Closures: The Top Three Reads Of 2021

It appears that the closing of stores permanently is what many like to read

We have never really been too concerned with figures pertaining to our viewership or what people like to read, but it’s interesting to see, as we look back at this past year—still pandemic-stricken, that the top three posts of the year are those about brands and businesses closing here. It is always regrettable and sad that good businesses close down despite their best efforts to stay afloat. The many closures this past year, not just these three mentioned in this post, suggest to us that other than real economic factors, retailers are indeed facing declining shopper numbers. No real study has been conducted to understand why people are no longer shopping at physical stores other than the general belief that most consumers prefer to do it online, as attested by the popularity of Shopee and the rising tide of livestream selling.

At the top of the list, and sitting way above the second and the third, is the closure of Pedder on Scotts in September. The “it’s hard to say goodbye” closing down sale of Pedder on Scotts, after five years operating on the entire second floor of Scotts Square, surprised many. On Pedder at Takashimaya Shopping Centre remains open. Also totally unexpected was the closure of AW Lab. Headquarted in Italy, AW Lab has considerable presence in Europe. On our island, they had four stores. They closed all of them at the end of November last year. The least anticipated permanent shuttering was the closure of Temt. Sitting on the third place of the most read post, the Australian fast-fashion brand seemed to enjoy a heathy fan base, but that was not sufficient to keep them buoyant and alive.

It is hard not to see that many of our shoppers here are attracted to reports of stores that would no longer exist, as if they have been placing wagers on who would go next. Interestingly, our top read last year was about the closure of Topshop (and Topman) here. The subsequent media coverage was about how “fans mourn” the passing of an era. With the pandemic still very real, it does appear that shopping in a physical store would increasingly look like an activity of an age past and forgotten. No one is too concern with the rapid vanishing of real spaces in which you are able to see, touch and feel tangible merchandise (since, as the common refrain goes, “you can get anything online”). We have lost our position as a shopping destination a long time ago. It does not seem we would be reclaiming that status any time soon.

File photos: SOTD

Pedder On Scotts Walks The End Of The Road

Hong Kong’s premium shoe emporium will close for good at the end of this month. But their parent store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre remains

The tell-tale signs on the front side of Scotts Square were there, way back when Hermès closed in 2019, followed by Delvaux, the Belgian bag’s flagship store and then Alexander McQueen’s—this year. The mall, one of the smallest in Orchard Road, seems to be shedding its high-end image. A former marketing staff with Wheelock Properties once told us that they would be filling their spaces “with exclusive luxury brands not found elsewhere”. The Business Times once described it as “home of luxury”. But with the debut of the LA eatery Eggslut next week (official opening on the 9th) in the corner where Hermès (and Mosscape Concept after that) vacated, are we looking at a less “exclusive” image? A long queue was seen this morning when they opened for “family and friends”. Long is expected when Eggslut finally opens to the egg-loving public. Is F&B the direction Scotts Square is going, especially with crowd-pulling names? Could this be the reason why Pedder on Scotts is closing—they no longer fit?

Pedder on Scotts’s “It’s hard to say goodbye” closing down sale (“up to 80% off”, but not everything is marked down to clear) started sharing on social media this week (the store’s website and Instagram pages are no more). We are not surprised by the closure announcement. Since the start of the pandemic, the store, occupying the whole floor of the three-storey mall, has been looking a tad less glorious than their former self. Some mall leasing managers we know were already speaking of a “massive space to be available in Scotts Square soon”. News of their closing travelled fast. Although it is stated on their communication material that opening hours are from “10am to 6pm daily”, the store welcome shoppers an hour later—“open eleven (sic)”, a staffer said brusquely when we asked her if they were closing down. By 10.30, people were milling in the corridor, with the crowd concentrated at Coffee Academics, the atas Hong Kong cafe situated in the Scotts Road-facing corner of the floor. When asked why the store would be closing, another staffer, a lot chirpier, told us it’s because of “landlord change”.

