superchat singapore: walid zaazaa

© manifesto / photography: michel dupré - walid zaazaa looking sharp

singapore may be an affluent boomtown with the prerequisite abundance of first world perks, but in terms of shopping it's somewhat bland, and there remain a few things left to be desired. sure, there are bountiful luxury malls, stores and brands to be found in the island state, but very, very few offer a curated palette of merchandise that appeals to the savviest of shoppers, one whose eclectic taste level transcends the traditional perimeters of fashion and lifestyle. this is where walid zaazaa, an equally savvy french national, comes into the picture to shake up the city's retail scene. formerly working as a fashion designer at calvin klein, dkny and replay  to name but an illustrious few  zaazaa has crossed over to retail to create a more profound connection with a specific kind of consumer. and for that ambitious purpose, the young entrepreneur sets up an exciting new concept store called manifesto. superfuture picked zaazaa's brain regarding his retail vision and soon-to-open retail business.

your background is fashion design. what has brought about this transition to retail? very often as a designer, especially when working for big companies, you kind of feel disconnected from the customer. you never know who buys your products, how they use them, and why they choose them. it's a little bit frustrating – it's like being on the other side of the mirror: you might have a rough idea of what's going on, but you can't see the things that matter the most. now i’m switching to the retail side of the fashion business – the real side, and i find it extremely interesting and enriching. 

could you tell me more about the design of your new store, and your collab with online retailer inverted edgemanifesto will be a fully open space where we showcase products as in a contemporary art gallery. the shop will occupy 250 sqm. [2,691 sq.ft.], so it's pretty big. the idea is to keep it airy and uncluttered. a huge metal structure is situated in the middle where we present the products, artists and labels that we'd like to highlight. the space has been designed by wy-to, a very innovative architectural agency based here in singapore. they've worked with museums in the past, and they do amazing installations, mixing avant-garde simplicity and an unexpected use of materials. it was important for us to design the store in a minimalist and contemporary way because this is our aesthetic vision. i think we can relate the feeling of the store to the bauhaus era or industrial minimalism in general. and inverted edge is our online partner. they're helping us to bring our philosophy online through their website. 
you chose to set up shop in singapore, why there? i've lived in singapore for a few years, and it has always been difficult for me and my friends to find cool brands or cool stores. most people travel to europe or japan to shop the labels and designers they love. so, i started to think that it would be good to start a business that offers what's missing, while not necessarily replicating existing concepts from abroad and instead invent a brand new retail experience that you'd only find in singapore.
how would you rate singapore in terms of retail? what would you consider the city’s pros and cons in comparison to bangkok, jakarta, manila or even kuala lumpur? retail is pretty tough here. i think singaporeans are very conservative when it comes to fashion. many people still spend lots of money on both statement and logo-type brands. but then again, there's a growing fashion community, and this crowd is looking for design, style and quality instead of prestigious names. people in bangkok are actually more adventurous and they're really looking for niche brands and new trends, but the spending power is not as big as singapore. jakarta, manila and kuala lumpur are interesting places. we think that there'll be important opportunities for fashion concept stores in these cities in the near future. we already have an eye on potential expansions to all these different places. 
could you elaborate on the goods that you’ll carry at manifesto? we'll be carrying designer brands such as costume national, lemaire and barbara bui. more casual brands like kitsuné and ymc are placed next to alternative designers such as avelon from amsterdam, divka from japan and french label unity. we'll also stock nike and adidas sneakers, eyewear by linda farrow, dyptique candles, fragrances by comme des garçons and lots more. there'll be around 70 brands, and the majority will be exclusive to manifesto
do you believe that different sensibilities in asian culture require a different approach when it comes to matters such as the service level you envision, the kind of merchandise you choose or other things? if so, how do you anticipate and what is manifesto’s customer profile? when it comes to retail, for sure asia has its own peculiarities. for example people in southeast asia aren't willing to engage with floor staff as much as in europe or in the states. but at the same time they expect excellence in customer service [read: alteration, delivery, special packaging]. and when it comes to merchandising, obviously sizing is very different too. because we aim to appeal to a mixed clientele of locals, expats and tourists, it's at the same time not easy to approach such a diverse customer profile. we try to integrate this when we buy the collections.
what's your view on having an online presence and using online media as a retailer? we believe in omni-channel retail. that means that a product being sold by a retailer can reach different kinds of customers through a brick and mortar store, an online store, an app and also social media at the same time. it helps to increase the sell-through and it also serves to propose goods to your customer even when he or she is not present in the shop. in my opinion, this is the future of retail, even if technology is still not completely ready yet. that’s actually the reason we wanted to collaborate with inverted edge. they're the best online retailer in southeast asia and they are dedicated to try to create a real omni-channel retail experience. beside this, with all the social media like facebook and instagram at anyone’s disposal, you can reach people directly anytime. thus in theory, the store is never closed. 
what are the essential components of good retail and an appealing shopping experience? for us the most important element is the product that we select and carry. this obviously is the very foundation. each product at manifesto should have a story and a reason to be in the store. we don’t select a brand only because it's nice to have, but because we really believe in its potential to offer something interesting and fresh to the customer. good service is very important too, of course, and it's an integral part of the shopping experience that we bring. we're going to try to improve, refine and redefine all these parameters from season to season because they're the backbone of the manifesto philosophy and experience.
we can’t imagine that with your design background there won’t be a manifesto-branded line of apparel or other goods. do you have plans in that direction? well, you're completely right. that’s the next step, and i can’t wait for it to happen. design is something i've done for a very long time and i'm still loving it. but i talk a lot with my team and we definitely don’t want to do it in an expected way. we don’t want to rush into it and do a bundle of products under the name manifesto. we already have plans and Ideas, but now is too just early to elaborate on that.
the world’s leading concept stores are often hybrid platforms where creativity is celebrated in many forms. does manifesto anticipate such a role as well? again, you've got it completely right. all the concept stores we love differentiate themselves from basic multi-brand shops, and that's exactly our ambition. most of the time stores are sterile spaces selling a bunch of products at a certain price, but i'd like to think that it's possible to propose a different approach to connect with one's customers. we really think the element of art has an important part to play at manifesto, and we're collaborating with an art curator who'll select contemporary artists to exhibit at the store or perhaps even take over the space. art is a way to not just sell, but also to create emotions and reactions, to communicate to your customer in a different way. on top of that, fashion perfectly complements art, in the way that wine and cheese are a great match.