It's not easy to be the first, not in the retail business. And against ambitions of regional magnitude from CentralWorld and Siam Paragon, Siam Center _ the first speciality shopping centre in the prime area of Pathumwan-Ratchaprasong _ has been struggling with a few renovations and rebranding to keep its long-cherished "cool".
Since opening in 1973, the shopping mall has been synonymous as the home of "it" local designers _ housing the first Soda Pop, Greyhound, and the only Theatre stores, as well as the first shop of the mass retail chain Jaspal.
Siam Center has undergone four facelifts to strengthen and modernise its position. Its fourth resurrection, which opens to the public today, is set to take the place that was once deemed the meeting point of hip teens to another level.
"We aren't operating on a local standard anymore, but global," says event organising wizard Tinakorn Asvarak, who was commissioned to create the highly-anticipated art and fashion exhibitions at the launch of Siam Center's new look.
The latest face of Siam Center goes beyond a facelift _ whilst both the interior and exterior have completely changed, many new concepts have been incorporated to enhance your experience there.
"Retailing is no longer about retailing, but about providing a variety of experiences and an arena where people can be inspired, excited and entertained," says Chadatip Chutrakul, CEO of Siam Piwat, the developer behind Siam Center, Siam Discovery, Siam Paragon and Paradise Park.
With this most recent revamp, even people who refuse to enter the mall itself will not be able to ignore its new facade. The frontage is given a brilliant display of dazzling lights that create an illusion of continuous movement, emphasising its positioning as a fashion hub and how fashion never stands still. Synchronised music and lights should be enough of a spectacle for pedestrians outside the centre itself.
Inside, both retailers and brand owners have worked together to transform their store designs to reflect the overall theme. Along with the prototype stores comes a range of special services and products that are only available at Siam Center under the concept of "Absolute Siam". More than 200 shops have collaborated on this project and the joint investment has cost more than 1.8 billion baht.
The initiative to establish the shopping centre as a place to come when searching for inspiration gave birth to "new" Siam Center, which aspires to be an "idea-opolis", or city of ideas. Whilst the art pieces on show and fashion displays for the grand opening today are those of Andy Warhol, Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto, it is no empty promise that the displays all throughout the mall will change continuously so visitors never get stuck in a rut.
"I think this new concept is to answer the demand of the market," says Varavut Laohapongchana, entertainment news anchor and PR and marketing director of Christian Dior (Thailand). "People don't just eat and shop anymore, we do more than that and perhaps it is not enough anymore for a mall to just provide the basics."
Idea Avenue will be an area where world-leading trends can be seen and explored. It will consist of Live Extendist, a dream-like tour of the landscape, whilst Timeline Extendist is periscope of interactions, fun and technology, where visitors can learn about the centre's 40-year history. For the technology-savvy, fans can watch testimonies of love for Siam Center at the Overhead Mirror Room while others can send their digital messages to be displayed on specially designed screens at Idea Flow.
"The new persona of Siam Center is faceless, ageless and sexless," explains Siam Piwat executive vice-president of business promotion Mayuree Chaipromprasith. "It's not necessarily a teenager like you might think. It can be anyone from a 15-year-old boy to a 50-year-old aunty _ just about anyone who has a passion to be ahead of trends. This is the place to be at if you want to know about the latest trends."
Siam Center has always been the face of fashion-forwardness, with a number of major and minor changes in its long history. It is also the only mall to have survived for this long, despite its fair share of both human-made and natural disasters. You could say it has endured an endless string of unfortunate events _ with the centre battling fire in 1995, the IMF crisis in 1997, crippling traffic from the construction of the BTS, and political instability in 2010, on top of numerous economic recessions and ever-changing consumer behaviour.
Nevertheless, it emerged triumphant out of the clutter with this year's revolutionary development concept.
This month marks Siam Center's 40th birthday, since it first opened its doors on Jan 29, 1973. Initially built as the first American-standard mall to keep the guests at the long-gone Siam Intercontinental Hotel occupied, the mall was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before in Bangkok, gathering restaurants, boutiques and international fashion in the one place. Such an accomplishment was considered a radical for those days.
The mall has always been the first one to host fashion shows, concerts and design competitions, on top of housing the stores of Thai fashion designers, as well as bringing in international ones.
Brands from abroad often touch down at Siam Center first before expanding to other locations, but the strong point of this mall has always been being the second home of Thai designers. In fact, some fashion houses, such as Theatre, can only be found at Siam Center as they have not opened boutiques elsewhere. As a strong supporter that has contributed to the evolution of Thai fashion, more than 40 Thai brands reside at Siam Center.
With its strong selling point of being a beehive for Thai fashion houses and an initiator of, yet again, "new experiences", Siam Center might just establish itself as the ultimate destination of shopping that the world must see.
About the author
- Writer: Parisa Pichitmarn
Position: Life Writer