Deliberately anti-commercial stores are sprouting out of the sidewalks, making themselves healthy competitors to the more luxury stores. Our favorite, Ink, based in the Dongcheng district of Beijing in what’s known as a “hutong”/alleyway. It doesn’t need to be mentioned, alleyways aren’t traditional locations for fashion retail stores – especially in the land of China where gargantuan commercial centres which can often house millions of square feet of shopping space regulate the norms of retail. Last month, the New Century Global Center, a development with roughly 18,000,000 square feet of floor space and an artificial sun that crossed the digital sky of a gigantic LED screen, was inaugurated in Chengdu, a city of 14 million inhabitants in the province of Sichuan. Despite the magnitude of these retail ventures, when one travels through China they’ll notice that there’s also no shortage of what’s known as “Ghost Malls” – grandiose real estate projects now deserted due to rampant speculation and questionable market research. The New South China Mall is the most famous of these doomed malls. Built in the city of Dongguan in Guangdong Province, in 2005, it remains almost completely unoccupied eight years after it’s opening; its flashy decor, roller coaster and palm trees lined up neatly for a future that just doesn’t look like it’s coming.
Less than inviting with it’s dimly lit entrance passage and charcoal hued doors, Ink does what many marketing and sales managers would go against in regards to the store’s aesthetic and the foot-traffic it hopes to attract. But with a bolstering emergence of the avante-garde consumer, it’s no wonder Ink is currently managing a 50% off sale to clear stock for the new season. To mirror the ‘inkish’ surroundings (on wire hangers) are labels Rick Owens, Damir Doma, SILENT and Song For The Mute.
Ink isn’t the first store of it’s anti-commercial nature. Concept stores are sprouting rapidly – under assumption that a niche market is developing, inhabited by the avante-garde consumer. For example, L’Eclaireur is celebrating it’s 30th birthday this year. It’s the first concept store to open in Paris. As it’s name hints, L’Eclaireur is always ahead, pointing into the new direction to follow, carrying a vision that transcends the universes of fashion, art and design. Rue de Sévigné, opened in October 2009 and was realized by Arne Quinze in a futuristic vision with more than 120 screens and sliding pannels to dissimulate the clothes…the Rue de Sévigné store is an installation where reality and illusion inter- play constantly. Arne Quinze was saying about L’Eclaireur Rue de Sévigné: “This is not just a shop, it’s an experience. The project grew as a dream fed by emotions, history and memories. It is a fantasy in which I hope everyone will find a story for themselves.”
Affluent fashion consumers in China need patient curators who can provide advice and help acquaint them with new designers. While the empty structural marvels decay, a wave of multi-brand boutiques are offering China’s savvier shoppers an alternative to overexposed luxury brands and their numbers are growing. It’s a new day for Chinese retail.
Edited by Jonathan Lubala