Beautiful boutiques

Linger for the experience at these new stores

When you step into Vihari Jewels’ new flagship boutique at Paragon, do not be alarmed by the giant rocks protruding from the ceiling.

The lifelike structures made of graphite are simply meant to re-create the atmosphere of a diamond mine, where the brand’s precious stones are sourced, says founder Vihari Sheth-Poddar, 36. 

“We are miners. We manufacture our own gems and take them out from the rock.” 

There are also simple mining tools interspersed between the display cases.

It provides a starting point for educating customers on gemmology, she adds. 

Set up like a jewellery exhibition, the space spotlights the brand’s investment-grade heirloom pieces in the centre, with its more affordable ready-to-wear ranges showcased at the sides. 

Having a standout concept was important for the 15-year-old brand’s first store, says Ms Sheth-Poddar. 

“Everyone’s trying to be more innovative and do something different, but you still need to make it feel like a jewellery shop.”

A new year brings new stores and retail concepts, but no longer are these simple transactional spaces. Like Vihari Jewels, a handful of local and international brands have taken the experiential approach with their bricks-andmortar ventures.

The spate of openings in the past two months has shown that brand owners and retail entrepreneurs are rethinking design and ramping up experience – adding unique elements to their spaces to entice customers to linger.
 
Founder Xie Qian Qian of home-grown apparel label Graye says her new 1,010 sq ft store at Wheelock Place is not just bigger than her previous location of a shophouse in Joo Chiat, but also allows her to execute a “3R concept”. 

Revive is where one can find upcycled pieces made from scrap fabrics, Re-create is a corner for customising apparel and accessories, and Reflect lets fans interact with the brand through polls.

“Apart from just displaying and selling products, we try to create different zones that let our customers have a different experience each time they walk in. Almost all the fittings can be moved or adjusted to create a different layout. We hope to offer a different visual experience every few months,” says Ms Xie.

Opening in a central location was also possible as mall rental rates were “lower than pre-pandemic rates”, she adds. 

“Some international retailers moved or closed their stores and are making room for local brands to enter Orchard.” 

Likewise, Ms Sheth-Poddar’s decision to open a boutique now, after more than a decade of running the business from an office-studio, was largely because she had found the perfect space.

“It’s not every day that a local brand gets a first-floor location; I think it’s the first time in 20 years that the mall has given this space to a local brand,” she says. 

“The fact that it’s on the ground floor, with all the bigger brands, obviously makes a statement – and we have the products to support the statement.”

Get a spot of retail therapy at these new stores and boutiques. 


Graye: Customise items, leave a note

WHERE 02-13 Wheelock Place, 501 Orchard Road

At Graye’s newly opened flagship store in Wheelock Place, you can shop, share suggestions for the brand and customise purchases. 

Formerly a menswear brand, this home-grown label has evolved to comprise more unisex, versatile staples that can be worn from the office to the home. Signature pieces include cupro tees ($55), V-neck kimono tops ($115) and adjustable pleated trousers ($135), as well as accessories like the Morph Sling bag ($105).

The space also carries upcycled Graye pieces in a sustainably driven Revive corner. The one-of-a-kind clothes and bags on offer change regularly, making it a new experience for fans to discover each time. 

Wheelock Place offers a comfortable pace of footfall and a less “frantic” crowd so her team can work in the store during slower periods, says founder Xie Qian Qian. 

Wanting to carry on the retail studio concept from Graye’s former location in a Joo Chiat shophouse, she designed the new store to house a studio where customers can view behind-the-scenes creative work – or customise accessories and apparel with direct-to-film print transfer and sashiko stitching. 

The “more experimental” layout here also houses fitting rooms crafted from paper, and a modular, adjustable cable system to display lifestyle products and new launches. On a pegboard, shoppers can get involved and vote for designs or products they want to see next. 


Le Labo: Be transported to an NYC apothecary

WHERE 01-36 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue

Fans of luxury perfumery Le Labo can now find it at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS).

Like its other outlets around the world, the second Singapore store from the Brooklyn-founded brand is designed as a fragrance laboratory, with the look of an old-school apothecary. 

Its core collection includes 18 unisex perfumes – also available in 500ml bottles that are exclusive to the MBS outlet – and 11 soya-based wax candles. 

All Le Labo fragrances (from $115 for 15ml) are hand-blended in-store for freshness – a process customers can watch from behind a screen. As a form of personalisation, each fragrance label can be custom-printed with 23 characters. 

The brand offers a refill programme for its 50ml, 100ml and 500ml perfumes. 

Also available are bath and body products in the core scents, genderless grooming products, home fragrances, discovery sets and tote bags. 


Two L(i)ps: Explore tongue-in-cheek intimate care art

WHERE B3-37 Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn

Vulva care has a new home, and in Singapore’s premier mall too.

In November, luxury intimate care brand Two L(i)ps opened the doors to its first flagship store in Ion Orchard. The home-grown brand, which is part of the Spa Esprit Group, boasts a full range of products dedicated to pampering the intimate area. 

Designed in soothing, warm tones, the 500 sq ft store has mineral clay walls to evoke a cavern or sanctuary. Products – such as Outgrown ($75), a cream reducing ingrown hairs; and Wipeout ($18), PH-balanced intimate wipes – line the walls unobtrusively, while a custom-cast terrazzo sink anchors the space and allows customers to sample products. 

