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Image: The Straits Times

In time for Christmas, the Orchard Road shopping circuit is abuzz with four new store openings and revamped retail concepts over the past two weeks.

Familiar brand names have come back with fresh looks.

Department store Metro opened its six-storey branch at The Centrepoint, while Shaw Centre and Shaw House have completed a 20-month renovation which comes with new food and lifestyle concepts.

International brands Crate & Barrel and Tokyu Hands have opened their second stores, stocked with new products not available at their original outlets.

Here are three spots to check out:

Metro Centrepoint

The stylishly revamped Metro at Centrepoint has new in-house labels for fashionistas, grooming services for men and even a red London bus for children to play in.

After a four-month overhaul, the new Metro covering 125,000 sq ft of retail space opened on Nov 8 at The Centrepoint.

The home-grown department store is the anchor tenant at the mall and takes up an expansive six floors. Its merchandise is equally wide ranging, featuring beauty and wellness, fashion for men and women, homeware, bedding and bathroom accessories and a kids section.

Over the years, The Centrepoint, a 31-year-old shopping centre has been overshadowed by shinier, newer malls and stores in the Somerset zone.

The reborn Metro branch hopes to recapture the buzz, which the mall had in its heyday, with new products and new shopping experiences.

Mr Hugh Kwan, spokesman for Metro Centrepoint and its branch manager, says: “We’re very proud to bring this new experience to this part of Orchard Road.”

When Robinsons finished its lease at Centrepoint in May, Metro took over its premises. Robinsons set up its new 186,000 sq ft flagship store at The Heeren in Orchard Road last November.

Metro Centrepoint is the brand’s fifth and biggest store here. Currently, Metro, a 57-year-old brand, has four stores – at Causeway Point, City Square Mall, Compass Point and The Paragon. Metro last opened a department store in 2009, its City Square Mall outlet.

At Metro Centrepoint, fashionistas can try on apparel from new in-house labels such as Jo Burton with its modern, British-inspired look.

There is also Kurt Woods for contemporary urban city wear while m.maison, which has a homeware line, has now branched out into its first clothing line. With its understated cotton collection of weathered denim and indigo blues, m.maison has a distinct Japanese vibe.

And for exclusivity, these apparel lines have “limited edition” pieces that will not be restocked once they have sold out.

Aside from fashion, the store also offers special in-house services. Barbershop Sultans of Shave, which has an outlet in North Canal Road, now offers grooming services at Metro.

Other personalised services include a Design Lab by Danovel on the fifth floor, where customers can make their own pieces, from couches to headboards.

Shoppers will have a fuss-free experience with the store’s clean and easy- to-navigate layout.

For example, on the homeware floor, cookware and accessories are grouped according to Modern, Retro and Asian themes.

The merchandise has also been curated, with less popular products being taken off the sales floor.

Mr Kwan says: “We’ve been a retailer for a long time, so we can filter what’s no longer applicable to the market. With our store layout, we wanted it to be simple enough for customers to navigate on their own without asking for directions.”

Metro shopper Chia Jialin, 29, gave the new store the thumbs-up after exploring it yesterday afternoon.

The regional marketing manager for a telecommunications company says: “It has a good, interesting range of home and decor items. The products are in line with the current trends, especially the choice of vintage products.

“I’ll be back to shop again as it’s in a convenient location too.”

Metro Centrepoint is open at The Centrepoint, 176 Orchard Road, from 10am to 10pm.

We like:

1 Bring home a piece of Metro: The store sells its visual merchandising props. Items tagged with brown labels are for sale. Hits include watercolour works by Hong Kong artist John Woo, who painted Star Wars figures such as Jar Jar Binks in fashion brands including Maison Martin Margiela. Each work is $290.

2 Retro is in: There is a huge homeware section dedicated to the highlights of yesteryear, with cups and plates decked out in retro prints.

3 The children’s floor: On the uppermost floor is a life-size installation of the iconic red London bus and it doubles as a merchandise display case.

Shaw Centre and Shaw House

The next time you head to Shaw House for a movie, you may end up staying longer to shop as well.

Together with Shaw Centre, both buildings were finally ready last weekend after a 20-month renovation. They did not close and continued to operate during renovation works with most of the changes at Shaw Centre.

