A new multi-label luxury store offering designer labels at discounted prices has opened just off Orchard Road.
Mondo Vantaggio, which occupies 13,000 sq ft on the second floor of Furama RiverFront hotel in Havelock Road, carries more than 40 high-end European brands, including Gucci, Balenciaga, Prada, Burberry and Versace. It carries mainly leather goods and bags, but also has a small selection of ready-to-wear clothes and shoes.
The Straits Times found that some prices are similar to those at the brands' standalone luxury boutiques, while others are about $150 lower. There are also prices higher than what can be found at the principal stores, but the discounts offered by Mondo Vantaggio eventually bring prices down.
Customers get a 15 per cent discount off all purchases. VIP card holders who spend $20,000 within six months get a further 10 per cent discount.
Last weekend, Mondo Vantaggio offered a store-wide 30 per cent discount - a repeat offer of a 30 per cent sale held on its opening weekend on March 12. Mr Eddie Wong, 54, group chief executive officer of the Hong Kong-based company, says the sale on its first two days of business was so well- received that the store decided to repeat the offer from last Friday to Sunday.
He adds: "For special promotions in the future, it could be 20 or 30 per cent, maybe even 50 per cent off."
These discounts inevitably lower the prices significantly.
For example, a leather flap wallet with snap closure from Prada costs $860 before discount at Mondo Vantaggio. The same wallet costs $1,000 (inclusive of GST) at the Prada store at Paragon and at DFS Galleria Singapore.
A small Pandora bag in goat leather from Givenchy is selling for $2,682 before discount at Mondo Vantaggio. The same bag costs $2,700 (inclusive of GST) at the Givenchy store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and at DFS Galleria Singapore.
A Versace leather backpack with a Medusa embellishment retails for $3,740 before discount at Mondo Vantaggio. The same bag costs $3,460 (inclusive of GST) at the Versace store at Paragon. The bag costs $3,179 at Mondo Vantaggio after a 15 per cent discount.
On how Mondo Vantaggio manages to keep its prices so low, Mr Wong says the store is part of a company in Hong Kong that is a wholesaler of luxury goods. It can retail these goods at lower prices because it buys in bulk directly from its source. He declined to reveal the source.
He says: "Our boss has very good connections in Europe with these brands, so we can get our merchandise directly from the source. Because of this, we are able to offer very reasonable and competitive prices to our customers."
The wholesale business is an established business model in the fashion industry. Well-known multi-label luxury stores such as Colette in Paris and Dover Street Market in London and Japan are considered wholesalers as they buy merchandise directly from the brand principal to carry at their stores.
However, there is the potential for merchandise to find its way to the grey or parallel market when, for example, wholesalers resell what they have bought to third- party buyers, or when there are factory overruns.
Mr Wong declines to reveal the identity of the founder of the company, but says he is a Singaporean. The company, which started in Hong Kong in April last year, is registered there under the name Worldwide Premium Distribution Co Ltd. Its wholesale business is focused on the Chinese market.
Mr Wong says the company opened Mondo Vantaggio in Singapore to focus on retail.
Mondo is Italian for "worldwide" or "global" while Vantaggio means "advantage".
It is not the only business here which sells new designer goods at discounted prices. Luxury online platform Reebonz also offers new luxury products at lower prices. According to co-founder Daniel Lim, the company works with authorised buying agencies to source its merchandise.
The Straits Times contacted luxury brands sold at Mondo Vantaggio, such as Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and Prada, to find out how they felt about their products being sold at discounted prices. The 12 brands contacted either did not reply by press time or declined to comment on the multi-brand store due to "corporate guidelines" or the "sensitive" nature of this story.
Mr Wong says Mondo Vantaggio is not a business that is going against the brand principals.
"We are not doing anything illegal. We get everything directly from the source in Europe. I don't think any physical shop in Singapore will sell fake items because that is illegal here."
He says the merchandise the company carries is genuine, adding that if it was up to any "monkey business", it would not have invested so much time and money on the store. He says it spent $3 million on renovations.
Much effort has been made to create an opulent feel in the store. Staff members dressed in smart black attire are stationed a few metres apart, standing at the ready with gloves on to assist customers.
The store is filled with spacious shelves that clearly announce the brand names in big signs above each rack.
Though the space is wide and showcases the variety of brands well, the gold and marble decor does come off as more nouveau riche than elegant sophistication.
There is also a VIP room, done up in the same style as the rest of the store, where customers can request private viewings of merchandise.
The store receives new merchandise every two weeks.
So that customers linger a little longer, the store also has a cafe that can seat 50, run by The Tiramisu Hero. The Singapore cafe, which has an outlet in Tyrwhitt Road, serves light snacks, coffee and desserts.
Mr Wong hopes to draw both locals and tourists to the store. He notes that while tourist trends have changed, many are still visiting the country and he is working with tour guides and tour companies so they bring in shoppers by the busload.
Mondo Vantaggio organised an introductory visit to the store for more than 100 tour guides on Monday.
Retail experts say multi-label outlets such as Mondo Vantaggio are good for the retail industry as they offer consumers an alternative shopping experience as well as variety.
Dr Elison Lim, assistant professor, marketing and international business, Nanyang Business School, says this variety may be especially appealing to consumers who are new to luxury goods consumption. "The opportunity to browse and compare brands is useful for them."
She says consumers should always check the authenticity of products.
"The authenticity needs to be verified by experts. In some instances, the items come with an authenticity card or serial number that can be verified by the label. Mondo Vantaggio should be able to stand behind the authenticity of the products it carries."
Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, says that though it is surprising that Mondo Vantaggio is able to offer such large discounts, the fact that it is doing so openly and from the premises of a reputable hotel should give consumers some reassurance that they are getting genuine products.
But he adds that shoppers should make sure that there is some guarantee of after-sales service or returns before they buy.
Mr Wong says customers who buy from Mondo Vantaggio will receive a full refund if they return their purchases in their original condition within seven days of purchase.
Last Saturday afternoon, mostly locals were seen at the store, which experienced a steady flow of shoppers.
Ms Margaret Chew, who is in her 60s and declines to reveal her job, bought a Prada wallet that afternoon. She says: "The prices cannot compare with Europe. I bought another Prada wallet in Florence for $450. It is almost double the price here. But since the store has a 30 per cent discount and I am not travelling soon, I'm okay with buying it here as it costs $1,000 at the boutique."
Housewife Karen Koo, 52, who was also at the store on Saturday, says she was not impressed with the variety.
"I think the prices here are okay, since there is the 30 per cent discount. I think the place is big and grand and the service is good, but the variety for each brand is very limited."
Ms Rachel Kaur, 24, who runs an online store, visited the store after seeing its advertisement in The Straits Times announcing that it was offering a 30 per cent discount over the weekend.
Though she did not buy anything, she says she would consider returning to the store if there are more promotions.
"I saw some Gucci shoes but they didn't have my size. It's a classic item and I don't think it would go on sale at the Gucci boutique, so the discount they are offering is good. I would have bought it if they had my size. If they have more sales next time and more variety, then I would definitely come back."