By  on December 22, 2005

HONG KONG — Lane Crawford is determined to create a retail experience that engages its sophisticated customers.

The firm's major store revamp here, which carried the risk of alienating the customer base, is evidence of that determination.

Shoppers in Hong Kong filed into the renovated Lane Crawford at the Pacific Place Mall with a mix of curiosity and trepidation when the store opened last month after nine months of construction.

The stakes were high, not only because Lane Crawford has been in Hong Kong as a retailer for 155 years, but also because the company's flagship at the IFC mall, which opened in 2004, set a powerful precedent of art and experience in a retail space.

While different from IFC in its offerings and vibe, the response to the 50,000-square-foot Lane Crawford in the Pacific Place Mall has been positive.

The flagship focuses on international designerwear and has a large lingerie section, something of a novelty for high-end goods. Pacific Place, on the other hand, now has a contemporary and casualwear focus with all the trappings of modernity: a CD bar with iPod sound stations, an i-bar where customers can check e-mail and a dry-cleaning conveyer rack that allows a range of trainers to be seen as they rotate from an outside shop window to inside the store, an inventive way to show products with limited space.

Within the store are modern technological installations. One, designed by Korean company Flur, projects an image onto a wall or other surface, then responds like a morphing wave as people pass by.

"One of the key elements of the store is the behavioral technology," said George Yabu of design firm Yabu Pushelberg, which conceptualized and designed the store, as well as the flagship. "What we are trying to convey is that there is always change — not just in the merchandise but in the experience of shopping" at Lane Crawford.

On the first floor and spanning 15,391 square feet, men's wear features some international designers such as Bottega Veneta and Martin Margiela, along with Prada Jeans and Prada Red Stripe, which are both new to the store. However, the bulk of the offerings are new-generation designers — B-used, Kimori Morisita and Neil Barret, among others — and contemporary collections such as Acne Jeans, Deja ROI, Quentin & Claude and Lincoln Mayne and Simeon Farrar, which are both exclusive."Men by nature are not very adventurous, but I think men's wear is changing a lot," Yabu said. "We have tried to push a modern, masculine, more gutsy environment."

For men's shoes, which are in a cozy, wood-floored space with a sunken metallic leather couch, the selection ranges from Adidas to John Lobb.

An offshoot of the shoe area is the men's Grooming Bar, which includes everything from shaving creams to skin toners. Brands include Elemis for Men, Phyto and Kai.

For women's wear and shoes, which occupy the second level, along with jewelry, the selection is in large part new to Lane Crawford. It includes Yves Saint Laurent, Haider Ackermann, L.A.M.B. by Gwen Stefani, Blue Blood and denim from Acne and Rag & Bone.

Jewelry at Lane Crawford is moving toward fine jewelry while still offering some pieces with edge. The selection includes Tamara Comolli, Garrard and Loree Rodkin.

The beauty section, which is still at one of the store's entrances on the first floor — possibly the only similarity to the old shop — is interactive so brands can be more accessible, said Susan Sams, vice president of marketing and communications, adding that brands "are niche and younger — not Estée Lauder."

Brands include Bobbi Brown, Helena Rubinstein, Fresh, La Mer and Laura Mercier.

The fragrance area consists of two curved walls where perfumes are arranged for customers to peruse. The store wanted to stay away from spraying test strips and pushing them onto customers as they walked past.

Lane Crawford has made it clear with IFC and the new Pacific Place store that the retail experience it wants to create is just that: an experience.

"Our job is to showcase the brands in a very interesting space," said president David Riddiford, adding brands then are allowed to do what they do. He declined to give any sales projections.

One of the challenges Lane Crawford faces is having a customer base that is extremely well traveled and fashion savvy.

"A Hong Kong customer is one of the most sophisticated in the world," Riddiford said. "We feel they deserve a world-class experience in their own city."With its stores being revamped to cater to different tastes, Lane Crawford hopes this will encourage people to travel to all four of its stores in Hong Kong, which, in the end, have the same "core DNA," Riddiford said.

The Canton Road store has the largest selection of men's wear compared with the other stores. With continuing modernizations, which include taking over 15,000 square feet from a neighboring hotel to expand the men's wear section, it will eventually be the group's largest store at between 70,000 and 90,000 square feet. A lingerie department will be added next spring or summer.

Lane Crawford's fourth store in Hong Kong is still in development mode, as far as a remodel. The company plans to have a "breather for six months" and allow some time to measure how the store is doing and develop the strategy, Riddiford said.

The timeline is to start planning the redevelopment in June, work should begin in June 2007 and the project should be completed in August 2007, he said.

Lane Crawford also is looking to expand its presence in China. It now has three stores there: Shanghai, Harbin and Hangzhou. The latter two are franchises.

The company, which is privately owned and part of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group, already has done a small renovation at its Shanghai store. It is now 25,000 square feet, with men's wear and women's wear. It also has upgraded its offer of designer labels there, Riddiford said. New brands include Stella McCartney, Jil Sander and Helmut Lang.

In addition to that store, the intention is to secure another flagship in Shanghai, he said. Opportunities also are being explored in Beijing and Macau.

While many luxury retailers aggressively have rushed to set up shops in China in the past few years, Lane Crawford doesn't feel it needs to do that.

After 155 years of existence, Lane Crawford doesn't want to "do something hasty," he said, adding: "We're a Chinese company; we have a cultural understanding of the Chinese market."

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