Mr Mark Shaw, executive vice- president of operations at Shaw Organisation, says: “Renovating Shaw House and Shaw Centre has always been in the works. We looked at it about six years ago, around the time we renovated the movie theatre.

“The last time we did a building renovation was in the 1980s, but it was a small one. So it’s definitely time to update it. The building was looking tired, so we needed to spruce it up.”

A major change involved integrating Shaw House with Shaw Centre.

Previously, shoppers had to go up and down steps to meander between the two buildings. To improve access, three floors at Shaw Centre were demolished and the levels redistributed between both buildings.

There are more food options too. A basement foodcourt run by Food Republic opened in June.

Its 18 stalls and four mini restaurants often bustle during lunch time as it is the only foodcourt on this side of Scotts Road.

There are also five new stalls exclusive to this location. They include Bu Er Xin Handmade Bao, Saladicious, Sumire Yakitori-Tei, Kimchi Xpress, and Makan Bagus Indonesian Cuisine.

To accommodate the foodcourt, water tanks and a plant nursery were moved to other parts of the building.

Mr Shaw says: “Previously, a lot of the space was inefficiently used. So while Shaw Centre and Shaw House look much bigger now, there actually isn’t any change in size. We planned our retail space better.”

Shoppers will also notice that the mall area has more beauty nooks. The SK-II Boutique Spa, which was previously in Scotts Road, has taken up a second-level unit at Shaw Centre.

Raffles Medical Group, EHA Skincare and Cambridge Cosmetic Surgery will also open outlets soon.

On attracting beauty brands to set up shop here, Mr Shaw says: “Wellness and beauty are not something you can do online, so for us, these are growth sectors which we want to tap.”

Shoppers and office workers in the building gave the new look of the malls the thumbs-up.

Mr Rajit Punshi, 46, owner of a consultancy firm in the building, says: “The foodcourt is a great addition because we had to walk quite a bit to Ion Orchard to get to its foodcourt, but it’s always packed. Overall, the building looks good because it’s new.”

But he hopes the mall management can tweak teething problems. For instance, the lifts which are shared between the mall and the offices can take a long time to arrive on each floor.

He adds: “We can wait at least 10 minutes for the lift and often, it’s full when it arrives.”

We like:

1 Flagship stores galore: Brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Nike and SK-II Boutique Spa have gone big at Shaw Centre and Shaw House. These brands have opened their flagship stores here, with American label Polo Ralph Lauren taking up a duplex store.

2 Eco-friendly carpark: Shaw Centre and Shaw House were revamped to be an environment-friendly mall. Among its best green features are three parking spaces on the fifth-floor carpark, where electric cars can be recharged. Car owners have to register with Zeco Systems, open an account and deposit money to use the lots. It costs $2 an hour to charge a car.

3 Urban plaza: The terraced public concourse, which was a popular hangout, has been covered up and turned into an urban plaza. Shaw Organisation has held a few red-carpet events such as the South-east Asian premiere of Guardians Of The Galaxy at the 1,000 sq m space. It is a good move as the area now gets more light. With seating areas and water features, it is also a good spot to people-watch.

Crate & Barrel

Following the success of its first store at Ion Orchard, American home furnishings retailer Crate & Barrel has gone for a bigger look the second time round.

Last weekend, the brand opened its five- storey flagship store at Orchard Gateway @ Emerald. The mall opened in April.

The 21-storey Orchard Gateway is connected by a glass linkbridge to the 11-storey Orchard Gateway @ Emerald. Here, Crate & Barrel spans 25,000 sq ft from basement two to level three.

In comparison, the brand’s first store in Ion Orchard – and Asia – took up 16,000 sq ft of space when it opened last year. It is spread out over three units on the third and fourth levels of Ion Orchard, though both levels are not linked.

It was always the brand’s intention to have two stores in the Orchard Road area, says Crate & Barrel Singapore’s executive director, Mr Yung Ong. “Both stores cater to what we feel are two different groups of shoppers who often do not travel to both districts to shop. Part of our plan was also to have both Crate & Barrel and CB2 at Peranakan Place Complex within close proximity to allow our customers to shop at both stores with ease.”

CB2 is a sister store of Crate & Barrel and sells home furnishings targeted at young adults. It is at Peranakan Place, a stone’s throw away from the new store.

The Orchard Gateway store, which is 40 per cent bigger, features a larger selection of products.

