Giorgio Armani, Shanghai : The Bund

Despite a pretty tight work schedule in Shanghai last week, I had a couple of hours (and a central location) that gave me the opportunity to check out not just one, but two Giorgio Armani boutiques: the original flagship store situated directly on Shanghai’s famous Bund, and the one located within the very upmarket Plaza 66 skyscraper on Nanjing Road. In this post I will explore the 3 on the Bund location.

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Giorgio Armani opened this store back in 2004 (you can still find the press release online), as a way to shine the spotlight on the GA brand in China. The Bund was – and still is – one of the most highly trafficked tourist areas in Shanghai, both for Chinese and foreign tourists, and it seems that the position was selected mainly to ensure the Giorgio Armani name was suitably prominent. Many other luxury brands such as Cartier followed suit.

The Bund, however, was never considered a prime retail location; rather more of a branding exercise, with large crowds browsing but rarely buying. Piaget’s chief executive Philippe Leopold-Metzger summed it up nicely: “Locals don’t go to the Bund to buy luxury goods, and those that go to the Bund don’t buy luxury products.” If you walk around that area in the evening, you can see the truth in that statement. There’s an amazing and atmospheric view of the Pudong skyline across the river, but the Bund is more about tourist sight-seeing than high-end shopping.

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That dynamic has had a natural impact on the Bund, as other areas of Shanghai such as Jing’an have become more important as serious, affluent retail locations. The staggeringly huge and opulent Plaza 66, which I will cover tomorrow, is in the centre of Jing’an on the Nanjing Road, and you can see why those who shop for Gucci, Prada, Vuitton, Armani and Versace would prefer to spend time and money at such exclusive and elegant locations.

The result is a migration of premium brands away from the Bund in recent years. Like many things on the Bund, such as the slightly down-at-heel Waldorf Astoria just next door, this area has lost some of its sheen, and the luxury brands have moved on to more fashionable addresses. The GA Bund store actually closed it’s doors earlier this year, and the ground floor of it’s former address, 3 on the Bund, is now just an empty shell.

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There are still signs that this was once a Giorgio Armani flagship store; on the windows you can see the shadows of the branding manifestations, the name plate inside the building lift features “Giorgio Armani”, and inside the store you can still see the remains of the decor – the mirrors, spotlights and rolled white linear wall coverings that pre-date the current warm beige stone.

By pure fluke, I managed to be the last person to see the GA name plate within the building; I visited the store one rainy evening last week, taking a few snapshots, and by the very next day most of the branding was gone, because the old GA store had been turned onto a new Shanghai bar literally overnight. I personally watched the workmen moving the equipment in on Wednesday (you can see some of them inside the old store in the internal photo above), and by Thursday evening the bar was up and running in full swing. Inside there was still the old decor, even the changing rooms, hidden behind scaffolds of spotlights and a complete bar constructed in under 24 hours.

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It’s slightly sad to see what was once deemed to be the epicentre of Shanghai style turned into a hastily assembled cocktail bar, but on the other hand you can sense that this area no longer fits the brand. Tomorrow we’ll visit the impressive Plaza 66 skyscraper, and see where the Shanghainese shop for Armani nowadays.

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En Route to Shanghai

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My work sometimes takes me to quite interesting, far-flung, even exotic places, like Rio de Janiero in Brazil, Dhaka in Bangladesh, or as this past week, Shanghai in China. Shanghai is one of the most incredible destinations, full of vigour and bounce, and it’s also one of Asia’s most energetic and fast-moving fashion hubs. I hope to have enough time to visit two Giorgio Armani boutiques during this trip, as well as some of the other high end stores, and prove those points by exploring the way the face of Shanghai fashion has changed over the past decade.