My impressions of shopping in Hong Kong often make me feel a sense of unreality – like being in a beautiful, designer made cocoon. My first stop is usually the Landmark Centre – home to Harvey Nicks and other luminary brands – and although the centre is showing signs of ageing, it is doing so with dignity and style.
My favourite destination in Landmark is Three Sixty – Hong Kong’s largest organic and natural food store catering mainly to expats. The fact that on this visit I was to be meeting with Michael Kok, CEO of Dairy Farm – the owners of Three Sixty, made me pay special attention to how the store evolved since opening.
We were there just before the lunch time rush and the expats didn’t disappoint. They flocked in – ordering their favourite grab-and-go lunches in Aussie, Pommie, American and host of non-Chinese accents.
‘Harrods meets Wholefoods’ is how I would describe Three Sixty, and it never fails to intrigue me.
Pacific Place was my second stop and I found it undergoing major renovations. It is a bit newer than Landmark, and a lot more contemporary. My favourite stops are usually Lane Crawford (where I felt my Mastercard trembling with anticipation) and the GREAT food emporium (think David Jones meets Victoria Market) – where the presentation of food is endlessly fascinating to me.
The next visit was to a newish development in Kowloon called Elements. Here the extreme nature of prestige retail in Asia is very evident. No expense has been spared in the stunning architecture and interior of this opulent centre located in otherwise more mainstream Kowloon.
Designed by Benoy (also famous for Ion in Singapore and Bullring in Birmingham) the Feng Shui influence is evident in five elements of nature.
Metal symbolizes the prestige retail and dining precinct, Water denotes international cuisine, Earth stands for fashion, Wood for health, beauty and lifestyle, whilst Fire represents entertainment (Elements has the largest cinema complex in Hong Kong and a skating rink).
In true Hong Kong tradition the development also houses a number of residential towers and is located above the Kowloon MTR station.
I don’t think I have seen malls as wide nor shopfronts as high in any centre around the world. The amazing shopping experience was somewhat soured by the mediocre tapas meal we had in the International Cuisine zone. Served by distinctly un-Spanish staff – with scant regard to the subtleties of Spanish food the meal convinced me that over-themed décor had taken up more time and effort than the menu. I suppose that is the lot of anyone who runs a design practice – we need to be reminded from time to time what we can and cannot influence!
Three Sixty have their second store in the Elements mall and it was clear that concept had been refined and improved by the Japanese designers who took a somewhat different tack to the American designers of their first store in Landmark.
Then out of the cocoon – as we mingled with the Monday night shoppers thronging the narrow streets of Kowloon I couldn’t help but compare what Bourke Street Mall would like at 10pm on a Monday night. The buzz was infectious and we were stopped in our tracks a number of times by the impact of digital signage and branding covering entire shopfronts such as the Esprit store in Peking Road.
The well-heeled and the not so well-heeled mingled with tourists and trendy teens – babies and toddlers all bright eyed and bushy tailed at 10pm (why were they not at home watching CSI or House, I pondered?)
After our Italian meal at Harbour City (I figured we could get Chinese food anywhere in Melbourne so why have it in Hong Kong?) we made our way back to our somewhat cool hotel called East which is well worth a visit and I will talk more about this next time as an exercise in branding, design and architecture.
Before taking off on the US leg of my trip the following day I reflected on the retailing lessons so far.
Asia (not the US or Europe) is leading the way in upscale retail – both for stores and shopping malls
Australia has something to learn about master-planning developments that include retail, residential, hotels and commercial as well commuter facilities such as stations
Digital technology in signage, branding and graphics is way ahead of Australia
Retail theatre was everywhere in many forms – from street markets to high end VM in Lane Crawford.
Shopping should be seen as recreation as much as commerce
Think about kids when you design stores and shopping malls – they tend to keep popping out of wombs at a rapid rate in most markets – and don’t ignore Australia’s echo baby boom which is keeping many retailers busier than they might otherwise have been.
Finally – retailing is all about population – no people means no retail – and the nervousness around a Big Australia scenario may change to a comforting thought about 40 million shoppers one day.
Next week I will talk about some interesting retail I saw in San Francisco, Minneapolis and New York.
Watch this space if you are a foodie!