By  on October 4, 2007

HONG KONG — Elements, a new 1 million-square-foot shopping mall, has opened in Kowloon West here as part of a $10 billion redevelopment of the area by the Mass Transit Railway Corp. An office tower, two new hotels (a W Hotel and a Ritz-Carlton) and extensive transportation services are also part of the venture.

“This project has been like prolonged labor,” joked Betty Leong, chief retail development manager for MTR. She explained that while real work on the mall began in 2000, the concept for it dates back to the mid-Nineties when the Airport Express railway project was launched. (The mall’s location is atop the Airport Express’ Kowloon Station.)

“Hong Kong needs more shopping alternatives,” said Leong. “People are craving for another place to hang out other than their homes or offices. This is what we call the ‘third place’ — a place where there is a sense of community.”

MTR owns and operates five other malls in the city, but none are on this scale or target high-end consumers. “This is new for us,” admitted Leong, “so we put together an entirely new team.”

The company hired architectural firm Benoy — best known for Bluewater in the U.K., Europe’s largest mall — to create Elements. As its name suggests, the mall’s design is based on the five elements of nature: water, earth, fire, wood and metal. Each zone features a different mix of retailers as well as artwork and interactive installations reflecting the theme. Chris Lohan, senior associate director of Benoy, said that although the concept had changed over the years, one idea stayed the same: The mall had to be both entertaining and comprehensive. “We wanted to give something unique to both the Hong Kong population and to tourists,” said Lohan.

To wit, the mall has a 700,000-square-foot rooftop garden with alfresco dining options and five distinct shopping areas. The Metal Zone is the most upscale, showcasing fine jewelry and designer fashion, with particular emphasis on Italian brands. The zone features names such as Prada, Valentino, Fendi, Bottega Veneta and Furla. Gucci will open a new store there in a few weeks — a 12,000-square-foot shop that will be its largest in the Asia-Pacific region. Neighboring stores include jewelers Cartier, Damiani, Piaget, Mikimoto and Pianegonda.Also in the Metal Zone is an area called the Indoor Boulevard, in which each shop is two stories tall. Tiffany & Co., Versace and Lanvin all have large-scale stores here, as will Mulberry, which will sell all of its lines (men’s and women’s ready-to-wear and accessories) in one shop for the first time in Hong Kong. Leong said the Boulevard was designed to create an impression. “We wanted to re-create New Bond Street,” commented Leong, pointing out two U.K. brands making their debuts in Hong Kong: Karen Millen and Pringle of Scotland. Footwear brand Ecco also opened a shop in the area, creating a first-of-its-kind “Ecco Museum” display model for the store.

Men’s wear is gathered together in the Earth Zone, where brands such as Dunhill, Canali, Paul & Shark, Alain Figaret and Brooks Brothers can be found.

Trendier fashions can be found in the Water Zone, home to H&M, Zara, Guess, ck Calvin Klein, and A|X Armani Exchange. The Wood Zone features many freestanding beauty boutiques, including Bobbi Brown, Anna Sui, Chanel and Lancôme, while Fire is the entertainment zone, with an ice rink, 12-screen cineplex and children’s wear.

Leong reported that 85 percent of Elements’ tenants opened for the mall’s first day of business this week, which coincided with the beginning of Golden Week, a weeklong holiday in China that brings a huge influx of tourists into Hong Kong each year. “Our estimate was that we would average 100,000 visitors a day in 12 months,” said Leong. “But our first day was between 170,000 and 180,000.”

What MTR has to do primarily is concentrate on transportation options for the mall. Hong Kong has seen a spate of large-scale mall openings in the last few years, ranging from the upscale and very popular IFC mall in Central district to the mass market and aptly named MegaBox in Kowloon Bay. While Elements’ retail mix bears more resemblance to IFC, which is home to Lane Crawford’s flagship and numerous designer stores, its location is more akin to MegaBox, which suffers from a lack of convenient transportation options.

It’s a lesson MTR has paid attention to, given that Elements’ location, like that of MegaBox, is up-and-coming. Therefore, Elements has a subway station that connects to the main underground line, a new bus terminus servicing Chinese tourists and a ferry that runs to Macau and the mainland. Elements also offers free shuttle-bus rides from two locations in Kowloon and has two taxi drop-off points — one connected to the W Hotel’s lobby.“The idea is to make this a lifestyle destination,” explained Leong. “Our proximity to China makes this a showcase for these brands. It’s a strategic location.”

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