Wednesday, 17 June 2009


I've been totally four nelsoned on the shopping here in Hong Kong. Most of 'yall know that really I'm a wannabe flaky hippy. I fly as little as I can, switch off lights and appliances religiously, use a fan instead of air conditioning even if it's a little bit uncomfortable, want to grow my own vegetables and have my own chicken coup I'm struck that I could probably fish for my tea while I'm on Fantasy Island.

Anyway that doesn't mean I'm anti wealth creation at all. We need to create value or utility in our lives (preferably both) and that is extended through the media of money and it's systems operations of banking with cash or the more sophisticated credit constructs should you want to borrow it. This isn't the time or place to go into money as media which is a really interesting construct when the penny drops which it will do if China get their mojo in place, and the United States blinks over the whole optimism or die philosophy which in itself is a lot more powerful than I ever thought and up there with a sort of Nietzsche Will to Power sublimation of virtue.

However, I love beauty. I frequently duck into designer shops and invariably check out the female ranges because I always walk out with an elevated sense of the human spirit when I see how beautiful some stuff is ( In the last week it's been Miu Miu Greek Mosaics, The Prada White Cotton smock tops, The Dior Boots, The Prada low key distressed leather bags (impeccable inconspicuous consumption timing), The latest Kenzo range (quite a departure) and blah blah blah you get the drift.

It also applies to the baubles of male accessories such as glasses, bags and watches as I'm not really into men's designers per se. It contravenes my code for self indulgence which is entirely paradoxical with my propensity to buy the accessories I've just mentioned but hey; each to his own and anyway that American Starred D&G jacket is whistling each time I pass there IFC outlet.

I thought I'd hauled in all that conspicuous consumption because apart from some Chanel Shades I bought in Beijing last year and two dirt cheap kettles I burnt through neglect, I've hardly bought anything that I thought was wasteful. Anyway I've  been having a complete fucking nightmare with PCCW who are just the ultimate time wasting idiots in the telecommunication business this side of Kowloon.

They fail to recognise the lose-lose logic output of their business because they waste both their time and mine. I ducked into Sunglasses Hut to convey that to them after twenty minutes of being put on hold five or more times that they were trying my patience and I was immediately aware while entering the quieter public space of the shop that I was using their space to conduct my business, but being a cheeky sod, I still asked for a pen to make a note.

When I was finished they cunningly asked me if I'd like to look at some sunglasses. Well the answer was no, because I have the glasses I love very much, I lose stuff all the time and it's expensive buying expensive shades or rather doubly so for me. However acutely aware that I was both using their premises ostensibly to sort out a 20 HK dollar problem (a few pounds) and that they had the Ferragamo shades I'd long been in love with since Beijing (that were on sale for half price at over a thousand HK dollars), I began to repeat over and over to myself that I didn't need them, couldn't afford them, would lose them or spill superglue on them in the cinema like the Chanel shades (don't ask). 

But the sheer patience of the staff in dealing with me, their manners, their small kindnesses and gentle chiding that the Ferragamo looked great of me (sweet mouths you) and before I knew it I was pulling out my card and getting the shades which are super super thin and lightweight, and so hardly no carbon footprint at all, but in any case I made it clear to the staff that they had proatively sold me the product and that I had enjoyed the experience. 

That's how I am. I try to save 20 bucks with my useless PCCW phone operator and end up spending well over 50 times that amount because I love good manners, good design and kindness.

The point came home to me again the next day because I met up with Noah, and while browsing a few shops ambled past the new IWC flagship store that had just opened. They make those Schaffenhausen watches which are v. popular in Asia, and being as Noah is a watch watcher's son (ha ha) we both went in. 

Well the first thing I noticed was a fragrance that I liked, and the lady greeting us said it wasn't for sale as it was the boutique fragrance and piped around what looked like a mid 19th century modestly wood panelled study with some very expensive watches; the most expensive more than a million.

Anyway the service was impeccable and really friendly. I liked the way they didn't look down on us, dressed in our hard to determine, how wedged-up we were, kind of way. And that's the critical point about luxury sales. I've spent enough time in luxury shops to know when the sales staff are being arseholes making sniffy comments, adjusting everything I touch or even just looking at their own watches which is a universal language for your wasting my time. Which isn't true if they know me but waaay to many luxury brands just don't get it that not all lovers of beauty dress like ostentatious pricks all the time. 

We like nice things and frankly I like second hand or used things too. Style is a matter of taste, not money but to be dripping in branded goods just shows a lack of imagination and there should always be something that isn't OBVIOUS.

