Illustrated report from consumer paradise

Captured on what we used to call film on a recent stroll…

Exhibit 1 on the left is sitting in the window at Milan Station, the publicly listed chain where women can half-buy-half-rent designer-label handbags. Aside from the mildly discomfiting colour – your monitor does not do it justice – the thing that jumps out is the price tag: HK$36,800.

For an average secretary, who I’m guessing is typical of the target market, that might be three months’ salary. After getting off on carrying whatever famous brand it is around for half a year, she gets (pure guess) 50% of the cash back when she returns the valuable commodity to the store. Then she starts saving up again for her next one. It’s sort of a pawn shop that offers bags instead of cash loans.

Government officials and fund managers seeking to justify the coercive nature and lousy returns of the Mandatory Provident Fund system could do worse than hold Milan Station customers up as examples of the idiotic things people will do with money if the state does not force them to save.

On the right is another bag, this time in dowdy old Sincere, which has been holding the same Special Sale since about 1988 or so. You would have thought that department stores in this day and age would attract only a few elderly ladies who can’t handle shopping malls. In fact, they are crammed full of Mainlanders who, at a quick glance, can’t afford the designer labels at shopping malls but want something ‘from Hong Kong’.

The bag (HK$800 or so) caught my eye because of the apparently ancient map printed on it. But rather than use a genuine antique chart (or photo of one), the designer has taken a modern map and somehow made it look all Olde Worlde. Looking at the country names, we can date this map of Africa between 1984 (before which Burkina Faso was Upper Volta) and 1997 (after which Zaire became a variant of Congo). In terms of the history of Mainland shopping sprees in Hong Kong, that is of course ancient.

The dark, fuzzy pictures below are by me; the sharp, colourful one has been ripped off the relevant corporate website…


The place on the top used to be the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee – an outlet much loved by the central business district’s inhabitants, and invariably the only shop in the whole mall apart from McDonalds that ever seemed to be crowded with customers. Sun Hung Kai, like all good landlords, obviously noted this popularity and decided to kill the branch off with a rent hike and replace it with a business offering stuff people can’t afford and/or don’t want. The glossy picture above shows what will replace it: TWG Teas.

Their slogan ‘Grands crus prestige’ is finely calculated to trigger an impulse among the Mainland shopping elite – the ones who don’t go to Sincere. They will recognize the words as French and really sophisticated, because at least two of them also appear in ads for wine. Little are the Huangs and Zhangs to realize that the idea of a grand old French tea label is a bit suspect.

TWG is of course a modern brand – The Wellness Group – based in Singapore, where it also has cosmetics outlets and spas (any similarity between the store designs of TWG Teas and L’Occitane Olde Frenche Elbow Lotion Emporium round the corner in IFC is pure coincidence). Far from slapping ‘1837’ on its logo to mislead guileless Mainlanders, the company “honours [the date] as the commencement of Singapore’s domination as the Far East’s most illustrious trading post, a haven for celebrated tea clippers loaded with the most precious of elixirs.” In other words, it was the year the Lion City’s Chamber of Commerce was founded; Stamford Raffles would be spinning in his grave.

Once the fancy packaging and extortionate rents are paid for, there is no way the Darjeeling Nouveau (honest) and Singapore Breakfast (ditto) can be decent-value brews. But of course, that’s not the point. They will be bought by Mainlanders as gifts for other Mainlanders they probably don’t like very much, and who don’t realize that Westerners put milk and sugar with it, after which it still tastes vile compared with a good Oolong or Pu-ehr.

On the subject of landlords killing tenants, the Soho branch of Fat Angelo’s is currently being transformed into something else courtesy of a ‘prominent F&B group’ mentioned on the real estate agent’s sign. I was dragged in there once, and I can confirm that Fat Angelo’s distinguished itself from other Soho restaurants in that it openly offered low-brow cuisine, while every other place in the neighbourhood pretends their identical-quality fare is something classy.

Also, they sometimes played Jefferson Airplane on the speakers at the door in the afternoon – something we can be fairly sure the pretentious and overpriced exclusive-fine-nouveau-fusion-contemporary-minimalist-concept-theme–sensation that replaces it will not do.

