Type of goods: casual clothing
Location: Pedder Street, Central
Rating: **** (4 out of 5)
On 11 August, Abercrombie & Fitch made landfall in Hong Kong. It is the label's fourth store in Asia after Tokyo, Fukuoka and Singapore. The American retailer broke commercial real estate records by paying a whopping HK$7 million per month for a spot at the iconic Pedder Building, replacing long-time tenant Shanghai Tang. From now on, Pedder Street will never look, sound or smell the same. Everything about A&F is in-your-face and over-the-top: a gigantic male nude poster covers most of the building façade, dance mixes blast from the sidewalk loudspeakers, and the unmistakable, overpowering scent -- some say stench -- of its fragrance can be smelled several tram stops away. Central has a new theme park.
|Abercrombie & Fitch on Pedder Street|
A&F’s publicity stunts began long before its official opening. For weeks, an open-top double-decker carrying a bus-load of male models wearing nothing but red shorts and flips-flop circled the city. The roving beefcakes then returned to Pedder Street for a pre-opening media event, where they waved at pedestrians from the store windows like Disney characters without clothes. The charm offensive seemed to have paid off. During the first week, hundreds of eager shoppers lined up outside despite the 34-degree heat. Even the police had to be called in to keep peace. Hong Kongers can be such gluttons for novelty.
But I have no right to criticize. I was one of the lemmings who headed for the cliff. I visited the flagship on a Wednesday afternoon so I wouldn't have to wait in line like some crazed teenage girl. Though smaller and narrower by comparison, the four-floor retail space feels like any A&F store in the U.S. There is the same shirtless greeter standing by the entrance and the same homoerotic mural depicting young men playing some sort of water sport. So much emphasis is placed on the male body that you would be forgiven for thinking that they only sell men’s clothes. Considering that one in three Americans is obese and most folks back home can’t fit into any of its tight-fitting clothes (let alone look good in them), the label is not without a sense of irony.
Like their counterparts in America, the staff at A&F Hong Kong are decidedly unhelpful. They can be found check themselves out in front of the mirror instead of assisting customers. The staff can be unruly too. At one end of the store, a male clerk was busy exchanging phone numbers with two giggling girls. At the other end, new hires were being reprimanded by their American supervisor for wandering around the store. The manager with a Midwest accent yelled: "come on, guys, you can’t shop at the store. Y’all work here!" The boys begrudgingly returned the merchandise to the shelf and started folding clothes tossed all over the place by equally unruly customers.
Everything at A&F Hong Kong costs 25% to 30% more than they do in America. For instance, a T-shirt in Hong Kong sells for HK$340 (vs. US$35 in America) and a polo shirt HK$740 (vs. US$75 in America). Both the dim lighting and loud music are designed to cloud your judgment and distract you from checking the receipt at the cashier. If you want to own something with a moose logo, you are better off asking your friends to bring it back from the States.
|It's all about male bonding|
Despite its high prices and narcissistic staff, A&F is a welcome addition to the Central shopping scene. It is a store like no other store. It is the Garden of Eden where Adam has a six-pack and puts on too much cologne. It is a dance club where head-bobbing, hip-swaying partygoers blur the line between runway models and Greek gods. Above all, it is an embodiment of America’s obsession with youth, beauty and unattainable body image. As a study on the American pop culture, the A&F flagship is well worth a visit.
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For more about the recent American retail invasion, read the author’s article, The Moose, the Gap and the Apple.
|America's obsession with body image|