x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The secret language of shopping culture

Buzz from Europe's largest retail property trade fair.

'De-malling", "airport cities" and "the paradox of thrift" are just some of the phrases I took home with me, along with a très chic goodie bag, from MAPIC, the largest retail property trade fair in Europe, held in Cannes last week.

Although I'm always prepared for a bit of jargon busting at trade fairs (where everyone talks in sound bites), I hadn't reckoned on the language of "property retailese" being so complicated.

But hey, if you are going to brush up on the industry that ultimately keeps high fashion ticking over - never mind if Marc Jacobs says spots are the new black, without this lot there would be no Marc Jacobs shops to buy spots in - it doesn't get better than spending three days sur la Côte d'Azur.

Here, once a year, the spectacular location of the Palais Des Festivals, a 28,000-square-metre exhibition centre with 18 vast auditoriums and a 3,000 metre-high glass rotunda ceiling overlooking the twinkling Mediterranean - and Roberto Cavalli's 133ft yacht, which changes colour as the temperature rises - plays home to some serious dudes-in-suits mapping out where the newest malls and shopping centres will go globally.

Large plastic sculptures of sweets lining the Boulevard de La Croisette, Cannes' very French, very flashy strip leading to the exhibition centre, were the legacy of the G20 Summit, which took place a few weeks ago, luring Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama to the south of France.

The exhibition centre's permanent red carpet, meanwhile, serves to remind you this is the spot that draws the most famous actresses and actors in the world.

If it's good enough for Angelina and Brad, it's also good enough for the owners of the land on which sit the shops who kit them out on the red carpet if you get my drift.

The conference was less about the glamour industry of frocks and more about the hard-hitting business of money and investment. Despite the global recession, numbers of investors and representatives from luxury brands such as Prada and Burberry were up 10 per cent on last year, buoyed by soaring figures from emerging markets.

Besides daily summits on topics such as the opportunities of retail property investment in India or Russia, there were interesting lectures on shopping trends.

At one, I learnt about "The Paradox of Thrift", where people think they are saving money but are in fact spending vast amounts on iconic brands seen as investment worthy.

In another talk entitled "How to Mix Culture and Shopping", the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai was singled out for its innovative strategies to get people to visit what is primarily a shopping location. Having Ski Dubai and a 550-seater multi-cinema complex guarantees the mall remains busy even when shops are shut.

Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, one of the rising number of "Airport Cities", houses a permanent museum, and the Quais d'Ivry shopping centre in France, which hosts craft events and attractions, is another example.

Globally, the number of attendees visiting malls is down due to the emergence of e-commerce. In response malls are slowly taking over the function of civic centres, with a drive towards education, entertainment and leisure (now known as "mall culture").

"Culture is not just classical music - it's anything people can share; something that creates a sense of community," I scribbled down.

"De-malling" (dissecting the stereotypical mall back into something reminiscent of the ancient "streets maze" bazaar-type shopping area), was another idea put forth.

Vittorio Radice - the businessman who began his professional career with Sir Terence Conran in Habitat, as the buying director, before moving to Italy's Rinascente store as the chief executive (via Selfridges and M&S) - talked about a re-appreciation of the artisan (something Louis Vuitton is already doing, showing craftsmen making bags in-store). He also warned about the homogenisation of malls and high streets.

Anyone who travels will be aware of Radice's fears. There is nothing more depressing than travelling thousands of miles only to discover a Starbucks, McDonald's and H&M on the corner.

In the context of Cannes, where there was a refreshing absence of all three, the message was driven home particularly well.

Although the Boulevard de la Croisette has its fair share of Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino boutiques - similar to, say, New York's Fifth Avenue - set against a backdrop of palm trees, outstanding hotels (Le Grand, The Carlton, The Martinez) and sheer space, the result is unmistakably, utterly Cannes.

If ever there was a place where aggressive property retail developers eager to put their identikit stamp on the world might momentarily look around them and be glad of some of the tightest property laws in the world, this town is it.