An Amusing Greeting

At the Bottega Veneta pop-up store outside ION Orchard, a staffer had a curious way of welcoming shoppers

By Ray Zhang

The Bottega Veneta pop-up outside ION Orchard is a striking, unmissable block made of inflatable ‘masonry’ the colour of quartzite. When I spotted it from Wisma Atria, it was beckoning me unlike anything ever erected in this space, not even the mall’s annual Christmas installations. Opened last week, what could be a kid’s playroom looked serious and whimsical at the same time. At its front, tired pedestrians were lolling on the glassed (maybe it was just reflective?) benches arranged in a deliberately non-linear manner; the sitters belying the serious fashion merchandise that I assumed laid inside. As I approached the blow-up shop, shoppers—perhaps, browsers, or sightseers—emerged, giggling. Was it as fun inside as it appeared on the outside? The lure was more palpable.

I walked passed the opened entrance and a wordless doorman, and was immediately surprised to find the inside to be rather warm. Could it be due to the unbreathable material used (possibly PVC-coated vinyl) in the soft-to-touch structure? Some pieces of menswear were within reach. I looked at a denim jacket and a pair of jeans, hoping they were in the printed leather (they were not) that was so much talked about after it was shown last season. Suddenly a salesgirl in all-black appeared next to me and said, not quite chirpily, “Hi, do you have an account with us?” Account? Was I in a bank? Was this set-up for accounts holders only? I asked the unsmiling Gen-Z lass if I needed an account before I could shop. She said no, and went on to babble about something being able to serve me better if my account with the store was made know to her. When I teasingly said that I had no wish to have my spending monitored, she said defensively, “no, we don’t monitor you.”

I can understand why brands often desire to determine if a shopper is “registered” (another frequently used word) with their store. But need that be established first before even any interest in the merchandise was expressed by the visitor? The girl did not welcome me to the store, had not asked how I was, or if there was anything she could help me with—the standard SA reflexes. Rather, with an iPad (or some smart device) in hand, she was eager to enter my “account” details into the system. When she was not able to ascertain that I was a regular or return customer, she walked away. No apology for the intrusion or the unwelcome question. I was later informed that she was “a part-timer”. But, that occupational detail did not negate the disquieting encounter. Interestingly, I have never had to content against such an imposition in a Bottega Veneta store outside our island. Was it bad to shop anonymously, as I always have?

I continued my exploration of the temporary space that looked as large as a living room. A male staffer finally asked me if I needed assistance or if anything caught my interest. He went on to explain that the pop-up featured mainly new merchandise from the latest season. The truth is that I was so thrown off by that earlier unfriendly encounter that I was not in the mood to browse and absorb. Compounded by the heat, the ten minutes or so I was in the store was as memorable—and bearable—as inside an old MRT train with questionable cooling capability. But perhaps what was more pertinent: how experiential was it in there? It is not unreasonable that in building a distinctly different and separate store, Bottega Veneta had wanted to offer shoppers something not just provisional but unforgettable, an environment that is different, a visit that could be fun. I was not sure I walked away especially delighted by what I saw and heard, and felt.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

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