COME September, the Seibu stores in Windsor House, Causeway Bay, and Pacific Place, Admiralty may as well be given a new name, such will be their new look. In what is being viewed by retail insiders as a sweeping, aggressive revamp, both stores will benefit from a multi-million dollar renovation scheme intended to give them the edge they are now lacking in the competitive retail sector. Seibu is owned by Dickson Poon, who also owns the highly successful Harvey Nichols stores in London and Leeds, and comes under his Dickson Concepts aegis. But in terms of its fashion offerings, it has long lagged behind rivals such as Joyce and Lane Crawford, both of which in recent seasons have beefed up their young contemporary divisions with the inclusion of well-priced lines from the United States and Japan. But since the start of this season, Seibu has brought in dozens of new brands that signify its move into a youthful, avant-garde market. That direction will intensify in autumn, when, according to Seibu's chief operations officer Sarah O'Donnell, there will be some prized new additions to the store's fashion repertoire, in a new decor to be implemented by British architect Rodney Fitch. 'By the time we are ready and fully re-opened this [autumn], it is going to be a different store,' she said. Changes slowly began to be introduced last year, beginning with the beauty department, which added hip Japanese lines such as Ipsa - a brand so popular that, at the opening last year, hundreds of young women waited outside for their turn at the counter. Seibu's endeavour to give itself a facelift was spurred on by the decision, made between Dickson Concepts and Swire Properties Ltd, the landlord of Pacific Place, to return one of the four floors of its 133,000-square-foot store on expiry of the 10-year lease, which comes up this summer. Until a press conference held a few weeks ago by Dickson Concepts and Hutchison Whampoa's A S Watson Group, who will oversee the outfitting of the new food retail facilities in both stores, the retail industry was rife with reports about imminent changes at Seibu: earlier speculation had indicated the store was either being sold, shrunk or shut completely. Under the new agreement, Seibu will keep the basement level - current home of the popular Coo food hall - and levels one and two. Level three had been sub-let by Seibu to a roster of high-end retailers such as Hermes, Fogal and Zegna. That area will now be given back to Swire. 'It's a positive move,' said Gerard Low, Swire's general property manager for Pacific Place, 'as it will allow Seibu to become more focused and get on with running its business. It will be good for the whole centre. The changes will be more than cosmetic. 'Take the Coo food hall, one of Seibu Pacific Place's most popular attractions - as much for the food shopping as for the fast-food style dining options.' Dickson Concepts announced a deal with the A S Watson Group, owners of ParknShop, in which A S Watson would invest $100 million to open a new food hall in Seibu Pacific Place, and a superstore in the Windsor House branch. Dickson Concepts will invest about $50 million, which also covers the cost of other changes in the Pacific Place branch. When it is unveiled later this year, the Seibu Pacific Place food hall will be, according to a Dickson Concepts spokeswoman, an entirely new concept, the most exciting combined food hall and food shopping experience in Hong Kong. A S Watson will reportedly invite tenders from independent food and beverage retail operators to set up attractions such as a champagne bar, a coffee lounge and an Internet cafe that serves fresh fruit smoothies. There will also be plenty of choice for both quick and more leisurely dining. Together with a delicatessen, bakery and expansive range of groceries, these offerings will make up the new Coo food hall, which will also be renamed. As part of the agreement, A S Watson will open a superstore in Seibu Windsor House with a daily fresh market, a mainstream grocery and a range of toiletries and beauty and home fragrance products from Japan, Europe and the US. There will also be a huge selection of takeaway and prepared foods, as well as a bakery and wine cellar. But not everyone necessarily stands to benefit from the changes. The whole arena of luxury retail remains ferociously competitive, with tenants often outbidding one another for prime space, particularly in centres like Pacific Place, which is usually fully occupied. Swire's Mr Low agreed negotiations were 'sensitive', and that tenants often had widely differing rental structures, depending on what they sold. 'We are in the process of negotiation with tenants of level three, most of whom want to expand,' Mr Low said. 'If there is a vacancy, or an opportunity, we will let them know. If we can't accommodate them, they will have to wait.' It is important to keep the retail mix the same, with the focus on upscale brands, he said. Gentlemen Givenchy, the top French menswear brand, operated locally by the Swank Shop, is one of Seibu's level three tenants which cannot be included in the new, Swire-run mix. 'We've been told that because of shortage of space, we will have to move inside Seibu, to level two, without the exposure we are getting at the moment,' said David Hong, Swank Shop's managing director, who added he had approached Swire for a free-standing space 18 months ago. The move will take place in July, basically leaving Gentlemen Givenchy where it was before - as a tenant of Seibu. 