We’re not sure what to make of that surprising reveal. Scotts Square has been, for as long as we remember, a part of Wheelock Properties. A staffer in the mall told us that “the place is now under Wharf”, which is really Wharf Estates, a subsidiary of the esteemed, 135-year-old Hong Kong-based Wharf Real Estate Investment Company that is behind popular HK shopping destination such as Harbour City and Time Square. Known to the staff of the mall here as Wharf, the operator is, according to their website, “formerly known as Wheelock Properties (Singapore)”. Scotts Square and Wheelock Place are two of Wharf Estates’ commercial properties on our island. Is dropping the Wheelock name as owner of the mall reason to belief that there is a “landlord change”? Or is Wharf Estate truly rejigging their tenant mix so dramatically that staff of their lessees believe some major overhaul is afoot?

Pedder on Scotts opened in October 2015. The massiveness of the store—20,000 sqf—and the breadth of the merchandise were seen as a strong boost to luxury retail here. It was an emporium—specialty store, really—unlike any SG had seen, however large our consumption of luxury footwear. One fashion stylist at the store’s opening party, we vividly remember, called the product offering “orgiastic”. Shoe-lovers would not see that as exaggeration. Before the arrival of Pedder on Scotts, the largest standalone footwear haven was parent store On Pedder at Takashimaya Shopping Centre. We were told On Pedder would not close down. The women’s shoes in the Scotts store would move there, but the men’s and the sneakers would not. They will be “discontinued”. It is unclear what the fate of Canada Goose’s boutique in Pedder on Scotts is (Coffee Academics, it seems, will stay). Pedder Red (closed at Takashimaya Shopping Centre), the in-house, pocket-friendly diffusion line, will cease to exist too.

When we spoke to a society lady earlier today, she said that it may not be right to conclude, as many have, that Pedder on Scotts is closing because of discouraging sales as a result of the COVID pandemic. “U assume they weren’t doing well, but in reality they were,” she texted us. “Many (socialites) shop there. I have seen them. (They) don’t blink an eye at buying a few pairs at a go. Not unusual for them to spend 1k on a pair and they shop a lot. So on average 3k to 5k.” What did they buy, we wondered. “Dressy heels,” came the quick reply. It may surprise some that heels are selling when Crocs are increasingly popular, even among the fashion set. But, a former magazine editor told us, “Pedder on Scotts has their customers, but how many shiny, glittery heels do ladies need during this pandemic?” To him, price is the store’s undoing: “how to sustain if the selection is always pricey. Sneaker sales can only help so much. (They) need to have a nice (selection) of affordable practical styles as well, no?”

Affordability is increasingly not an issue in the marketing of luxury footwear. Otherwise, Louis Vuitton and the like would resist increasing their prices, repeatedly. What is appreciable of Pedder on Scotts is their attempt at going beyond just running a shoe store, and a static one. Sure, they have introduced us to otherwise alien-to-our-shore brands such as Malone Souliers, Rene Caovilla, Sophia Webster, and Tabitha Simmons, and, for men, Japanese advant-gardiste Yoshio Kubo, but they did broadened their offerings to include exquisite accessories, such as bags (Benedetta Bruzziches) and eyewear (Linda Farrow), and introduced items not-bound-for-feet products, such as the home ware of Fornasetti and the fragrances of Maison Francis Kurkdjian. They have supported local creatives too, staging the Onitsuka Tiger Stripes 50th Anniversary exhibition, featuring the collaborative works of our own designers and media professionals and, also in the same year, invited photographer Mark Law and fashion stylist Jeremy Tan to exhibit their work, as well as the entries of the finalists of Harper’s Bazaar’s NewGen design competition. At Pedder on Scotts, there was community outside the patronage of socialites. We shall miss all that.

