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Lit up for the future

A fashion exhibition of black clothes from Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake is on display on Siam Center

A fashion exhibition of black clothes from Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake is on display on Siam Center

The dazzling mobilelike installation by Japanese artist Hirotoshi Sawada seen from the exterior.

The dazzling mobilelike installation by Japanese artist Hirotoshi Sawada seen from the exterior.

Two boys try out a digital closet, accompanied by a stylist who offers personalised tips.

Two boys try out a digital closet, accompanied by a stylist who offers personalised tips.

Siam Center's hi-tech appeal extends to art, fashion and the social media

Not many of us can afford a Bt1.8 billion facelift when we turn 40 but Bangkok's oldest shopping Siam Center is celebrating middle age by going for a younger and tech-savvy look. The new and sophisticated centre opened to the public on Friday after five months of rejuvenation and it's earning more than a few wolf whistles.

Both interior and exterior have completely changed. Gone is anything dull and blocked. In its place is an open plan design with high ceilings, free form shapes, glass walls and dazzling lights. Forget traditional posters and billboards fixed on the walls - more than 500 LED screens have been installed on the ceilings, walls, columns and even in the bathrooms to serve as interactive channels between shoppers and retailers and keep them up to date with all the breaking news.

"We call our place "Ideaopolis' - a convergence of inspiring ideas and experiences," says Chadatip Chutrakul, CEO of Siam Piwat, the company that operates the mall. "More than Bt70 million has been invested in interactive technology alone to make our place paperless. Our loyal customers are aware of global trends and appreciate arts and fashions, and at the same time, they're techno-geeks. They always expect the unexpected."

On the fourth floor, visitors can use a digital closet made for digital fittings for clothes from the mall's boutiques. A stylist is there to offer personalised tips. Once satisfied with the digital fitting, visitors can get a photo of their new look and promptly upload it to Siam Center's Instagram and Facebook pages.

At Idea Flow, six tablets are provided so that visitors can send their digital messages for display on specially designed overhead screens.

New York's brand strategy firm 2x4 has worked on re-branding the mall with a young, stylish, yet modern look through its advertising campaign. Finnish artist Santtu Mustonen's colourful, computer-generated illustration that looks like floating brushstrokes appears in the advertisement to reflect the new movement.

New York's SoHo area was the main inspiration for the interior design, with its twisted combination of industrial chic and modern. The 300 retailers have joined forces to create new prototype store designs consistent with the overall concept.

"You can see a timeless and invigorating mix of art, fashion and technology presented in a way that matches the unique character of SoHo. We want to showcase this unique character under one roof," says Chadatip.

"The integrated marketing approach between the developer and the tenants in a fast-changing retail environment can help promote success. But most of all, it depends on trust, friendship and passion."

Bt1 billion was spent on common facilities and infrastructure while retailers invested over Bt800 million more on custom-designed outlets that make them unlike any of their stores in other locations, and also carry product lines that are exclusive to Siam Center.

"During the last 18 months we've been working in detail with shop designers, locally and abroad, to develop new product lines exclusively for us that we call 'Absolute Siam', including special menus and drinks in restaurants and cafes," says Chadatip. "They all agreed to offer around 20 per cent of their collections as absolutely unique items only available here. For example, stores that have traditionally only made available fashion goods will begin offering home decorative items and stationery as part of their exclusive lines."

Siam Center has long been a hub for home-grown designers, and the third floor remains their abode, with the Thai designers' own flagship stores. The floor is now revamped with an organic look dominated by glass, wood, steel and copper.

"We redesigned our shop not only to become a fashion boutique, but also a small art space. One third of the total area is set for temporary exhibitions," says designer Jitsing Somboon of Thai fashion house Playhound by Greyhound.

"As a sister of the Greyhound shop, whose title and logo is inspired by the racing dog, we reflect our origin by offering special 'Absolute Siam' T-shirts for dogs and their owners in identical patterns. There is also a bracelet for the owners, but it can be adjusted to become a pet's chain."

Art appreciation can be found in Siam Center upon arrival. Hovering above an entrance linking to the Siam Discovery is a commissioned reflective installation titled "Mist Seam" by well-known Japanese artist Hirotoshi Sawada.

About 4,000 bits of plastic were painstakingly combined by hand to form a mobile-like, delicate screen subtly moving with the air currents. Reflecting the light, the sculpture can be viewed as a twinkling stream and easily attracts the attention of pedestrians outside.

"Adding lustre to people and space, the plastic bits - transparent, silver and dark - are combined to get contrasting effects when reflecting light. Thanks to spacious and high-ceilinged area, it can be suspended like a cloud whose shape can be interpreted subjectively," says Sawada.

Sharing the same materials, another of his mobile-like installations, called "Line Forest", hovers at a front door, providing fluid space. Screening on two adjacent walls is an animated series by Sooklek Chanyavongse featuring his late father Prayoon's sharp illustrations. Prayoon was a respected newspaper cartoonist whose column "Ka Buan Kan Kae Chon" ("Mission to overcome poverty") in Thai Rath dwelt on his love for Thai food and promoted self-sufficient living.

The first floor also has a pop-up room showcasing some screen prints of pop icons Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein from the private collections of local art collectors. The compact room can accommodate 10 art lovers for each view, and among the works are Warhol's "Mao" and "Marilyn Monroe" together with Lichtenstein's "Mirror, from Harvey Gantt".

Siam Center and fashion are inseparable. There is a showcase of black clothes from Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, from the collections of Thai celebrities. The clothes are housed in several transparent spheres installed along the first floor walkway together with Thai fashion brands Theatre, Playhound and Wonder Anatomie.

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