The brand’s upcoming scent-based launches can be found in a domed nook housing a tester bar. 

The store also houses commissioned works by artists ranging from local talent, such as designer Olivia Lee and Mud Rock Ceramics studio, to French artist Sylvia Goubern. 

The tongue-in-cheek artworks, some viewed through peepholes, play on the themes of privacy and voyeurism.

On the brand’s milestone and mission to break taboos surrounding intimate care, founder Cynthia Chua says: “Who would have thought that vulva care could be here today – not only with 16 effective products, but also the first physical store dedicated to it in Singapore? It was a bold vision, tackling such a sensitive subject and making it accessible.”


Maison Margiela: Fragrance playground for the ’gram

WHERE B1-14 Takashimaya Shopping Centre, 391A Orchard Road

The French luxury fashion house opened its first fragrance flagship store in Singapore in December. Launched in partnership with distributor Aura Prestige, the all-white boutique was designed as a sensorial playground for customers to discover the Replica line of fragrances. 

Previously, these were available only at retailers such as Sephora and Tangs.

Expect plenty of photo opportunities within the store’s five zones. 

A Bestsellers Highlight zone features a life-sized bottle of the brand’s hero scent, Lazy Sunday Morning, within an Instagram-ready set-up. At the Olfactive Discovery Bar is the full range of 15 fragrances (from $45 for 10ml), each inspired by a memory.

The Novelty Highlight zone – which now features a floral market display inspired by the scent Flower Market – hosts in-store activities for customers to create their own Maison Margiela memento, and will be refreshed biannually. 

A Home Scenting area showcases the brand’s newest product line of seven candles ($95) – exclusive to the store – in a homely set-up. 

Finally, at the Personalisation zone, shoppers can customise the brand’s signature cotton bottle label on any 100ml perfume ($185) purchased. 

The service also allows customers to print a Polaroid photo on the spot to personalise the complimentary pouch, and select a themed wish card, box sleeve and coloured rope – for a memorable keepsake of the day.


Vihari Jewels: Step into a diamond mine

WHERE 01-21 Paragon Shopping Centre, 290 Orchard Road

It took 15 years, but home-grown Vihari Jewels has finally opened a flagship boutique. And founder Vihari Sheth-Poddar has spared no expense in making it a memorable one. 

The front of the store is conceptualised as a dark diamond mine, where the brand’s jewels are mined. Deeper inside, the 1,340 sq ft store turns bright. It was designed as a lifestyle space with a living room, “walk-in wardrobe for jewellery” and even a bar (which can serve only bottled booze for now) for customers. 

The idea is to take the business of jewellery beyond “just over-the-counter” dealings, says Ms Sheth-Poddar, a fourth-generation member of an Indian diamond trading family. The store marks the brand’s transition from bespoke jeweller and purveyor of rare stones to a retail-ready brand.

Over the pandemic, she started offering seasonal collections of trendier, more “accessible” jewellery she designed – pieces that start at $5,000. 

“Before, it was by appointment only, which can be a bit intimidating. Now, people can just browse, so that’s a lot more welcoming,” she adds.

Her father and mentor Rajesh Sheth, who runs his own business procuring stones, had been keen on a retail store for years. But motherhood kept her busy, says the mother of three. When Paragon came knocking last year, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“The biggest thing for me was to translate the bigger investment pieces I’ve been selling for 15 years into something more affordable; to go into different segments of the market but, at the same time, keep the quality.” 

For instance, customers who fancy the priceless 50-carat Burmese Star Ruby on display can take home something similar like the ruby-studded Lady Luck Earrings ($15,142). 

The mysterious-looking storefront has drawn a number of walk-in customers. “The business expanded in the past two years, and now, the time is right to invest in more promotions of coloured stones and raise awareness of their demand locally,” she says.


Our Second Nature: Hideaway for the family

WHERE 01-159 Great World, 1 Kim Seng Promenade

Home-grown women’s apparel and lifestyle brand Our Second Nature has opened its second and largest concept store. Called Our Second Hideaway, the store celebrates the well-loved label’s fifth anniversary. 

The 2,800 sq ft space houses the brand’s full range of womenswear, menswear, childrenswear and homeware. Pick up soughtafter printed pieces (from $89 for a dress) or chic basics from the Mom Would Approve line of sustainable apparel made from Gots-certified organic cotton.

Exclusive to the space is a men’s shirt bar and lifestyle area displaying homeware. The brand collaborated with artists to turn signature prints from each collection into toys, ceramic bowls, rugs and scarves, which can be purchased at the store.

It will also host art installations and the occasional collaboration with fellow local brands, such as chocolate-maker Fossa Chocolate. 

Designed to reflect Our Second Nature’s growing focus on sustainability, the store is built with eco-friendly materials which have the Greenguard certification for low chemical emissions.

Founded in 2016 by fashion entrepreneur Velda Tan, the brand opened its first store in Chip Bee Gardens in 2018. 

The second space comes after various “successful pop-up concept stores across Singapore, South Korea and the Philippines, and high year-on-year growth despite the pandemic”, she says in a press release.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2022, with the headline Beautiful boutiques. Subscribe