文／ Daniel Jeffreys
唯泰主席布莱恩·盖里森（Brian Garrison）是奕欧来苏州建设的总负责人，他说：“奕欧来苏州的建筑灵感来自马可·波罗于十三世纪的旅行。在我们的想像里，马可·波罗离开苏州之时，留下了几位探险队的意大利队友，他们在十三世纪的苏州城阳澄湖畔驻扎下来，并在一股清泉旁边建造了一座航海时代的小镇。时光荏苒，这座小镇渐渐被世人遗忘；唯泰则重新找回了这座小村 庄，让它重新绽放昔日风采，打造成清丽脱俗的购物旅游胜地。”
Yi Ou Lai Suzhou Village brings new intimacy to luxury shopping in China
The London based Value Retail became the leader of the shopping tourism industry when it opened Bicester Village in 1995, and its successful formula has now be applied in Suzhou, with an enchanting destination that creates a new air of intimacy for China’s luxury clientele. Daniel Jeffreys reports.
Language is a beguiling creature. Like a chameleon it can change its tone at a moment’s notice, creating befuddlement and puzzles.
Take the word village: In the English language the word implies intimacy and charm. The village, for many in England, is an emblem of the country’s spirit, a term that speaks of close friends, beautiful countryside and intimate relationships.
In Chinese, the character 村 (Cūn), which translates into “village” in English, is more likely to suggest impoverishment, a place of bedraggled streets and dismal circumstances, it is not a place to return to or covet, as is the English village, but a place to escape from.
That may soon change, now that Value Retail, the world’s most successful operator of shopping tourism Villages, has chosen to build its first multi-million dollar shopping destination on the banks of the famous Yangcheng Lake, 60 minutes from Shanghai, where it will be known as Yi Ou Lai Suzhou Village.
“The name Yi Ou Lai means ‘radiance from Europe’ and part of what we hope to bring to China is the charm of the European village,”
says Mark Israel, the Chief Executive of Value Retail China. “In Europe, villages are prime tourism destinations and the tourist experience with its unique sense of place, atmosphere of escape and the promise of an idyllic lifestyle is at the heart of the shopping experience we provide.”
Value Retail may also have chosen this moment to open its first Village in China because they sense a change of direction is taking place, especially among the emerging middle class consumer.
Within the Garden itself guests will be able to stroll among softly scented breezes fed by camphor, magnolia and cedar trees. As they pass by ancient rock formations they will be rewarded by an intimate encounter with the garden’s iconic mermaid. She sits as guardian of the Village’s mythical spring, commanding a space that’s likely to become one of China’s most photographed tourist destinations.
Indeed it is the social networking opportunities that Suzhou Village will offer that is most likely to prove its claim to being an intimate destination, where shopping and tourism are entwined in affectionate harmony. Social networking exists to bring an intimate sense of place to friends and family, who are not present in the moment, except through WiFi transmissions. Photographs from resorts, hotels and restaurants are the most frequently shared because these are the experiences we prefer to exchange with friends, and this way of reaching out is powerful evidence of our humanity and sense of empathy.
Suzhou Village is the first retail destination in China where human scale and intimate connectively have been programmed into the architecture, the service, the gastronomy, the shopping experience and the DNA of the company’s relationship with its clients.
Sometimes big is not better, it’s just big, whereas intimacy, being the first cousin of our emotions, always begins somewhere small, in the heart, and that appears to be the starting point for Value Retail in China.
In recent years, the urban shopping experience has become less human in scale. Shop fronts in Tier One cities like Shanghai have become monumental in size, often dwarfing the consumer and conveying a sense of alienation.
For some, the message is one of domination, of being commanded and yelled at in letters ten or twenty feet high. For the new middle class consumer, often driven by a sharp hunger for self-expression, this is becoming a turn-off and they have begun to seek a retail experience that is more like a genteel conversation than a shouting match.
Value Retail China’s Yi Ou Lai Suzhou Village is perfectly placed to meet their needs. The Village has an air of intimacy, which can be felt from the moment a guest enters through one of the four lantern gates. These carry visitors from the parking garage onto one of the curved boulevards, sinuous pathways that lead consumers through a traffic-free encounter with enchantment. And there’s that linguistic chameleon again. The streets in Suzhou are not “boulevards”, which is a French word, but are instead called “Via”, “Corte” or “Largo”, Italian terms that conjure up the atmosphere of a Venetian-style settlement.
“Suzhou Village is inspired by Marco Polo’s journey from Venice to Suzhou in the 13th century,”
says Brian Garrison, President of Value Retail International, who lead the team that designed the Suzhou property. “We imagined that some of his men remained in Suzhou, built a maritime village around a natural spring, which was then abandoned many years later. In our narrative we have returned the settlement to its former glory and given it a means to be prosperous again, through shopping tourism.”
The result is a Village where the buildings are human in scale, intimate and engaging. Tiled balconies decorate most of the structures, which vary in size from something appropriate for a wealthy nobleman, to more compact buildings that might house a successful merchant, artisan or artist. The high windows lead the imagination to summon up Juliet walking to a rail and looking down in search of her Romeo, of operatic romance drawing the eye up, so that it caresses the tiled horizon as it meets the big sky above.
“We want our guests to feel like they have come home, to an environment that embraces them,”
says Israel. “The Village is a place that comforts, as much as it inspires. We have partnered with the famous École hôtelière de Lausanne to ensure that the service we provide is equivalent to a five-star hotel, and that is consistent with the experience in a British village, which is often a place where everybody knows your name. Great service is personal, and the European village is all about intimate, individual relationships.”
Intimacy has been built into every aspect of the Suzhou Village experience. All of the top-class gourmet offerings operate at street level, and most will have outdoor seating that will turn a promenade through the Village into a great exercise in people watching. And the Village’s trademark Water Garden opens next month with an exhibition in its Water Pavilion. This will marry emergent Chinese fashion designers and artists, to create an immersive experience that brings shoppers into close proximity with inspiring emotions.