Pedder on Scotts will be permanently closed on 26 September 2021. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

One Floor Full Of Shoes

Pedder on Scotts 1

By Shu Xie

If there’s one item of accoutrement that has lent itself to much ado in contemporary life, it is our shoes. Yet, a shoe obsessive does not often talk about the places where she gets her fix. I don’t need to cite the much-quoted Carrie Bradshaw’s affinity for designer heels to underscore shoes’ importance in the steps taken to navigate the hazards of urban spaces (and the maze that is modern love), but it is interesting to note that it has been Charlotte York who gets to experience shoes in a retail setting and lives to tell it. I am referring to the Sex and the City episode ‘La Douleur Exquise!’ in which Charlotte gives in to the product offers of Buster, a luxury shoe salesman, only to find out, with shock and distaste, the man has a foot fetish! It is the only episode of the quirky HBO series to have major scenes set in a shoe shop.

The new footwear behemoth Pedder on Scotts, opened two days ago in Scotts Square, is not likely to be a backdrop for such libertine antics, but it is a setting that has dramatic potential. Until Pedder on Scotts came along, many retailers in Singapore have, for reason of cost or lack of creativity, or both, largely forgotten that a unique customer experience can be had when stores incorporate a sense of theatre into their selling space. Pedder on Scotts is a seriously up-sized offshoot of On Pedder, Hong Kong’s most prominent shoe emporium with two stores in Singapore that has, since their local debut, offered merchandise in what the company touts as “visually progressive, innovative environments”. Simply put, it’s theatrical.

On Pedder@Pedder on Scotts

My visit to Pedder on Scotts was on a Friday afternoon, three days after it opened— the PSI-132 haze was perfect pretext to be ensconced in a shoe store. Once inside the atrium of Scotts Square, Pedder on Scotts is unmissable. The somewhat ’70s-looking metalwork screen bearing the three-word name—installed on both of the longer sides of the second floor—beckons like a beacon. One escalator ride up and you’re right in the thick of things. Pedder on Scotts is the proverbial candy store; it is designed and stocked to charm and captivate. Every heel, every pump, every sneaker is the equivalent of pastille, butterscotch, and nougat! And at every turn, you’re bordered by confections for feet.

It’s no exaggeration to say Pedder on Scotts is big. As the previous incarnation On Pedder, it occupied, on the same floor, 4,880-square-foot of space. The maxi-me version now enjoys anchor tenant status with 20,000 square feet to fill (that’s the size of the ballroom in Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago mansion in Florida, just in case you’re wondering). And fill it does, with more than 100 labels, across six main categories (if you try, you could probably find a glass slipper!). It is laid out like a department store, with each category housed in what can be best described as store-within-a-store, electrified by their distinct personalities. No two are alike, yet there’s a synergy that speak of the globalism of modern design. The sum is not only multi-media and multi-sensory, it’s multi-cultural. All in all, it could be what Betsy Johnson had in mind when asked to describe her personal style: “Punk, sexy, sparkly, pretty, pure.”

Peddar on Scotts Manneqins

This is no place to galumph. I certainly did not. Stepping off the escalator, I turned right. There’s no reason to, but I did. Perhaps I was led by some invisible guide. As I went from section to section, taking in the vast array of shoes—many so sculptural they deserve their art gallery display—and noting the welcome elegance of some pieces (such as those by Nicholas Kirkwood), I was struck by how many mannequins there were for a store that does not sell clothes. Some of them were dressed, such as those with “tacked” blazers (as seen in the first fit of a bespoke suit) in On Pedder Men, but most of them were unclothed. All held something, from shoes to bags, augmenting the relationship between footwear (and accessories) and the wearer. As I continued along the outer corridor, it dawned on me that Peddar on Scotts could be the place for shoe lovers to take their evening constitutional.

