If you’re partial to the odd spot of retail therapy like myself (I tell my husband it’s hereditary) you’ll appreciate my unbridled enthusiasm when I learned I’d be living in downtown Hong Kong, plunged like a pig in mud into the world’s greatest shopping mecca!
Oh yeh! Hong Kong is the bomb when it comes to shopping.
To quote a Chinese website (China Highlights), “Hong Kong shopping is not only the act of buying things, but a form of recreation, a way of life.”
I hear you sister!
This heaving metropolis can lay claim to having the highest density of luxury brands in its CBD anywhere in the world.
Yep! pure, unadulterated luxury.
For those who’s budget permits, there’s a Rolex store on every corner…. and sandwiched (albeit elegantly) amongst the strapping skyscrapers and some of Hong Kong’s oldest lane ways overflowing with cheap and cheerful chintz, are glossy store fronts flashing names like Dior, Prada, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton (or simply ‘LV’ if you’re up with the designer lingo).
Much to my husband’s relief, I’m not. (But off the record, let’s just say I was…these days Hong Kong is not only the place to haggle for your fake LV handbag, ladies, it’s the place to buy the genuine thang!)
For the most part though, when I’m not fantasizing about draping myself in diamonds from Cartier, these dazzling stores don’t elicit too much attention from yours truly.
Ok. Admittedly they get the odd sideways glance, a peek through the (oh so shiny you can see your own reflection in the) glass – but rarely do I let the blinkers come off. It’s a dangerous game! (Last time I checked my Tom Ford sunglasses were in two pieces after catching the fashion-forward eye of my toddler who much preferred them to her Dora sunnies.)
Occasionally it’s awfully tempting to allow my high heeled tootsies (perfectly manicured for the occasion of course) to cross the threshold (past the security guard) into that world of beautifully branded bling….. but in stark reality when I have crossed the line into haute couture heaven, I’ve more than likely been wearing flat shoes, jeans and a t-shirt and…well, it’s a bit like trying to venture into a nightclub when you’re past that ‘appropriate’ age. (Guilty!) Neon signs flash loudly in my head, ‘Who do you think you are…Posh Spice!’
And let’s face it, trying to disguise a stroller and a toddler with a penchant for sparkling shoes and ‘hammys’ doesn’t go down so well.
But that’s OK. No really! Don’t feel sorry for me.
Whilst I’m partial to an Hermes Birkin (although my ‘copy’ has been eye-balled as the real thing) and I’ve got my eye on a pretty pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos (do they make any other kind?) for the most part – call me sensible, call me stupid, I’m not willing to part with a month’s salary (and the rest) for one small, solitary item! (However perfectly handcrafted it may be.)
What I’m about to say now might cause many a fashionista to gasp in horror at what could be viewed as a serious fashion crime – but in all honesty – I’d much rather be lauding it up on high street, where the fashion is fun, frequent and affordable!
Enter: Zara and H & M, two of my best buddies….now they are the kind of friends who give you more bang for your buck! Trust me girls (and guys!) Loyal and available.
Which is why you can imagine my sheer horror when I discovered that Hong Kong’s biggest H & M (all four glorious floors) in downtown Central is closing.
A frantic ‘this can’t be right’ google confirmed, yes! the news is true…
Swedish owned company H & M can no longer afford the $US700-thousand a month rent for the 2,800 square-metre flagship store. Yep a month!
H&M will, however, retain its 11 other branches in Hong Kong. A small mercy.. AND Zara will take its place, forking out US$1.4-million a month for the site. Double that of H & M. (Still breathing?)
So by now it will come as no surprise to hear that last year Hong Kong was ranked the world’s most expensive location for prime real estate and office rents.
In the last two years rent increased by 19 per cent.
As a consequence there’s now a growing band of Hong Kong ground-level retailers and restaurant operators being forced out of prime locations. Smaller retailers are moving online and restaurant owners are moving upstairs.
The spike is due to two major factors – a lack of new commercial premises available (in other words no space) and strong demand from foreign luxury-goods retailers for flagship stores in premium locations.
