Designer David Tang launches China themed store for the youthful rich

Entrepreneur David Tang has launched the first of a planned string of shops that target the mainland's youthful rich, writes Charmaine Chan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 7:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 7:28pm

It is two days before the opening of David Tang's lifestyle shop in Wan Chai and he is in a feisty mood. Staff scurry about filling empty shelves, a table is missing its top, a newspaper advert needs to be finalised and profanity bounces off the walls. So when two expensively dressed tourists wander in off Johnston Road, lured by a faux fireplace and yellow floral armchairs, he booms in exasperation: "Hello. Who are you? We're not open yet. Sorry. Come back after Saturday, 5pm. And bring your money."

Whether the women will return is anyone's guess. But Tang is hoping his shop, which opened on November 16, will be a magnet for just that sort of well-heeled shopper - young, curious and mainland Chinese - ready to part with their cash for what he says will be a "different retail experience".

China recognises it cannot continue to be an exporting nation, that growth has to come from within

"It's not every day that you come to a shop where you find a sitting room, a dining room, a bathroom, a dressing room and a kitchen," he says, explaining the interior layout of Tang Tang Tang Tang, which occupies the ground floor of the heritage building that also houses The Pawn restaurant and bar.

Tang's 3,500 sq ft emporium bears his trademark panache in appellation and design. It is, he says, a gorgeous space meant to put ideas into the heads of customers wanting a life of luxury.

"I've gone out of my way to create something fantastic - fantasy-wise I mean," he says. "It's a bit of a dream because I wouldn't expect a 25-year-old to have a flat like this. But the whole world is about aspiration, and ambitious people need to look up to something in order to get them going."

Judging by the shop's name, he might also be talking about himself, although Tang Four (for short) was apparently chosen because it is a play on the opening to Beethoven's Symphony No 5 ("Da Da Da Da", he sings in case the message is lost) and an amusing way to make people remember the shop.

It's hard to forget anything Tang does, least of all the fashion house that bears his name, Shanghai Tang, which was bought by luxury group Richemont in 1998.

Where Shanghai Tang tried to clothe people in Chinese-style garments, Tang Tang Tang Tang aims to attract people simply by offering goods with some kind of China connection, whether through production, design, finish or, vaguely, resonance. Part of its appeal will rely on the sense of nationalism Tang believes will continue to develop among China's youthful rich. "I felt that when I was young; there's no doubt that people will want to buy things Chinese."

He adds that the new middle class will be ambitious, dynamic and different to what China has known before. He adds: "China recognises it cannot continue to be an exporting nation, that growth has to come from within and it's got to cultivate its young people … who will be wanting things for themselves, but not having to buy Western products. There's a new sense of confidence in China."

Whether Tang, 59, is able to cater to a generation that is not his own is a question he brushes away with aplomb. "I've been a retailer for 20 years. I have people coming to tell me all the time what they want and I notice what is being bought," he says. "You have to be confident about things you believe in."

Some of those things - among the 150 the store will stock - seem to have been designed because Tang wanted them himself. One example is a toiletry bag that allows for Bluetooth connection so you can shower and sing wherever you go.

Other items include a "snazzy", box-like rice cooker that won't be an aesthetic aberration in a designer kitchen, and a "gradual toaster and grill", which slowly discharges, rather than ejects, food.

Among the glassware, his oversized version of the classic Picardy tumbler is proof of the practicality, Tang says, is inherent in his products. "If you want a long drink with ice, that's what you want to have," he says of the HK$1,200 glass, which is Chinese only as far as the inscription on it ("Drink and you think of spring").

"We had to go to Czechoslovakia for the glass; China's crystal glass is not clear enough," Tang says. He is distracted by the advertisement that his daughter, Victoria, is having him check before it runs on the back page of this newspaper. The debate, with wife, Lucy, leading the opposing team, centres on whether the blurb and graphics for Tang Tang Tang Tang should be above that for China Tang restaurant in the Landmark building in Central. Both opened on the same day.

"I'm doing both at the same time and, as you can hear, I'm stressed out because I see things other people don't and I don't suppose I can blame them," he says.

But why open both at the same time when any sane person would stagger the projects? "Human progress is always because of people who are mad," he volleys back, returning to the task at hand, the interview, before asking for another product to be displayed so he can explain how he has avoided Chinese design clichés, such as the double-happiness symbol.

The item, silk pyjamas priced at HK$3,100 for men, HK$300 less for women, bears the Chinese zodiac dragon. "We've designed the pattern; you can't copy that," he says, adding that the price point for the garment will give him an edge in the retail market. "I think value for money is the only thing that will sustain you forever in retail. If you're not value for money, you won't last."

Tang is also counting on the popularity of actress Carina Lau Kar-ling to boost the image of the shop, the expansion of which he is already planning. "We will have a second store in London, a store at the airport and we're going to roll out 15 of these shops in China," he says.

All of which sounds exhausting, which begs the question, why start something new when he could be relaxing at his China Club or just continuing with tried-and-tested streams of revenue?

Tang arches an eyebrow and mutters: "The world doesn't go around on necessities," says. "If you say to yourself, 'I don't need to do this,' the world just wouldn't go around."