 So moving on I have to admit that I don't really like the IWC Schaffenhausen watches. They are too big and just not my cup of tea. I wasn't adding potential candidates to my consideration set which is more of a fantasy league than anything. But anyway, Noah spotted that among the cool merchandise and social objects in the newly opened, and worldwide flagship store that they had a flight simulator cockpit for a spitfire, complete with video screen to play on. I'm way to British to ask to use these things but one thing I like about Americans is the relaxed way of inquiring about using stuff that seems to more often in the affirmative than if I had tried. So he got into the cockpit and proceeded to crash the plane repeatedly; thus losing us the second world war and obviously the liberation of Europe :P

While Noah repeatedly nose dived the flight simulator I was offered a glass of champagne which frankly I'm always up for but felt it would be misleading to drink. Once again the highly professional and admirably persistent sales assistant (Kam Fok) ignored my reservations, and delivered two glasses of Poo while I was given the only watch in the place that I would even vaguely consider. Still, it felt dam good on my slender wrists.

My stupid first thought was that it could be used in a backward clenched fist wrist to face defense manoeuvrings on some fictional assailant, which might sound aggressive and that I watch to many Chuck Norris movies, but I was informed that it was the official watch for the US Air Force a year or two ago, and is built to withstand the usual thermonuclear warfare as well as convert into a Swiss knife and portable Smeg Kitchen at the press of a button. 

But the line in the sand for me was it was called Top Gun and without even expressing my disdain for Hollywood approved merchandise it was conveyed to me by Mis Fok, that Top Gun was all about the military terminology, and is approved by the USA, but also nothing to do with the movie which is obvious when we think about because the movie is about real life and not the other way round. Sheesh anyone would think I've only been here three months instead of close to 15 years of pretty deep Asian immersion I've touched upon over here , here and here.

So the magic of this process is that even though I'm not a Schaffenhausen IWC fan. If I ever go down the route of a chunky luxury watch I'm half inclined to go down to the boutique and try that sucker on one more time because it felt so good. That's how sales are made and the old mistaken trope that snobby service is how discerning people like to separate there affluent wheat from the fiscally diminished chaff is just retarded. The luxury stores that know how to swing a sale from the likes of me and quite a few others I know is to be human, treat us like humans and you know. Try and enjoy your job which means making it a challenge to find a way to make a good impression. Social media might give us a second chance to make a first impression but real life is still about old fashioned intelligence, courtesy, humour, effort and swinging the impossible sale. It can be done.

Anway, this post has reiterated the indulgence I have been shamefully shopping in, and I've been promising it to Musa for a few days so rather than go into the social media opportunities for luxury brands I'll wrap up on my last Hong Kong luxury retail experience that prompted me to start writing.

After yet another wonderful fly up near The Old Bailey our gang of four descended the hill towards H&M to get a hat for Sherri. Chris paused at the lights and noticed that a new luxury baggage shop had opened. Let me dig out the card.

Bothos Flagship Store. OK, so I tailed Chris in and noticed one bag that really was a lovely beast of tan and white leather breezy travelling beauty and functionality. I know what I like and it was working. I immediately assesed its price around 5-10 K Hong Kong Dollars and parked the notion of buying it. However I was stunned yet again that Fillipo Perricone and his partner made more than an effort to explain the craftsmanship of the bag which I learned was made from Camel leather and makes for an interesting provenance story I thought. 

But you know it wasn't the willingness to explain the bag in a newly opened store. I'd expect that but I felt there was genuine interest from the owners towards someone who was genuinely interested in that bag. Polite conversation and a sort of matched agenda of people who know about making great luxury leather products and someone who actually has a bit of a bag fetish though usually for products out of his budget.

Then for the second time in my life and also in two days Phillipe offered me a glass of wine which I'd have definitely gone for but noticed that the original reason for popping into the shop was now standing around waiting politely for me to finish chatting (thanks guys. I appreciated it because I was off on luxury marketing for the third millennium at that point and most touched by some simple words by Phillipe that he didn't want to sell me anything but wanted to make friends. The wine was a gesture in that direction and though I was short on time, I felt the authenticity of the notion of making a sale from relationships that are allowed to evolve in their own sweet time.

I'll be popping back to that shop to get to know them a little better because like the staff at Sunglasses Hut and Schaffenhausen, Phillipe knows how to turn a glimmer of a prospect into an actively involved consideration set luxury brand future customer.

Maybe its just Hong Kong but these guys know how to keep a smile on my face while relieving me of money that can never match the enjoyment that comes from beautiful things...well not while I can afford to clear the essentials anyway.

So anyway, I'm coming out of retirement folks. I'm back and I'm hungry to work. Or I have to find a way of staying on fantasy Island and well away from an endless supply of beautiful goods with pockets of service culture that may cultivate more than just the transactional value of a sale because I always like to make friends with whoever I come into contact with. 

If they can put up the idiosyncrasies.