Barely five years ago, Wangfujing was the type of place one easily would associate with scorpions on a stick. Now, one of Asia’s leading developers is determined to transform it into a high-end shopping and lifestyle destination for Beijing’s wealthy, with newly opened mall WF Central.
Wangfujing has always attracted top luxury brands and five-star hotels, due to its long history as a pedestrianized shopping street, the oldest in the city. One of its most well-known malls, Oriental Plaza, which is home to the Apple Store, was also one of the biggest in Asia. Its neighboring APM mall carries fast fashion and local labels, and the rest of the area is peppered with time-honored Chinese brands and department stores.
But ask most, and Wangfujing is associated with crowds of tourists, visiting malls that, compared to many other of the city’s shopping destinations, were more outdated. This is where Hongkong Land saw their opportunity.
“Our mission is always to target the affluent consumer and local Beijinger,” says Shirley Lam, Vice President of Commercial Property, China, Hongkong Land said. “We understood that the affluent consumer in the West or central Beijing tend to travel to the East and spend time around Third and Fourth Ring Road in places like Sanlitun and Parkview Green. The East becomes congested with mature operators and this opens up a space for us to grow—creating a new attraction for people to meet up in the center of the city.”
“Don’t forget, this is the heart of the city in terms of accessibility for Beijingers,” she added. “If you have a friend from the West, North, or East, Wangfujing is always the center for people to meet up.”
Hongkong Land first started drawing up plans for WF Central in 2012, with the support of the local government who was keen on revitalizing the district. Four years into these plans, and the local government would be shutting down Wangfujing’s most iconic, yet highly debated Donghuamen Night Market, putting an end to the exotic, oily creatures on sticks that attracted so many tourists to the area.
Temporary stalls were also removed in the middle of the streets, and more landscaping was done, preparing the area for “more sophistication and diversification,” Lam says.
“We are a developer that always sees ourselves as ‘the pebble in the pond’, and we feel that effect had started since before we opened in the mall,” Lam says, adding that “both the government and other private sectors were responding to this revitalization process.” Around the same time WF Central opened, Hamleys opened its largest high-end toy store in the world—nearly twice the size of its London store — right across the street.
WF Central, which soft opened late last year and is still rolling out new stores in the coming months, brings to the city a handful of firsts for luxury brands. It’s home to Victoria Secret’s Beijing flagship, with a store design and concept that mirrors what one would find in London or New York. Tory Burch and Superdry also have its Asia flagship in the mall, Pandora will soon be offering a flagship with a coffee shop, while Under Armour’s new store is its largest in the world.
“Our ultimate objective is to curate an international lifestyle,” Lam says. “We are either focusing on introducing new operators and new concepts to the market or working on very strong important local operators who can create new concepts for us.
Inside, the mall delivers two floors of high-end brands, but shoppers won’t see the more high luxury window displays they might be used to seeing in the area — instead, the mall’s walkways are dominated by colorful, creative and hip window displays from the likes of both international brands and local designers, including Vivienne Tam, Gucci, and Moschino. More are due in the pipeline in the next few months.
“Luxury” and “Fashion” are two of the mall’s core pillars, but it also offers three others: “World-class Gastronomy”, including Beijing’s first outlet of Hong Kong dim sum restaurant Jade Garden from Hong Kong, The Cheesecake Factory from the U.S., which has been full almost every night, as well as the elegantly refined Chinese-cuisine dining experience of Howard’s Gourmet; “Wellness & Lifestyle”, which is reflected in the city’s first Pure Yoga store, a premium studio from Hong Kong, as well as a spa from Mandarin Oriental Hotel; and “Art & Culture”, which will come in the form of a stylish bookstore from Chengdu, and art shows stemming collaborations with international institutions.
Its first exhibition comes from the London’s the Barbican art gallery, bringing their Digital Revolution on tour to Asia for the first time. Hongkong Land’s other properties are known for their art exhibitions, and in the light of plenty of crossover between art and retail in China’s malls, they’re counting on a worldly and cultural Beijing consumer to appreciate their offerings.
The mall will continue to evolve over the coming months, and in the meantime, it’s likely too soon to know exactly how the property will affect how consumers perceive the historic shopping street. But Hongkong Land is optimistic.
“We see good changes in the district and we are very confident that this district will continue to change and transform in a way that benefits all operators.”