SINGAPORE - The much-awaited Uniqlo South-east Asian flagship, opening tomorrow at Orchard Central, is a bright spark amid a retail slump.
The presence of a new three-level store in visible Orchard Road is significant for shoppers, the Singapore retail scene and Uniqlo itself. On the choice of country, Mr Taku Morikawa, chief executive of Uniqlo South-east Asia, points to Singapore - the centre of Asia.
"If we are successful here with the flagship, we can explore markets such as India and Vietnam,'' he says, adding that he hopes the flagship store will make the Singapore retail scene "more competitive".
He says: "Since we opened the first store eight years ago, we've been warmly welcomed here. And we want to give the new experience as a thank you to the Singapore market."
Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, says the store opening is "great news" for Orchard Central and all its tenants, and it would be even more noteworthy if an "absolutely new player to Singapore had moved in".
"This may be an opportunistic move on the part of Uniqlo which may be hoping for a turnaround in the Singapore retail scene in the mid-term," he says.
For Far East Organization, which owns and manages Orchard Central, Uniqlo is a coup, and adds vibrancy to the mall. Ms Mavis Seow, chief operating officer (retail business group) of Far East Organization, says the Japanese fashion label offers a "brand new shopping experience, fresh innovative designs and special collection".
She says: "Uniqlo anchors Orchard Central's appeal as a vibrant lifestyle retail and social hub for design-conscious shoppers looking for quality affordable merchandise and differentiated offerings."
The flagship's interiors feature 286 digital displays, the largest number of screens in any Uniqlo store worldwide. The mammoth store occupies about 29,000 sq ft.
At tonight's preview party, invited guests watched performances, including by beatboxer Dharni, inside the brightly lit store with its many floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
A guest, local singer Tay Kewei, 33, says: "I came because I was very excited about how big scale it is. I've been to the Ginza flagship and I'm a fan of Uniqlo." She likes the high ceilings of the Orchard Central flagship and its "outstanding" visual merchandising. Guests mingled among clothing racks that carry the brand's full product line-up plus an exclusive range of luxe cashmere apparel.
At UT, the store's dedicated T-shirt corner, expect exclusive designs by American musician Pharrell Williams, and also a Singapore design showing Disney character Mickey Mouse with the Merlion.
Shopping will be a multi-sensory experience designed by local artists and musicians - Uniqlo hopes to keep working with Singapore's creative community.
One such creative is Mr Jonathan Kiat, 40, of home-grown independent record label Syndicate. He engaged about a dozen local musicians, including Tim De Cotta and Jason Tan, to contribute original works to be played in-store.
Mr Kiat curated two separate playlists for day and evening, together with Syndicate co-founder Cherry Chan.
Store displays and visual merchandising also have a local touch. The children's section on level two has an art display inspired by popular children's story The Little Prince, illustrated by Singapore-based visual artist Michael Ng of illustration group Organisation of Illustrators Council Singapore.
Other home-grown illustrators have also been called upon to design exclusive canvas tote bags and shopping bags, including art collective Tell Your Children, whose artists were illustrating paper fans at the preview party.
Uniqlo is owned by Fast Retailing, a Japanese company that also owns other fashion brands such as J Brand, Theory and Helmut Lang. The company reported S$18.95 billion in sales last year.
In all, there are now 25 Uniqlo stores in Singapore. Worldwide, there are more than 1,700 stores spanning countries such as Australia, China and Germany.
The Uniqlo Global Flagship Store is located at Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road, 01-01, open daily from 11am to 10pm, tel: 6835 7297