The ever-stylish Chris Chong takes us to his go-to bou­tiques and shares his ideas for new re­tail.

NNoth­ing es­capes Chris Chong’s no­tice. Not even a small banana USB key ring whose pres­ence at the Fendi store in Ion Or­chard is be­ing dwarfed by the large bag it is hang­ing off from, amid the riot of colours, tex­tures and mo­tifs that com­pete for one’s at­ten­tion in­ces­santly.

Re­tail is about the de­tails, says Cap­i­ta­land Re­tail’s deputy manag­ing di­rec­tor. “Re­tail has to be fun and in­ter­est­ing. Oth­er­wise, you can­not get peo­ple to part with their money.”

The Ital­ian house is one of his favourite shop­ping haunts, which might ap­pear to be an in­ter­est­ing choice for the en­gi­neer by train­ing. Af­ter all, its loud and play­ful de­signs seem out of place in a cor­po­rate high-flyer’s wardrobe. “Men in the cor­po­rate world are be­com­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous in their work at­tire. We have to recog­nise that times have changed. It’s about what’s ap­pro­pri­ate and rel­e­vant,” says the 45-year-old, who, un­til May this year, was the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Or­chard Turn Developments, which man­ages Ion Or­chard.

To­day, he’s paired a dark blue Dolce & Gab­bana shirt with flo­ral print and Calvin Klein jeans, with sneak­ers and a clutch from Fendi’s popular Mon­ster Eyes col­lec­tion. On one wrist lies a Bot­tega Veneta ban­gle and, on the other, a re­cently ac­quired Patek Philippe Nau­tilus 5711 in steel.

“The new rich are wear­ing sneak­ers and jeans. The staff in watch stores are feel­ing dis­con­nected be­cause they can­not re­late. That’s why I’m al­ways ask­ing th­ese lux­ury brands about their uni­forms and the im­age they are pro­ject­ing. I’ve even sug­gested to brand ex­ec­u­tives to change their staff uni­forms. Oth­er­wise, you’re not speak­ing the lan­guage of your new au­di­ence.”

His own sense of style – and of what’s ap­pro­pri­ate and rel­e­vant – was de­vel­oped when he spent 10 years study­ing and work­ing in France. “From my ob­ser­va­tion, there was gen­er­ally an ex­pec­ta­tion to be dressed a cer­tain way, depend­ing on oc­ca­sion. So from then on, I be­came more con­scious. On my first trip to Lon­don from Paris, I was wear­ing leather shoes with jeans – which was the norm in Paris – whereas my friends who were study­ing in the UK were wear­ing ca­sual sneak­ers. And no one in France wore slip­pers, even in sum­mer.”

Chong takes us to Dior Homme to show us what he’s got for this photo shoot. It’s a black silk shirt with red roses against a gun­metal grey back­ground. He prefers monochro­matic hues and tends to grav­i­tate to­wards na­ture and flo­ral prints. “Cut and fit are very im­por­tant, but we don’t pay enough at­ten­tion to them in Sin­ga­pore,” he says. “I think men have been quite in­spired by the sneaker trend. The look is no longer so stiff and struc­tured. Peo­ple are look­ing for out­fits that can take them from work to play.

“Fash­ion is meant to be a talk­ing point. Dress­ing up makes life more in­ter­est­ing.” BRAVE NEW (RE­TAIL) WORLD Ear­lier, as we were wait­ing for the shops to open, we started dis­cussing the state of re­tail over break­fast tea and scones. Re­tail is dead; long live re­tail – re­ports can’t seem to make up their minds about the state of shop­ping. One thing is for sure: The bots are not about to re­place phys­i­cal stores any time soon. The need for hu­man in­ter­ac­tion, Chong be­lieves, is why brick and mor­tar is here to stay.

“I don’t know any­one who can re­late a mem­o­rable online shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence. Do you re­mem­ber where you were, and the weather out­side? E-com­merce is still a pas­sive, one-sided ac­tiv­ity,” says Chong, whose online pur­chases are mostly for travel ar­range­ments.

“But you will al­ways re­mem­ber the time you hit the mall with your friends af­ter ex­ams, or when you had a pro­mo­tion and bought a spe­cial out­fit. That

“Fash­ion is meant to be a talk­ing point. Dress­ing up makes life more in­ter­est­ing.”

is ‘unA­ma­zon­able’. It’s about the mem­ory. It’s the whole process of be­ing de­lighted. I truly be­lieve in re­tail ther­apy. I like check­ing out malls sim­ply be­cause I like to see what’s new and in­ter­est­ing. I need to see, touch, and com­pare.”

As if to un­der­score his point, we pop over to popular South Korean eye­wear brand Gen­tle Mon­ster, an­other of his favourites. It is the epit­ome of what he has em­pha­sised in this in­ter­view: ex­pe­ri­ence. The brightly, flu­o­res­cent lit store is a visual feast of cu­ri­ous art in­stal­la­tions that fol­low the theme of sam­sara, which means rein­car­na­tion in San­skrit, and ref­er­ence 19th-cen­tury philoso­pher Friedrich Ni­et­zsche’s philosophy about sal­va­tion.

Data proves Chong’s point. Ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of Sta­tis­tics, which re­cently started to pub­lish the per­cent­age of Sin­ga­pore’s e-com­merce trans­ac­tions, online re­tail sales made up 4.1 per cent of June’s to­tal es­ti­mated sales value of $3.9 bil­lion.

New re­tail will see tech­nol­ogy en­hanc­ing one’s ex­pe­ri­ence in a phys­i­cal store. Could this be what’s to come in two months, when Chong un­veils a new shop­ping con­cept at Plaza Sin­ga­pura? He de­clines to re­veal more, only to share his vi­sion of re­tail utopia.

He says: “Just like the banks, stores need to have off­line pres­ence too. In fu­ture, most stores should come with om­nichan­nel ca­pa­bil­i­ties. A uni­fied in­ven­tory is im­por­tant. I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘I am purely an online shop­per’ and vice versa. The fu­ture is cer­tainly a hy­brid. Bound­aries be­tween dif­fer­ent prod­ucts have been bro­ken up. It will be about how dif­fer­ent brands come to­gether and are be­ing pre­sented to­gether.

“Why do we need five cashiers when you can just pay online, since the in­ven­tory is uni­fied? Or maybe I’ll be able to or­der a drink at Star­bucks and it will be ready for pickup by the time I get to the store. That is the kind of con­ve­nience we’re look­ing at. It’s al­ways about the cus­tomers. Peo­ple won’t come back to the store for its tech­nol­ogy. What is the ex­pe­ri­ence?”

As we exit Gen­tle Mon­ster, he points to the floor where two rows of dolls are ro­tat­ing in a trance-like state. “Some peo­ple find this eerie. When the store first opened, many said this is how new re­tail should be,” says Chong, re­fer­ring to the unique store decor be­yond the prod­uct dis­play. In­deed, the store takes up 4,000 sq ft of re­tail space, much of it ded­i­cated to in­stal­la­tions.

At the en­trance, a boy runs past the store­front only to be stopped in his tracks by a panel of tas­sel bunches jig­gling rhyth­mi­cally. “Wow, what’s that?” he ex­claims, trans­fixed by the hyp­notic shim­my­ing, be­fore he is hauled out of his daze by his par­ents’ voices.

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