Boutique, Bold and Beautiful

The trend in the consumer lifestyle industry today is for stores/venues/products to become smaller and more personalized. I-S investigates this phenomenon that is permeating our clubbing, dining, style and tech scene, and lets you in on the various establishments that you simply must check out for the ultimate boutique experience.
Shopaholics Aristocrat
While most ordinary folks prefer the shopping malls, real trend followers will let you know that it’s the smaller fashion boutiques that provide the edge in the local fashion scene. Over the past year or so, more and more hip standalone boutiques like Front Row and Asylum at Ann Siang Hill, and Salad and White Room at Haji Lane, have brought in cool labels and selected pieces (sometimes one-off) for more discerning shoppers.
“We are known to many people as a ‘quiet’ concept boutique store…which means that whenever you visit, there may not be a lot of people, which is the way we like it,” says Front Row’s founder Ann Kositchotitana. “This way, we can get to know our customers and give them good service. And even though we carry high-end cult brands, we are never snobbish, and are not pretentious.”
Tricia Lum, owner of Antipodean at Holland Village, agrees. “Because I try to be at the shop as often as I can, I know most of my regular customers by name, and they like that I’m learning to know which styles or what sizes fit them; as opposed to a high street store where a different salesperson serves you each time,” she explains. “My customers also do not mind paying a premium for something few others possess.”
And considering that more local fashionistas are more clued-in and well-traveled these days, the rise of the indie fashion boutique phenomenon is inevitable. “This assessment and trend awareness by more and more well traveled consumers means that the demand for such exclusive and personal touches in retailing has to be addressed…hence the boutique shopping experience is geared at catering to this growing customer base who are more boutique-y, so to speak,” explains Jacqueline Tan, marketing manager of boutique Venue Berlin.
Check out these indie boutique stores.
Clubhouse Party
It’s not just retail that’s getting the boutique treatment these days. Local nightlife has also gotten smaller, more intimate and exclusive, especially with the launch of sexier and intimate bars like Kandi Bar and FashionBar at The Cannery, while smaller and niche joints like Velvet Underground and Attica are still packing them in. Even giant clubs like Ministry of Sound (MoS) and The Clinic boast smaller rooms for punters who prefer a more personalized clubbing space.
“Smaller rooms deliver a nice, more intimate space to clubbers who prefer something a little more personal,” says MoS and The Clinic’s marketing manager Calvin Sio. “And because the rooms are a lot smaller, they allow for a more niche brand of music to be played, which makes this very different from the big dancehall experience at MoS. The music policies in those rooms allow for us to be a lot more experimental and credible.”
Andrew Ing, chief operating officer of the mammoth St. James Power Station, which houses smaller venues within its compounds, like Mono and Bellini Room, agrees that niche, classier venues are the way to go for more experienced and selective punters. “When addressing those more sophisticated and discerning, you need smaller places,” he says. “Smaller rooms also allow you to give more attention to detail. It’s not cost efficient to do this with a big room. Movida and Bellini Room are intimate venues without being too chi chi or exclusive as well, ensuring that it’s still accessible to all.”
The boutique experience in nightlife started way back in 1994, when Velvet Underground was launched, and its constant popularity is just a sign that more punters are opting for more intimate clubs. “A lot of Velvet’s audience began their clubbing experience from Zouk, before they move on to Velvet. We wanted to create more options for them, so that they would be able to continue to patronize us and be able to enjoy a different experience every time they come to the club, depending on their mood or the day of the week,” explains Zouk’s marketing manager Tracy Phillips of the trend.
Niche bars in town.
By Reservation Only
The trend towards personalized experiences is happening in the dining scene too. There are more and more places in town that offer private dining services, as diners increasingly like the thought that they are eating at somewhere that feels like some’s home (but is really an exclusive venue), and being catered to by a private chef with a specially tailored menu. These places don’t come cheap, but people are willing to pay for that special feeling that they are in-the-know and oh-so-very cool.
Newly opened 289 Private Dining Space is the latest to join this niche. Party hostess of 289, Wendy Ho, knows she’s hit the nail on the head with this business. “Customers like the feeling that they have discovered something, that they know about something no on else does. Because 289 is so small, we pay a lot of attention to detail. We change the table settings all the time, even the art on the wall. Customers like the personalized service, the guarantee that there is a small, dedicated team working for them all the time. And for this they pay a little more, of course.”