Abercrombie and Fitch reportedly signed a $1million-a-month lease last year for a downtown location that saw a month long promotional campaign involving 150 male models parading around town half-naked on an open-top bus; when they weren’t flashing their flesh on the street, you could find them lounging around at the W Hotel, eight packs and all! (Naturally I had to see what all the fuss was about!)
Let’s not digress….why the demand (no not for the male models) for prized locations from big name designers?
Well, apparently it’s being driven by a desire to cater to the increasing number of mainland Chinese flocking to Hong Kong to take advantage of the low taxes.
The number of visitors from the motherland shopping up a storm has ballooned to 28 million each year…that’s four times Hong Kong’s population!
As I write this, there are calls for the Hong Kong government to cap the number of mainland visitors, but retailers have slammed the calls as “irrational.”
I live (ever-so conveniently) above ‘Elements’ Mall.
The Feng Shui designed shopping centre gets its name from the five elements of Chinese Daoist philosophy: wood, water, metal, fire, earth. There are five sections with these names in the mall and each sells different kinds of goods and services that match these ideas.
Most of the goods and services I see though sell for far from down to earth prices.
Not only is Elements a Feng Shui master’s kingdom, it’s a designer lover’s paradise where Burberry, Balenciaga, Prada, Miu miu, Rolex and Chanel rule the retail universe. (Thankfully there’s also an H & M.) Mind you, just how long it continues to supply my addiction is anyone’s guess…no sooner do I turn my back for a Mint Mocha and those stores of the more common garden variety disappear making way for the more manicured lawns of McQueen, Cartier or Tiffany.
Not that I’m staking-out how the other half shops or anything, but I can’t help but notice most of these stores are empty.
At any given time there are at least four or five retail assistants standing around idly, just waiting…waiting…waiting.
Ok that’s not quite true, yesterday I just happened to be walking past a luxury watch shop when I couldn’t help notice the sales assistant ‘spritzing’ the place. Yep! spraying (insert french accent) ‘perfume’ inside and out (perhaps hoping shoppers would sniff out a potential bargain) Unlikely!
How can they afford to be so empty? For starters, there’s currently a $US8.6-billion railway under construction next door to carry bullet trains underground directly from China to Hong Kong. It’s estimated by 2016 it will carry 99,000 passengers a day. My guess is the big name brands are getting in early, knowing once there’s a 300 km per hour train grinding to a halt next door complete with customs and immigration facilities… you can betcha bottom dollar they’ll no longer be empty.
In nearby Tsim Sha Tsui, one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts, customers queue along the front of shop windows, outside the likes of Dior, LV and Givenchy, waiting patiently behind velvet ropes.
A security guard manages the orderly entry and exit of customers and there’s no telling how long the wait can be. (What was that I was saying about a nightclub earlier?)
Experts say the extravagant spending is all down to a rapidly expanding middle and upper class in China, seeking to enhance their identity and quality of life with luxury goods.
In the past 10 years, over 100 million people in China have moved up to the middle class and many thousands have moved up to the wealthiest class. In fact China now brags nearly 235,000 millionaires.
The China Brand Association claims 13 percent of Chinese, that’s about 170 million people, regularly buy top-tier brands.
So what makes a top-tier brand? Not necessarily those you might expect. Brands westerners often perceive as medium quality are seen by Chinese as superior, glamorous, even exclusive. Think Starbucks, Apple and Holiday Inn. These are all associated with prestige and elitism by the new affluent urban Chinese consumer, while in most western countries they’re considered high quality but functional brands. (A Starbucks coffee has been described by the Chinese as a “mini luxury in a cup” and who am I to disagree.)
The US company expects China to become their second largest market in the world and nearly 30 per cent of all new McDonalds opened this year will be in the Motherland.
To top off this brand-name frenzy, American luxury-accessories label Coach and the Italian fashion powerhouse Prada made headlines last year when they became the first companies from their respective countries to list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
So far the Year of the Snake is off to an ambitious start with cash registers ringing loud and fast and average sales rising 20 per cent.
Hong Kong….I’m in no doubt you’ve got the goods for those in need of a daring designer fix….but promise not to get too caught up in this luxury love affair.
Some of us are in need of a retail therapy relationship with something a little more, shall we say, accessible….
Shopping spree anyone?