Coffee and a dash of chic

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 September, 1996, 12:00am

The woman was dressed in Donna Karan fitted black pants and white cotton shirt, a casual but chic ensemble perfect for shopping. The obligatory Prada handbag sat on the table next to her wide-framed tortoiseshell sunglasses, bags of shopping at her feet.

She picked at a slice of cheesecake as she flicked through a copy of American Vogue, glancing up occasionally to see who was watching her or who she should be watching.

In a town where 'shop till you drop' is the raison d'etre, an increasing number of stores from DKNY to Michiko London have adopted the idea of in-house designer cafes.

Instead of shopping, dropping and going home, the stores encourage clients to shop, drop in at their cafe, snack on a designer morsel, re-energise and continue spending, all without having to leave the premises: the total fashion experience.

Edith Wei, PR and marketing manager at DKNY's superstore in Tsim Sha Tsui, says the chic cafe aims to give its customers a New York-style experience.

'New York is about energy and food. Coffee culture is popular there. People like to hang around in a coffee shop and read magazines,' she says.

'Hong Kong is catching up in that respect. The cafe creates more of a total picture.' With the Big Apple in mind, the menu includes such fashionable fare as bagels, brownies, cheesecakes and a variety of aromatic coffees.

Since opening in January, the cool corner has attracted regular customers who go to see and be seen, to chat, read, eat and look over the hot and hassled pedestrians on Canton Road - all within arm's reach of their favourite designer clothes.

In Jordan, Michiko London, which opened in May, has allocated one-third of the store area to a slick cafe serving pastries, sandwiches and simple Japanese snacks.

'Impatient husbands and bored boyfriends can take a break at the cafe while wives and girlfriends try on clothes,' said Sanjo Wong, manager of the coffee shop, operated by the Panash bakery chain.

About a third of the shoppers are tourists from Taiwan and Japan who can relax at the boutique without returning to their hotels; the store also attracts young shoppers and families, Wong says.

Over at the 8,300-square-foot Guess megastore in Causeway Bay, a deli corner is being created on the second floor, which is due to open next month. To appeal to the young clientele, it will feature a video wall, magazine racks and two computer terminals where customers can log in and read about the label on the Guess website.

The deli will offer snacks such as muffins and cakes, as well as more substantial dishes like lasagne for lunch.

Of course, the pioneer and trendsetter of such eateries is Joyce Cafe in Central, where the food is now as in demand as the store's fashions.

So much so that the chance of getting a table to savour Shanghainese wonton, a vegetarian sandwich or hearty chocolate fudge cake during peak hours is slim.

But cafe culture is not just confined to fashion boutiques: furniture stores, hair salons and florists are attracting customers with the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee, encouraging them to stay out of the humidity and in their premises.

Visage I in Central has tried to recreate the ambience of an Italian bar/cafe and New York bookstore where clients can enjoy a beer or coffee - even while their hair is being styled.

The salon started a drinks corner when it opened four and a half years ago and has extended it to a mini-cafe that occupies about one-third of the salon, says owner Benky Chan.

The bar has become so popular that live jazz and blues nights are held at weekends.

While many people find the concept strange at first, it seems to work, Chan says.

No cooked food is offered because the smell may not be attractive in a salon.

But surely the aroma of coffee and roses go well? So it seems at Wild Poppies in Kimberley Road.

'I like coffee and flowers. I wanted to create a place for people who enjoy sitting in the countryside or a garden sipping coffee. They can drink and see the flowers and feel comfortable,' owner Allan He says.

The 10-month-old garden cafe is open for breakfast and throughout the day, with a daily set menu and other dishes including sandwiches, salad, steak, pasta, sorbets and desserts such as tiramisu.

Some clients go in for a bouquet and end up munching on a healthy salad and pasta; others come for freshly brewed coffee and a heavenly tartufo and leave with lilies.

Many of He's customers are people who have lived overseas and enjoy ham and eggs in the morning. 'They want to feel as if they were still living in the West,' he says.