289 comes some time after Xi Yan, one of Singapore’s first private dining restaurants, that burst onto the scene just over a year ago. Xi Yan here is a scion of Xi Yan in Hong Kong run by Chef Jacky Yu who is really well known in Hong Kong’s restaurant circles. Since it opened, Singapore’s Xi Yan has gone through a few changes, not least the departure of its executive chef, but has kept going with Jacky now training teams of chefs in Hong Kong for the Singapore kitchen. It’s hard to put your finger on the style of the food, it’s part-Cantonese, part-Szechuan, part-Thai, except to say that it’s very good. If you’ve been you’ll know what we mean. If you haven’t been now’s not a bad time to go. Once notoriously difficult to get into, Xi Yan sets aside a couple of tables every night for last minute bookings so you no longer have to wait weeks.
We all know Graze. That beautiful restaurant and bar in a black-and-white in the hip Rochester Park. While it doesn’t offer private dining as such, we’ve included here because it has different sections that can be booked separately. “We often host cocktail parties in the cinema area, and birthday parties in the upstairs bar, Mint,” says owner Yan Wong. The main restaurant has a private “room” that seats 10-12—cordoned off from the dining area by a sheer curtain—but we suggest the bar, or cinema. After all, what is cooler than drinking with your friends at an outdoor cinema in a gorgeous colonial house? Hard to beat.
Over at Ristorante da Valentino, the well-loved family-run trattoria in upper Bukit Timah, a private dining space opened about six months ago. With their also small restaurant packed to the gills almost every night, Chef Valentino and his wife saw that their customers would go for the option of holding private dinner parties here. And they were not wrong. From what we know, the private dining room is highly popular.
At il Lido, the current darling of the dining scene, private dining is taken to the next level. Forget about booking a room, or a space, here you can book nothing less than, a yacht. For a cool three thousand smackaroos, you can have a gorgeous yacht for you and your guests. Before you fall off your chair, let us tell you that this includes food and drinks for up to 16 people—which works out to less than $200 per head, about the same that you’d pay in a regular restaurant, except that you’re on a yacht!
Suave Managing Director Beppe De Vito says: “When customers are on the yacht they feel like it’s their own, with Il Lido’s chef and service. People eat and drink much more on a yacht than they do in a restaurant because they feel at home. They let go.”
With such an eclectic range of boutique bars, clubs and dining options in town, no wonder more and more punters are heading that way, and unlikely to look back anytime soon.
Private Dining Restaurants
How Boutique Are You?
We ask four individuals about their style, clubbing and dining preferences and rate them based on our boutique Richter scale.
Lynn Yeow, PR Director
What she is wearing: A dress from Malaysian designer Melinda Ooi and Nine West shoes.
Where she usually shops: I don’t usually look for specific brands, and I’m not trend-oriented. To me, it’s the quality that matters, and recent buys include brands like True Religion, Maharishi, Tod’s, Chloe and Diane von Furstenberg. I also prefer smaller boutiques like Puce at Palais Renaissance.
Where she usually dines: I like the idea that when I go to a restaurant, I feel comfortable. Which is why I always go back to places like Graze, iL Lido and Le Papillon where the waiters know my name and can just whip out my favorite meal without me having to order anything!
Boutique Richter scale: 9 out of 10.
Kenneth Tan, Art Gallery Owner
What he is wearing: Kim Jones long-sleeve tee, Zara jeans and Phillipe Starck shoes.
Where he usually shops: Mostly on Club Street these days, especially in boutiques like Venue and Front Row. I don’t like run-of-the-mill clothes, and seeing people who wear the same thing as me on the streets irks me.
Where he usually clubs: I like smaller bars like those found on Club Street.
Where he usually dines: Le Bistro and iL Lido.
Boutique Richter scale: 8 out of 10.
Tracy Koh, Editor
What she is wearing: Blouse from BYSI, jeans from Giordano and shoes from Tangs.
Where she usually shops: Usually at Zara and Tangs, and Blush! for my lingerie. I’m not special in the way I dress and in that sense, I’m like everyone else.
Where she usually clubs: Ministry of Sound.
Where she usually dines: Hawker centers, or coffee joints like tcc and Coffee Club. I’m quite mass.
Boutique Richter scale: 1 out of 10.
Chin, Store Manager
What she is wearing: A shirt that my aunt made for me, a G2000 shirt that I customized, jeans from U2 and shoes from army market at Beach Road.
Where she usually shops: I don’t limit myself to any one venue as I believe that style is more important. People usually described my style as “orbit” or “mismatch.” That said, I admire designers like Kim Jones and Jonathan Seow from Woods and Woods, and I have selected pieces from them.
Where she usually dines: P.S. Café and Marmalade Pantry.
Boutique Richter scale: 3 out of 10.