Mr Ong, who is also the director of local luxury furniture retailer Proof Living, adds: “We’ve also been careful to ensure that both locations will feature merchandise exclusive to each store so that customers will have a different experience.”

The larger store allows it to carry more kitchen gadgets, a bigger collection of botanicals and more furnishings.

Prices are the same at both stores, starting at 95 cents for a citrus peeler to $5,399 for a Milo Classic Chair.

Crate & Barrel is open daily at Orchard Gateway @ Emerald from 10am to 10pm.

We like:

1 New curtain range: The new store has a curtain “wall” where you can see how drapes look when hung up. Curtains are sold only at the Orchard Gateway @ Emerald store and there are products such as sheer curtains, tie-backs and curtain rods.

2 Bar accessories range: Alcohol drinkers will rejoice at the big range of bar accessories here. Choose between bar carts or cabinets large enough to store a collection of wine bottles. And then there are rows of glassware and ample add-ons such as ice buckets – enough to please the pickiest buyer.

3 Living and dining homeware under one roof with beds and bathroom accessories: Shopping gets easier at the new store, with all the items under one roof. At the store’s Ion Orchard branch, customers have to leave each section to get to another on a different floor. Here, all the floors are linked by a central escalator.

Tokyu Hands

Japanophiles who rue having to make a long trek to Westgate in Jurong East to get their fix of Tokyu Hands – it opened there three months ago – can now head to a more central location.

The lifestyle store, which gained fans for being the go-to place for quirky homeware products and do-it-yourself items, opened its second outlet in Singapore at Orchard Central on Thursday. The 7,500 sq ft outlet is about the same size as its Jurong East one.

The 38-year-old brand, which first opened in Shibuya, was originally a D-I-Y and hobby shop. Today, it has 28 department stores and 21 speciality stores in Japan alone. It has set up shop in China and Taiwan too.

The company decided to open in Orchard Road because of its location, says Mr Shinji Fujikawa, director of Singapore’s Tokyu Hands outlet and general manager of the brand. “Orchard Road is in the centre of Singapore and attracts many Singaporeans and tourists who are trendsetting. This mall, too, is always chasing new concepts, which is similar to what our brand does.”

He adds that the brand is buoyed by its growing popularity from opening its first outlet, though products which made the best-selling list here surprised him.

In the first weekend when it opened in Westgate, more than 1,500 people thronged the store.

Mr Fujikawa says: “We expected to sell more unique products such as oil sprays and a back support product. But it was the basic things such as coffee filters and tea strainers that sold well.”

Indeed, the store is well stocked with daily necessities such as stationery, crockery, luggage bags and umbrellas. There is also a beauty range that includes shampoo, skincare and hair products.

Given that many products have instructions in Japanese or in limited English, there are videos which show shoppers how to use them.

And Singaporean product designers should take note: There may be a chance of having Singapore-designed products in the store, which usually works with Japanese designers. Tokyu Hands has worked with designers in Taiwan, where its spin-off is called Hands Tailung. Mr Fujikawa says: “In future, we would like to try working with Singapore designers to have their products in our store.”

Tokyu Hands is at Orchard Central, B1-07, and opens from 11am to 10pm.

We like:

1 Japan Difference section gets bigger: The Japan Difference section, which highlights high-quality made- in-Japan products by the country’s designers, is much bigger than at its Westgate outlet. More than 70 per cent of the products here are available exclusively at Orchard Central.

Here, shoppers can find quirky yet useful products such as UnBrella, an inverted umbrella by Japanese product design firm H Concept, which exposes only the dry side of the brolly and can stand on its own.

2 Showerhead testing area: There is a sink set-up for shoppers to test which showerhead they want to buy. For instance, they can test the showerhead’s water pressure. With more than 10 showerheads to choose from, shoppers will have fun creating some waterworks.

True to its concept, there are quirky products such as a showerhead with seven types of jewelled ceramics ($325) with ruby and jade, for example, and also a rain showerhead, where the user feels like he is being sprayed with mist ($61).

3 Must-buy shelf: With its many interesting products, some of which have never been seen here before, the store can be overwhelming if you do not know where to start.

Head over to this section of the store where popular products have been singled out such as a cutter which cuts cucumbers in a spiral manner and a fingertip tong, which lets its user avoid touching meat when he is slicing it.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on November 22, 2014. For similar stories, go to http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.