Beam Me Out, Scotty!

Beams @ Kapok 1Beams 30 Days Store in Kapok, November 2014

By Raiment Young

The news of Japanese retailer Beams setting up a pop-up store in Singapore was met with much enthusiasm. Well, maybe not with the same fervour as the launch of designer-fast fashion collaborations, but still with considerable interest. For those in the know, Beams opening here is as awesome as a rainbow emerging after a rain. When I finally paid a visit a week after the store was launched in the multi-label and multi-product Kapok—the National Design Centre’s only retail outlet, I was, sadly, rather let down with what I saw. I am saying this because a year ago in Bangkok, I visited Beam’s first Southeast Asian pop-up, and it has to be said that that was a more experiential outpost.

Firstly, Beams in Bangkok was a 100-day affair. Here, it’s up and running for only as long as it takes the moon to orbit the earth plus, roughly, three days. Secondly, Beams in the Thai capital was situated in Paragon Department Store with a space that was easily 10 times larger than what it occupies in Kapok. Here, it comprises one rack of clothes, one shelving unit of small bags and cases, and three low cupboards of knick-knacks. This is no “store”, not when all of it can fit into an average bathroom. It was so underwhelming, I needed a caffeine boost to compensate the lack of retail shiok. Is that why its immediate neighbour is Cafe Kapok?

Beams in BKKBeams 100 Days Store in Bangkok, November 2013

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of Beams. It’s one of those shops I visit with keenness in my yearly pilgrimage to Tokyo. Beams is a Tokyo original; it was there in Harajuku in 1976, before others such as recent fave Urban Research aped their look and product mix. It didn’t start with the high fashion it also stocks today, with stores throughout Japan, and in Asian hub-cities Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Taipei. In the beginning, Beams was essentially a young men’s fashion stop, stocked with mostly basic apparel, merchandised around Japanese lads’ love of Americana. It has since evolved—like good stores usually do—into a lifestyle trove of incredible range. Some people refer to it as a department store, but I tend not to since individually they’re nowhere near behemoths such as Isetan. But they do offer quite a staggering breadth of merchandise, sort of a faddish Muji on steroids.

And it’s the selection that lends Beams its incredible pull. They’re well curated (an exercise they do so convincingly even before the practice became trendy or the word a catchphrase), always juxtaposing this and that in refreshing or unexpected ways. We’re not just talking about the clothes. There are also those attendant miscellanies that complement the fashion. One of their oldest stores Beams Japan in Shinjuku—a 7-storey wonderland—stocks a sprightly medley of wardrobe basics, international designer labels, bags, shoes, stationery, home ware, and even furniture that has as much practical use as visual value—a visit is not a mere-minutes affair. It continues to captivate by tapping on their customers’ love and flair for mixing the everyday with the extraordinary into melanges that are unusual, unexpected, and uniquely Japanese.

Beams @ Kapok 2Beam’s Singapore-only merchandise, the ‘Do Not Disturb, Please’ series

For Bangkok, Beams stated: “With a focus on ten original labels aimed at those who have never shopped at BEAMS before, the store will feature a wide range of products, including men’s and women’s casual wear, accessories, bags, golf wear, art goods, and more.” One year later in Singapore, the plate, rather than platter, sadly looks like leftover from our northern neighbour. Instead of presenting an assortment that gives an idea of the scope they cover, Beams offers a modest version of itself. The small selection of merchandise may appeal to those with a smattering idea of Beams, but they hardly charm those who expect a more representational Beams Japan. Against Kapok’s wider and more fascinating assortment of goods, Beams is quite lost, effectively reversing Kapok as a Beams wannabe!

Beams is known for their clothes, but here, they barely touch your sleeves, let alone your heartstrings. On a single clothes rack about a metre wide, there are four dresses (in two styles), five different short-sleeved tees, nine different pullovers, one sweater-knit cardigan, two sweatshirt hoodies, one blazer, one shirt-jacket, one black cotton shirt, two chinos (one khaki and one off-white), and a pair of dark denim jeans. Sure, Beams is known for their basics, but they’re basics for those who have outgrown Uniqlo! Gazing at the selection here, you wouldn’t have guessed. A young woman who looked as if she’s en route to the nearby SOTA for class exclaimed, without flipping anything on the rack, “Huh, is that all?”

I’m not saying the products are bad. Far from it, they’re of the quality that typifies the merchandise of the Japanese retailer. It is the selection that is lacking. Perhaps much of the products were sold out or perhaps it’s really a reflection of the sophistication of the Singaporean shopper than Beams deliberately under-stocking. As T-shirt-and-shorts-and-flip-flop nation, we don’t really shout out to new-to-market brands that we are likely going to consume with the same appetite and discernment as fellow shoppers in other Asian cities. We love our dress-down selves too much, and Beams is merely giving us what they think we want. “Do not disturb, please”—a Beams exclusive line of tees and caps conceived by design director Akira Taneichi—is their clever way of not upsetting the status quo. Sitting 50 metres away from the pop-up with a cup of latte in my hand, it dawned on me that same time this year, we’ll forget Beams was ever here.

Beams 30 Days Pop-Up Store is at Kapok, National Design Centre, Middle Road, from 6 November to 7 December. Photos: Jim Sim