One of our oldest apparel stores opens their largest Orchard Road store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. But, is big necessarily better?
Newly-opened The Editor’s Market at Takashimaya Shopping Centre
By Emma Ng
With the pandemic not quite over, many clothing brands have found themselves unable to survive and have, therefore, shuttered their business. Yet, the dismal retail climate does not deter some local brands from raising their visibility. Rather than downsizing, they are expanding, both in terms of selling space and merchandise breadth. One of them is eleven-year-old The Editor’s Market (TEM). Its flagship-to-replace-the-313@Somerset-flagship—opened just last Friday—is massive, larger than any of their physical stores that I can remember, including, what to me was their best—at Orchard Central (OC). This time, like at OC, the store is stocked to offer more than apparel, even when there’s a dizzying dominance of clothes that I’m sure I have already seen elsewhere. There are household items too, as well as a plant counter by Soilboy, a set-up that’s part of the lofty, “Flagship Opening Festival”, one of no specific duration. There’s even a small café, with a not-related-to-caffeine-or-java moniker, Found. I overheard a shopper saying delightfully in Mandarin to her companion, “this is great. My boyfriend can wait for me while I shop. Can’t complain I’d take too long.”
At the new 8,000 sq ft TEM, which occupies the old Zara women’s store, I can understand why she won’t be done shopping quickly. Entering the inelaborate space, I could see what my not-20/20 vision allowed. It was really a sea of clothes, as far back as the barely visible rear wall. Although I noticed that there were relatively wide aisles between racks, the frightful abundance of clothes immediately brought to my mind aesthetically similar brands such as Iora at Wisma Atria next door, or Playdress at Suntec City. I struggled to see how this vast amount of merchandise would budge in bulk. It was hard to imagine any shopper needing this much choice. Even after giving myself some time to absorb what was before me, I could not pick out anything that spoke to me in the overwhelming much of muchness. It’s mass appeal sacrificing appeal for mass. The Editor’s Market in my memory was not like that. Or did I remember it incorrectly?
The simple decor of the interior
Almost no styling attempted on the dressing of the mannequin
Before they were The Editor’s Market, they were Hula & Co (both at one time brands under the parent company Hula Outfitters), a business that went as far back as 2002, three years before Love, Bonito was founded as a blogshop (then known as Bonito Chicco). At the very beginning, Hula & Co—which had nothing to do with the hoop or the dance—was a pushcart enterprise at Far East Plaza, a mall built even earlier, in 1983. I have faint memory of their stall of that time. While small, they did not begin as an e-retailer, as others did. It was completely a physical existence, started by three partners, with Vivian Low as the main spokesperson (the other two are mainly quiet). However, Hula & Co did not sell via a stall for too long. Sales were good enough that they eventually cast aside the pushcart and moved into a shop space in the same mall, on level three, if my memory serves me. Later, other stores opened—I do recall at least one: at Citilink, a humble affair with merchandise that barely left an impression on me. They appeared to sell similar products as the other clothing stores that dotted the shopping conduit, connecting City Hall MRT station to Suntec City. Hula & Co stopped spinning in 2009. The next year, The Editor’s Market opened at Cineleisure Orchard.
TEM was a breakaway from Hula & Co. For one, it looked better. Its first store was spacious, predominantly white, and interestingly zoned to encourage browsing. And when you bought something, the purchase would be bagged in a paper carrier with the eye-catching, straight-alternating-with-zig-zag lines. They were, I remember, a multi-label store during those early years. Unknown names were sold alongside recognisable ones such as House of Harlow (founded by Nicole Ritchie!), and the now-closed Cheap Monday. TEM even described themselves as “the ultimate hipster and fashion destination”. Additional appeal of the place came in the form of their pricing: three-tiered. The more you bought, the cheaper the items became (that pricing model was terminated last year in favour of the fixed price). Then they opened their most interesting store in Orchard Central, known as The Editor’s Market Avenue. More international labels were housed here under a concept “extension” known as Preview, where, among others, the tasteful French label Surface to Air and the gaudy American shoe brand Jeffrey Campbell were found. There was even a men’s collection. But in 2015, a fire broke out, and the multi-label store became one with namely an in-house brand.
