HONG KONG — After six years of searching, planning and negotiations, Shanghai Tang on Monday officially opened its second flagship store here.
Like the first, which is housed in the historic Pedder Building in the city’s Central neighborhood, the new shop is situated in a landmark building, this one the firehouse of the former Marine Police Headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui. The city is now home to eight Shanghai Tang stores.
“It took me six years to secure this space,” said Raphaelle Masne de Chermont, Shanghai Tang’s executive chairman. “I always thought we needed another flagship on the other side to balance the Central store because Tsim Sha Tsui draws a totally different crowd. In fact, when I asked one of our designers if he had been to the new TST store he said, ‘I have no visa to go there,’ which is why our invitation [to the grand opening] is a ‘visa’ to Kowloon,” said le Masne de Chermont.
The brick-facade building, which dates back to 1881, is one of the oldest surviving government buildings in the city and was declared a monument in 1994. Le Masne de Chermont said his team worked closely with the Heritage Department as well as with Cheung Kong, which owns the property, to preserve the integrity of the building. “We tried to keep a sense of the building — the style is the same, but we were also able to use our new concept to show the products better. Pedder Street is almost a museum — we can’t touch it and it’s hard to show products there, but here we use the colors that are part of our DNA and we designed everything to showcase product,” he said.
Architect Johannes Tüll of Stockholm-based SWECO created the store’s look, which combines carefully preserved elements such as the teak floors, four original firehouse doors and the wooden staircase with Shanghai Tang’s signature splashes of neon color and black lacquer. The effect is both East meets West and old meets new. The store measures 5,000 square feet, spans two floors and offers magnificent harbor views from its rooftop terrace. Although located on Canton Road, which is the heart of shopping in TST, the site is freestanding and not part of the heavily trafficked mall area. Le Masne de Chermont said aiding traffic flow through better accessibility and increased visibility was important from the beginning.
“We opened up the piazza and you can see the store from miles away,” he said, adding, “But we’re a destination in any case. Who but Shanghai Tang could be in a location like this?”
Le Masne de Chermont declined to say how much was spent on the project or what the expected turnover is for the new store, but he expressed optimism about the retail scene in general. Until this year, the brand had been experiencing double-digit growth for six straight years and its network of freestanding stores now stands at 40. Although 2009 is expected to be flat, le Masne de Chermont said sales are already back to pre-economic crisis levels, especially in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is picking up faster because real estate is better here and if real estate is better in Hong Kong, everything is better in Hong Kong,” he said.
He went on to say the company used the downturn as an opportunity to get its house in order, to strike deals and to get ready for the next upswing. To that end, Shanghai Tang has opened four new shops since the crisis began (including New York and Las Vegas), took over the brand’s distribution in Shanghai, and moved forward with plans for expansion in China, where it has 12 stores that target local, not expatriate or tourist, shoppers.
“During a downturn everything is easier to negotiate, so it’s time to prepare yourself,” said le Masne de Chermont. “Living in Asia you know how quickly things will change. We have been through SARS, the Asian financial crisis, and so on but in six months to one-and-a-half years, things are back. You have to organize yourself,” he said, adding the only thing that might prove a hiccup to retail recovery this fall is H1N1, or swine flu.
“Everyone knows by now that it’s not so dangerous, but an outbreak might damage retail in September-October or in Hong Kong a bit later, when it’s cooler. If it starts in October-November, that might affect us because we have big gifting,” he said.
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