A mere few weeks after experience center Mercedes me made its debut in Beijing's trendy Sanlitun district, its retail neighbor Topwin Center opened its doors last month with clear ambitions to draw China's art and lifestyle-minded cool kids to its selection of mostly homegrown independent shops. The shopping mall is part of an ongoing trend by Chinese developers, landlords and retailers to meet consumers' demands for not only products, but lifestyle-oriented experiences, and also suggests Chinese high-end brands are on the rise.
The mall, managed by Beijing Topwin Real Estate Development Co., Ltd, is connected to both Mercedes me and the five-star InterContinental Beijing, which according to its website, is set to open to the public in September. While the shopping mall still has some time to go before all of its retail spaces are fully completed, there is currently plenty to see in the two-story mall, starting with an art installation integrated into its lobby and throughout the hallways. Currently, Shanghai-based new media artist Wang Xin's work is front and center: a hot pink shed lit with theater mirror light bulbs greets mall visitors with a neon sign that reads, “We Create Future Artists Here.”
So far, the mall features mainly mid-range to high-end independent clothing and accessories brands, including Soul Goods sneakers shop and cafe, indie designer Shu Lam, and multi-brand boutique Sseeroom. Downstairs, the food court offers up local stalwarts as well, including a craft beer kiosk and pop-up bar by Panda Brew, imported teas and kombucha by Papp's Tea, and April Gourmet, a supermarket largely featuring imported goods.
Unlike many retail spaces connected to five-star hotels in China, Topwin Center doesn't feature any international luxury brands (so far). However, there are the equivalent Chinese high-end fashion brands available. Those searching for unique labels to showcase their independent tastes will find them at Sseeroom, which moved to Topwin from Beijing's more family-focused Solana mall. The tiny store carries about 40 clothing designers altogether on its e-commerce site, including several Chinese designers that have gained international attention like Vega Zaishi Wang and Hiuman.
Founder of Sseeroom Cathy Fu said she chose to move to the Sanlitun area because it's “one of the central markets for youth in Beijing and it's very mature and full of energy.” Fu chose Topwin Center specifically because the developer is aiming to bring in “young people who are pursuing the quality of life, including good food, interesting activities, and independent brands.”
“The position is very suitable for us,” she said. “We are happy to be part of their movement to bring a new way of lifestyle.”
While China features many malls saturated with luxury brand stores, Yang Guobin (杨国彬, who goes by "Bean"), founder of new comic book and classical music shop, Polyphony, says it's not what trendy, aspiring and middle-class consumers are necessarily looking for. Bean said he looked at 10 different shopping malls in Beijing and some in Shanghai before settling on Topwin.
“I think once you have an image of super 'high-end,' that makes people feel like there's a distance,” he said. “And you don't want to create a distance, especially if you're a mall. You want people to feel like they're welcome.” Mercedes me, which showcases affordable retail items and several higher end restaurants next to its luxury automobiles, is a good example of a movement where traditionally high-end companies make their brand more accessible to China's growing middle class.
Polyphony is perhaps the most unique retail space in the mall to launch so far, offering up a multi-pronged experience customers would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. For music lovers, Polyphony offers a sleek private “recording room” where visitors can listen to the store's collection of classical records. For comic book fans, they have sofas equipped with iPads for giving the Marvel books displayed on the wall a digital test-drive and cup holders for enjoying “sparkling coffee” and other exclusive beverages created as part of a collaboration with Monin and Nespresso. Bean said they also offer classical music concerts where they will do live streaming, and they also will have a platform for showcasing the tech and design products of local makers. It may seem all a little disconnected, but the design of the venue, which was done by the same German design team behind Mercedes me, anySCALE, ties it all together. Plus, Bean said, he knows Chinese consumers are curious.
“We think people love this, they love technology, they love trying new stuff, and new drinks—all they have is curiosity,” Bean said about his target demographic: shoppers ages 15 to 35 years old. “In that age group, a lot of people have a lot of curiosity about a lot of things. They like to try, they like to see, they like to feel, and they they like to listen.”
The new shopping center is yet another example of a series of recent efforts in China to attract shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores in the midst of a luxury slowdown and increasing competition with e-commerce. So far, it features traits closer to the likes of Beijing's Grand Summit than Shanghai's K11, which was arguably one of the pioneers of China's “smart mall,” and “art mall” movement, by renting to almost an entirely local roster of entrepreneurs promising to offer unique experiences and brands.