My first encounter with On Pedder was in Hong Kong in their breakthrough store on Pedder Street, a major thoroughfare in the city’s Central District that was named after the island’s first harbour master, Lieutenant William Pedder. This part of Hong Kong no longer hints at its British maritime past. Pedder Street was, for a rather long time, associated with the Pedder Building, a 1923 Beaux-Arts style edifice that was, in the late ’80s, noted for its numerous outlet shops. It later housed the first Shanghai Tang that, to the shock of industry watchers, gave way to Abercrombie & Fitch in 2011. On Pedder’s opening on the street in the mid-Nineties brought luxury retail to a side of Central District’s high-end shopping that curiously stopped at The Landmark, which sits just opposite the shoe store. It was here, about a decade ago, that I came face to face, for the first time, Azzedine Alaia’s shoes—those caressable pairs composed of incredible shapes of leather fashioned atop vertiginous heels—that elevated my appreciation of fine footwear. Blame my unflagging enthusiasm on first impressions: some encounters you just don’t forget.

Weekend & Sports@Peddar on Scotts

Hong Kong’s On Peddar, as with kindred store Lane Crawford, offers merchandise that are never availed on their own, even when, by themselves, they merit the accolades they attract. It is the setting, the context, or the tableau in which they’re retailed that accentuates their desirability. A vase, however beautiful, is more appealing when it has an attractive surrounding to complement it. The retail theatre in Pedder on Scotts follows a European tradition that goes back to as early as the mid-19th Century. Back then, especially in Paris, stores such as Galeries Lafayette and Printemp (both regrettably no longer in Singapore) welcomed shoppers with an Art Nouveau-inspired wonderland of visual excess that seemed to be conceived to upstage the Paris Opera! They were designed to wow, an approach, no doubt, today’s Instagrammers could appreciate.

While we have not seen stores such as Pedder on Scotts anywhere in Orchard Road for a long time, few people seem excited by it—to the extent that there seem to be a collective sigh: as asked by Life of The Straits Times, “How risky is such a bold move at a time when retail is suffering?” With competition from e-commerce and suburban malls, retail in Orchard Road is looking dismal. However bleak, there’s no negating the glimmer Pedder on Scotts has sparked. Shopping online may be convenient, but a visit to a store is more experiential than sitting in front of a computer or mobile screen. A brick and mortar boutique is, therefore, still unassailable for luxury and exclusivity. Pedder on Scotts is compelling because it clearly offers a more kinetic experience than shopping online. I am sure you can put on a pair of running shoes to test by sprinting on the wide passageway that forms the inner perimeter of the store. And if you do, you’ll be quietly absorbed by the amalgamation of the elegant and the cutting-edge that looks effortlessly pulled together. It may seem visually busy, but the store’s inventory layout generates a feeling of spaciousness—a graphically appointed openness that arouses curiosity.

Weekend & Sports@Peddar on Scotts 2

Perhaps Orchard Road is so saturated with brands that we are no longer interested with what’s there, and not proud of those few businesses that have made an impact on what Orchard Road Business Association (ORBA) calls “a great street”. Greatness was how we once viewed this shopping stretch, but pride no longer takes its place in our hearts, now influenced by everything online, including seeking a spouse. We were once proud of the firsts that sprang up here: the first upmarket shopping centre (Lucky Plaza, 1981), the first Orchard Road Light-Up (1984), the first cineplex (Lido, 1993), just to name a few. However, who is still enamoured with Orchard Road these days? Increasingly it is filled with stores that retail experts call “transactional”, and increasingly, our relationship with Orchard Road is just that: to seek deals—defined unimaginatively by the annual Great Singapore Sale.

When luxury brands opened up to the masses about a decade ago and conspicuous consumption—ratified via social media—became fashionable, perhaps even those who care about the beauty of shoes, or is partial to stratospherically priced heels, are no longer concerned about the surroundings in which shoes are sold. The retail environment of Pedder on Scotts, like some of their shoes, is artistic, but even if shoppers are indifferent to it, the impressive scale produced an authentic sense of theatrical retailing that should be noted for its rarity. In Pedder on Scotts, I saw a shot of optimism, even when some members of the media perceived a store amid “suffering”. Through his writings, French novelist Alphonse Daudet wanted to set himself up as “a merchant of happiness”. I think Pedder on Scotts is on the same path.

Pedder on Scotts is on level 2, Scotts Square, Scotts Road. Photos: Jim Sim