Why Hugo Boss has opened a store in a place no other luxury brand has
It's not often we hear Sri Lanka topping a traveller's bucket list. Perhaps it's the neighbouring destinations like India, Nepal and Myanmar that have earned an 'eat, pray, love' reputation in mainstream media that has overshadowed the country down south, one replete with unblemished beaches and rolling tides of the Indian Ocean. Its city centre in Colombo still rich with history of a recent colonial past, dotted with architecture that's telling of British Ceylon. The streets are almost spotless — little of what you'll expected from a developing nation, a result of the people's pride. Not to mention the coastal resorts, equipped to host tranquil getaways with tides ripe to crest under a surfer's board.
Despite the above, Sri Lanka is still a port of call that's yet to park itself on the radar of many globetrotters, but we found ourselves on the island for perhaps the unlikeliest of reasons: To celebrate Hugo Boss as the first luxury name to have retail presence in the country.
"A lot of people do not realise how beautiful Sri Lanka is," explained Steven Lam, managing director of Hugo Boss Southeast Asia. "Tourism has been growing 30% every year, and the second largest tourist group in Sri Lanka is the mainland Chinese. I think that we're maybe a year ahead of the curve, because if you look down that way, Shangri-La is building a huge project, and I believe there's a Hilton or Hyatt coming up there."
While it's plain to see that Lam and the brand have tipped the city of Colombo for exponential consumer growth given the upcoming infrastructure, the location that they've managed to snag (the boutique is nestled in the Arcarde Independence Square of Colombo), is a feather in BOSS' cap. "It's such a beautiful building. I'm surprised that no luxury brand has anchored themselves here. Louis Vuitton is very famous for anchoring themselves in historic buildings, so I thought I better get it before they do!"
Rising tourism and a felicitous store location aside, was there a demand for BOSS in the local market and more importantly, what does the Sri Lankan BOSS man want?
"We know that the men here who like BOSS are walking into the stores in other countries. Sri Lankans are very well travelled and they have a high demand for quality and sophistication. [They tend to] demand the exact same quality and experience as they do outside of Sri Lanka," Lam responded, an affirmation that the brand's menswear too, would end up in the closet of a local and not just that of a transient tourist. How they intend on catering to the local market down to the curation the boutique retails — given the potent heat that defines Sri Lankan weather on the regular.
Enter the cosy space outfitted contemporarily with ivory walls and black-lacquered furniture — a contrast to the arcade's stately exterior — and you'll find that the spring/summer 2017 garments from the BOSS line it houses offers a wide range of polo shirts and leather goods, with the occasional utility outer, denim and a smattering of suiting. The judicious gent looking to get a made-to-measure (MTM) two-piecer cut out for himself in Colombo will have to wait, given that the inaugural boutique has yet to roll out a full-fledged service dedicated to personal tailoring. "We are planning to offer perhaps very select clients the MTM service," Lam revealed, likely to be an exception the brand makes for their closest customers, at least for now.
Globally, Hugo Boss has placed themselves at their customers' convenience — a manoeuvre aimed at countering the allure of online shopping in this digital day. "We want to be closer to our clients. There's no point in having three shops on Orchard Road [in Singapore] anymore. The last year, we've opened two stores in Singapore Island Country Club to offer BOSS Green to our clients," Lam said. In Sri Lanka, the same strategy applies. "[The Arcade Independence Square] is a little quiet, but there are a lot of diplomats and embassies around here."
As the city of Colombo — and Sri Lanka — takes on a new commercial face, Hugo Boss, in a way, has its name carved in the country's modern history; having taken the leap to be the first luxury label to venture along a path untrodden. It has high hopes for Southeast Asia's underdog, and big dreams for BOSS in the local luxury landscape. When asked what's in store for the brand in Sri Lanka five years down the road, Lam answered grinning, "We will continue to be the leader in the market. I hope we will have two to three stores."
But first, here's to BOSS' bold beginnings.