In the middle of the store, a sort-of-pushcart, to remind the founders of their Far East Plaza days?
The “Life” section of the store dedicated to homeware
Yet, their latest, which brings the total number of outlets on our island to four, is not entirely a mono-brand store. Sure, the clothing is largely eponymously labelled—apart from local activewear brand Kydra—but other products are more plural. There are footwear labels Veja, Superga, and Havaianas. And bags from Afterall (their own sub-brand) and Baggu, an American brand that I first spotted at the now defunct multi-label store Rockstar, The Editor’s Market’s competitor at Cineleisure Orchard. In fact, a two-way tote in horizontal stripes, like the Breton tee, reminded me of one I saw at Rockstar back in 2013. It was then priced S$38, but today, the same bag at TEM is retailing at S$55. Non-fashion items sold alongside the clothes include mugs and tumblers by the Japanese brand Rivers. To bring back their former hipster vibe, hipster magazines are placed randomly among the merchandise: Another, Cereal, and Dansk. I assume they are for sale. It’d be too pretentious if they serve as props.
Single-bar racks dominate the flagship, all at barely varying heights that presumably syncs with how tall their shoppers are. I was pleased to see that the racks were not too tightly packed on both weekends I was there, which meant that I didn’t have to rummage. But no matter which corner I explored, I was bound to see something—a blouse, a dress—that I thought I saw just moments ago. In similar fabrics whose hand feel did not meet long-wearing comfort grade. What was especially disconcerting was that none of the clothes appeared to me to have been pressed. Not even those in linen. When I looked back at the service counter in the rear, I did not see a steamer. It is possible that, in rushing to open, they allowed the clothes to go directly from box to rack. If TEM offers predominantly “everyday wear” or what Her World would call “basic dresses you can wear on repeat”, I guess the clothes had to look the part. Aesthetically, TEM did not seem to have moved forward from the formative Hula & Co years.
In more than 10 years, the silhouette adopted at The Editor’s Market has not changed. Left: a Hula & Co spaghetti-strapped dress from 2011, Right: a similar dress from the current season of The Editor’s Market. Photos: the respective brands
Perhaps fashion does not change after all. Left: Hula & Co top and ultra-faded, high-waisted skinny jeans from 2011. Right: The Editor’ Market top and ultra-faded, high-waisted skinny jeans from the current season, a neat decade later. Photos: respective brands
To be fair, the brand does not pretend to be a clothier of elevated positioning. They sell what some members of the media describe as “democratic pieces”. Democracy is timeless, even aesthetic democracy. What was democratic yesterday would be democratic tomorrow. Could this explain why the silhouettes vary almost not at all, from the time of Hula & Co to now? As the brand’s business development director Spencer Wong (also Ms Low’s husband) told Inside Retail, “we do not zealously follow fashion trends”. He added that they “focus on creating clothing that is timeless and can be worn season after season”. Without ironing. And, timelessness, like democracy, can resist the restriction to a particular moment. Yesterday is no different from today. This is, perhaps, best exemplified in the how-to-style videos that co-founder Ms Low posted on Facebook. She wore what are popularly known as “romantic maxi-dresses”, and they could have been from Hula & Co from many years ago. Who, I wonder, has not progressed: the customer or the brand?
The lack of newness in the merchandise and, regrettably, compelling visual merchandising may work in TEM’s favour. Over the past weekend, most of the women I saw at the store seemed ready for more of the same. They paid no heed to any of the already minimal displays or what was worn on the mannequins. They zeroed in on the clothes hung on the racks, picked the pieces they liked—as many as they could carry, and headed for the fitting room, sometimes leaving behind racks not in their original state, while bored boyfriends, unable to secure a seat at Found, looked desperate to leave. I felt sorry for the staff as many were busy neatening the racks and returning clothes to their proper places, rather than standing by to assist the shoppers. There was a pasar spirit to the place, which may be considered a plus since it would be consistent with the store’s moniker. I was hoping to leave with a purchase, but the hope was, at the start, somewhat futile and destined to be dashed. Two teens next to me were truly excited to be in the sea of clothes. I asked them if they are fans of the brands. “Yah, for very long already,” one of them replied. Because? “Because they are cheap and good.” With that, they giggled and disappeared.
Photos: Chin Boh Kay