Siam Discovery in the heart of Bangkok officially opens tonight – billed as a shopping centre experience like none other in the world.
And when Inside Retail Asia took a walk through the THB4 billion (US$112 million) redevelopment today, for once in this industry the experience exceeded the hype.
“We are ready to rock Bangkok and rock the world,” says Chadatip Chutrakul, CEO of Siam Piwat, which owns the trio of Siam-branded malls next to the confluence of Bangkok’s downtown Skytrain lines.
They rocked our world, for sure, because there genuinely is nothing like this anywhere we’ve seen in the world. This is a centre designed to engage even the most jaded shopper. More than a collection of stores, it is a curation of brands presented in an array of environments created by Japanese designer Oki Sato and his team from Nendo in Tokyo.
From the brilliant white modern elegance of the Issey Miyake women’s fashion store at the entrance level to the Nendo-designed Loft fitout on the upper level – and everything in between – this is a retail destination that will wow, engage and delight.
“We hope people coming here get inspired,” says Sato. “We hope every single person who comes here is challenged.”
While there are various branded stores in the revamped Siam Discovery, they are almost incidental to the overall experience. In what marks Siam Piwat’s first foray into running its own department store – a misnomer in this context – Sato and his team have created a series of striking merchandising areas all without walls, mixing materials and concepts, and showcasing products ranging from high-end fashion to homewares and electronics.
Complementing them are areas dedicated to revolving pop-up concepts – most of them engaging customers, others for name brands to test their mettle with the Thai consumers and tourists who will frequent this centre when it opens to the public on Saturday morning (May 28).
Women can create their own lipstick tones; there are 3D printers that can create sculptures of photographs; you can paint your own pattern prints to create your own clothes or a personalised coffee mug; you can test pilot a drone, run 500m on a treadmill to donate money to charity, or strike a pose for an Instagram post … And more – much more.
The 40,000 sqm Siam Discovery, perhaps best known to visitors to Thailand as the home of Bangkok’s Madame Tussauds wax museum, has been completely gutted over the past 12 months. Now it features six levels of experiential retail, each with its own distinct theme. Ground level is Her Lab, anchored by Issey Miyake and featuring an assembly of mid- to high-end fashion labels including Comme des Garcons, Marimekko and Rag & Bone.
Up one floor is His Lab, a full storey of menswear, shoes and – perhaps a highlight – a “skin lab” featuring possibly the largest collection of men’s skincare and grooming products outside Tokyo. In the corner is a bespoke barber shop offering haircuts and shaving services: understated and old world.
Next level up is Streetlab, a collection of casualwear, streetwear, sportswear, shoes and accessories. Again there is a mix of shop fronts and open displays where Siam Piwat has chosen the merchandise – and displayed it imaginatively. A highlight: sunglasses on batons both rising from the floor and descending from the ceiling. To complement the sporting and fitness theme, there is a salad bar and a Boost Juice cafe.
One more floor up is Digital Lab: gadgets, techno toys, cameras, stationery, even a store selling customised motorcycle helmets (it is opening with a display of helmets owned by famous Thais, including a popular actor and the head of a major bank). This is where you can fly a drone, check out a Yamaha display featuring MotoGP-themed bikes, or relax at an unusually designed Starbucks made from recycled materials.
Creative Lab, another level up, is largely a housewares store, including Thailand’s second Habitat shop and heavily Japanese-influenced displays of homewares, ornaments and collectibles. There is a Thann Spa, most certainly its most stunning design yet, an artisan coffee roaster, Cafe Now, and a tiered stairwell designed to encourage people to chill and relax much like they would in an Italian piazza – but in air-conditioned comfort. That space will be used for demonstrations and the occasional live music event.
And on the top floor, as well as the entrance to a new Virgin Active gym, there is a toy zone, books, outdoor gear space, a cafe and more places for interactive pop-up concepts.
As with the successful redesign of the adjacent Siam Centre, Chadatip worked with brands to ensure the centre offers products not available elsewhere. So even familiar brands have one-off displays or limited-edition runs – some carrying Siam Discovery or Siam Piwat branding for the launch.
Sato says Siam Discovery is his first project in Thailand, and his most ambitious anywhere to date. From day one he worked with Chadatip’s team on how to create a flow of visitors through the building.
Instead of the original two sets of escalators, there is now only one, creating more of a sense of space in the atrium. About 220 black frames have been built to hold LCD screens and other displays to draw people to the upper levels.
“So you have vertical flow, you have horizontal flow and then you create circular flow,” says Sato.
The concept of “lifestyle laboratories” reflects the aim of creating something markedly different to a conventional mall, where brands each have dedicated rooms in planned precincts. While “curating” is a term used all too loosely in modern retail, it does seem appropriate here. Teams of people have chosen products from a variety of brands to merchandise them in a complementary fashion so people walking through the centre will be guaranteed to see something new.
“The idea is not about adding products through brands, but through different lifestyles, cultures and trends,” says Sato. “So customers can choose their own lifestyle.
“We hope people coming here will be inspired, that they find something, and that every single person who comes here is challenged.”
Shopper, retailer or mall manager: from our experience during today’s preview, all will be equally challenged by the new Siam Discovery.