Singapore is selected based on the sophistication of its client base and Ngee Ann City Store being the largest flagship store for Hugo Boss in South-east Asia."
The feeling of getting plenty more bang for your buck is certainly a compelling way for those with a penchant for the finer things to continue to spend. Besides, shopping locally has been shown to keep the money in town, and boost a languishing economy. Why not do it in high style with the help of your favourite store?