Click to relax over a cup of 1837-style Singapore Breakfast tea and hear ‘DCBA-25’ by the Jefferson Airplane!

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16 Responses to Illustrated report from consumer paradise

  1. Joe Blow says:

    I have never been able to feel sorry for those ‘dining concept groups’ with their over-priced, pretentious crap and their semi-illiterate Flipper/ Gurkha staff. I find it quite satisfying to see them close their clap-board “fine dining” outlets every 2 years or so. I never eat in LKF or Soho (I could say ‘as a matter of principle’, but I don’t have any) but sometimes I just walk around Staunton/ Elgin and look at the suckers on display, just for laughs.

  2. Revolution says:

    All SHK need to do now is get rid of the Dymocks and the cinema, and there’ll be no reason for me to go in IFC at all.

  3. Mary Hinge says:

    Wow. Pacific Coffee closes in IFC. The end of an era. Hemlock’s mate Odell must be in mourning.

    I really have to wonder how TWG will make money. Assuming that the rent and management fee is HK$250k per month (a pure guess, but I reckon a conservative one), and that the other overheads (including staff salaries) are another HK$50k per month (again, conservative I think).

    Now if the average packet of tea costs HK$100 (rip-off, but I bet it does), they would have to sell 3,000 each month just to break even. That’s roughly 100 sales per day.

    And yet I bet the place, when it opens, is perpetually empty …

  4. Gerald says:

    I’m no fan of the pretentious Soho restaurants but I think a better description of Fat Angelo’s food would be (rather than ‘low brow cuisine’) – ‘culinary crap’

  5. Vile says:

    If one end of the IFC weren’t connected to the MTR and the other to the ferry piers, the only inhabitants would be the mall staff and the shop staff. While there are probably enough of the former to keep the latter occupied in the normal world, I can’t imagine anyone on an actual salary (as opposed to, say, inheriting a monopoly from dad) earns enough to go shopping there.

  6. maugrim says:

    I always wondered who shopped at IFC, until I read this:

    Filed under “people who need a kick up the arse”.

  7. Morgan (capital M, small organ) says:

    After Pacific Place closed down McD and the bookstore, I never bothered to go to that corner of town again.

    Last Saturday I was in a hurry and needed a quick bite, so I headed for McD in Queen’s Rd Central, near Ice House Street. Gone !!!!

  8. S Yau says:

    There are always very few used bags on the Milan’s shelves. Instead, most are the latest , trendiest models that the branded shops still have not yet stocked. I wonder if its IPO prospectus had ever disclosed enough on its sources of supply.

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Maugrim

    Who or why or which or what is CURTIS MARSH ?

    I reckon that sub-specimens of human intelligence like him and his spoiled family need high-paid prisons like the 4 Seasons ( I mean the hotel chain, not the singing group) to keep them off the streets of HK where they might infect and harm decent normal humans

  10. Walter De Havilland says:

    Guys, you forget none of these Malls is catering for us. It’s all about pandering after the Mainlanders by selling them a fake version of European sophistication.

  11. maugrim says:

    RTP, testify brother.

  12. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    50% of the people in IFC these days are the real estate salesmen.

  13. Hong Kong, still a colony, only our masters have changed.

  14. shekoman says:

    “Milan Station” is named after Milan Station because “Milan Station” looks like Milan Station which has a stack of boutiques selling handbags, which my missus loaded up on and resold in HK at a fat profit. The nice touch is that all the bags in Milan Station are made in China.

  15. Lammadonna says:

    Shocked and appalled at the loss of Pacific Coffee but greatly relieved to find that MacCafé does acceptable coffee with free cup vouchers! Nice to sit outside but how does one get rid of the the dewlaimomore construction workers and homeless Russian nutters lounging around the free tables?

  16. jluo says:

    Fat Angelo’s empire is crumbling. That’s at least the third location it’s closed in the last three years. Not surprising, though. Its food quality had deteriorated somewhat while its prices went the other way.

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