Front Row calls it a day

Ms Ann Kositchotitana (left) plans to concentrate on her own brand, HLS, after the closure of Front Row.
Ms Ann Kositchotitana (above) plans to concentrate on her own brand, HLS, after the closure of Front Row.PHOTO: ST FILE

Owner Ann Kositchotitana and her family are moving to the United States, hence the closure of the popular fashion store

Multi-label concept store Front Row, known for its edgy and progressive labels, is closing after being in the retail business for a decade.

Located at Raffles Hotel, it will have its last day of operations on Aug 31.

Owner Ann Kositchotitana, 39, says she is folding the business as she and her husband are moving to the United States for the sake of their children's education. Her daughters are aged seven and four.

She says: "Of course I'm sad. Front Row was my first baby, even before my own children."

When it opened at Ann Siang Hill in a three-storey shophouse in 2005, Front Row stood out for being one of the first retailers here to incorporate a fashion boutique with a cafe and an art gallery - and one that was not located in Orchard Road.

Front Row gave me a great start. I learnt everything there and it has opened many doors for me to create HLS.

MS ANN KOSITCHOTITANA who started her own brand, HLS, in 2014

Not only that, but the brands she carried were also new to the market: niche ones such as French cult brand A.P.C., French luxury label Christophe Lemaire and Thai brands FlyNow and Greyhound. The cafe also stocked a small selection of Dean & Deluca products.

In 2009, she relocated the store to a 1,000 sq ft space at Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade and subsequently opened standalone boutiques for FlyNow and A.P.C.

She says FlyNow closed early last year due to poor business, while A.P.C. closed last month due to a shortage in manpower.

She says Front Row has done well in terms of sales and helped finance the growth of her own brand, HLS, or Headline Seoul as it was first known when she launched it in 2012.

On Front Row's closing, long-time customer Eric Chan, 44, laments: "I think it's a loss for the Singapore retail scene as Front Row has always been very forward in its merchandising."

Mr Chan, who owns a bakery, has been a fan from Day One.

For him, the store offered the perfect curation of labels for consumers who preferred understated luxury and were less mainstream and more quirky.

Indeed, the store has been likened by international publications to well-known multi-label boutiques such as Colette in Paris and Dover Street Market in London.

To mark its closure, Front Row will hold a sale starting tomorrow until the end of the month.

But Ms Kositchotitana is quick to point out that she does not see this as an end of an era.

"It's part of a new fashion chapter for me," says the Thai-born Singapore permanent resident.

That is because she plans to focus on HLS. What started out as a Korean fast-fashion label has evolved into one that is "more niche and contemporary", as she describes it.

Regional demand for the brand is growing: This year, it was picked up by online fashion retailer Zalora and South Korean department store Lotte.

By early next year, she hopes to grow the brand from 22 to 30 points of sale internationally.

In Singapore, there is an HLS shop at Wheelock Place and the label is also carried at Front Row, The Assembly at Cathay and W.E. at 313 Orchard.

Ms Kositchotitana's HLS team will continue to operate here and communicate with her by e-mail and Skype. It will also be business as usual for her Singapore and South Korean design teams.

She plans to set up HLS operations in Los Angeles, where she will be based, as part of her plans to bring it to a truly international level.

She says: "I love doing my own brand, it has a lot of growth potential.

"Front Row gave me a great start. I learnt everything there and it has opened many doors for me to create HLS."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2015, with the headline 'Front Row calls it a day'. Print Edition | Subscribe