SHANGHAI — A four-week-long double quarantine proved to be no obstacle for Harrods managing director Michael Ward and a team from the Knightsbridge institution.
A group from the retailer’s London headquarters completed a 14-day hotel quarantine — with another 14-day isolation period waiting upon their return to the U.K. to kick off the Harrods Studio, a three-day activation during Shanghai Fashion Week, and to prepare the Harrods Residence, a private, personal-shopper-only venue opening here in December. The Residence is a new format from Harrods on top of the recently opened outlet in London’s Westfield and H-Beauty, and a concept that the company hopes to roll out in other Chinese cities.
“We’re here because we felt it really important to support China and Shanghai Fashion Week,” Ward said.
From Oct. 14 to 16, Harrods built multiple studios in the penthouse of The Middle House to broadcast livestreams, while also hosting industry panels and a cocktail. “This [Shanghai Fashion Week] is ultimately going to be one of the biggest events in the [fashion] calendar. We want to build those relationships. People were shocked we came but we can’t be fair-weather on this — you’re either committed to something or not. We will be here next year, and the year after and the year after.”
The Residence, an invitation-only Shanghai space, will be located next to the Modern Art Museum in Pudong, and will consist of a number of private personal styling rooms and a larger communal area for VIPs to meet with their friends.
In and around Shanghai, Ward said there were over 100 such high-net-worth clients but that the number for China overall was in the thousands. A Chengdu Harrods event last year saw 300 clients fly in to attend, he said.
The Residence will not keep any inventory on site but will instead rely on Harrods’ relationships with the brands to pull product from brand stores. Personal shoppers will prepare items beforehand and have them sent over to The Residence, ready for VIPs on arrival.
Ward would soon be off to Shenzhen, Chengdu, and Beijing to scout further potential locations for The Residence. However, he was clear he would not be considering any mall locations.
“I don’t think that the ultra-high-net-worth segment want to fight their way into a mall. They want to have that ability to be dropped off, taken to their private suite, and meet their friends, not have any of that interrelationship,” said Ward.
He added, “What we’re finding particularly if you go into beauty, it’s very difficult to get access to that clientele. They don’t want to go shopping in the malls but they want to learn about beauty. In one of the rooms at the moment, we have [livestreamed] beauty tutorials right now — what’s come off the catwalk, what’s cool and what’s not. We can do that in a very, very private way with the customers. People love that, the gateway to luxury is always through beauty.”
While the U.K’s situation with the virus is still precarious, the fact that the U.S. is enduring a far more severe outbreak has helped the number of Chinese students in the U.K., a powerful spending demographic, increase by 20 percent this year, said Ward, which could help boost business in the longer run.
“I think that a large number of students originally destined to go to America suddenly decided that the U.K. was a better place…once we get tourists back to the normal levels, through that three-year cycle, the mother and father will visit their children multiple times. It’s a great source of tourism.”
In any case, Ward has many return visits planned for China.
“Once we get rid of the quarantine, I will certainly be over every month to host dinner parties for our customers,” said Ward. “No matter what happened [COVID-19 or not], the money was always going to be repatriated to the country. It happened in Japan and we wanted to be ahead of it.”