'There will be no change as far as our relationship goes. Seibu is making many changes in its interior decor, and we'll be a part of that. It was our only alternative, as we had no other choice. We're disappointed, but given the circumstances, we're still happy to have found some space inside Seibu,' he said. Also slated to disappear from level three is another menswear brand, Ermengildo Zegna, which will move inside Lane Crawford. Because of limited frontage space on level three, the series of smaller shops that are now there will eventually be consolidated into a few large shops. Hermes, a Seibu tenant, will be given more space, so will Escada, a brand that used to come under the Dickson Concepts group but is now independently-run. 'Our space will be doubled to more than 5,000 square feet,' said Sandra Leung, Escada's managing director for Asia. 'We've been told that level three is going to be all top name-brands.' Escada will take over the spaces vacated by Gentlemen Givenchy and Tse Cashmere. 'And because of the size of the store, we will be able to carry the accessories collection, as well as the golf line, main line and couture. Eventually, we would like to make the Pacific Place store our flagship,' she said, adding the leasing arrangement would be 'more or less the same'. The new-look Escada will open in September. Another brand given the option of increasing its size on level three is Louis Vuitton, which is presently on an expansion roll in Asia. Vuitton, which has never been part of Seibu, will be given 3,500 square feet of space, three times bigger than its current boutique there, said Serge Brunschwig, Vuitton's managing director of Asia. The store will open in December. Dickson Poon appears to have grand, far-reaching plans for Seibu. Also in the works is an exclusive personal shopping service, to be implemented initially in Pacific Place. According to a Dickson Concepts spokeswoman, customers will be invited into a new stylish lounge area, where they will be asked what they would like to wear in the coming season. Merchandisers will then scour all the Dickson stores in Hong Kong - from Ralph Lauren to Coach - as well as Harvey Nichols in London, to find items the customer might like. For special pieces, brands outside the Dickson group will be approached. The customers get to see the things pre-selected for them via video-conferencing, and can buy if they like what they see. They are not charged unless they purchase something. 'The concept will enable Seibu to increase sales and profitability without incurring additional inventory costs,' the spokeswoman said. 'Simultaneously, our customers will be able to easily access and purchase all the collections from all the world's leading designers,' she added. The service will be launched this year. The changes come on the back of what is largely seen as a retail upswing in most sectors; for the first half of 2000, Dickson Poon expects profits of the group to run to $320 million, although no one at Dickson Concepts or Seibu would divulge what profits at the store might be. 'It's a very healthy situation,' Ms O'Donnell said. 'The timing is right to do this.' Seibu Pacific Place's core business has traditionally been fashion, accessories and cosmetics. Ms O'Donnell said her merchandisers have refocused their efforts in these areas, starting with the moving of the accessories department from level one to a much more visible spot on level two. Over the next few months, parts of the store will be closed to accommodate the renovation work. And when it re-opens, level one will boast a hip young fashion area for 18 to 35-year-olds, containing a whole slew of new labels, a third of them from Japan. There will also be a young shoes and bags division, where prices will start at around $500. And, in quite a radical departure from the Hong Kong upscale fashion sector, there will be an entire division devoted to designer jeans, by names such as John Rocha and Paul Smith. In doing this, and including such hip additions as a nail bar, already set up in the coolest stores in the world, such as Collette in Paris, Seibu is hoping to attract younger, trendier shoppers. 'We had to expand the range we were offering so we could bring in new customers,' Ms O'Donnell said. Names new to the Seibu portfolio include cutting-edge labels such as Kostas Murkudis and Belgian designer Eliot Van Antwerp. For the young, there are brands such as Fake London and ultra-trendy Japanese ones such as Toilet and Virus. And niche looks, such as ethnic-centric labels including Antik Batik, will also be strong. 'Let's just say we're not losing anything,' said Ms O'Donnell, in response to questions about the overall floor size shrinking. There will be a modern living section, selling homeware products from around the world. And alternative beauty brands will also be brought in, although Ms O'Donnell declined to reveal which ones. 'We are covered with our bigger, established cosmetic brands, so we think it's time to bring in some alternative offerings,' she said. 'What we're trying to do is go forward, to project a hip and modern image. It's fair to say we are trying to freshen our look. We've been open 10 years, and it's time for a substantial renovation. We're also in the position to do it - we're making money, and there will be more changes to come.'