HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All Hail Retail

The latest addition to Saigon's shopping scene opened a few weeks ago in District 7's swanky Crescent area. Called the Crescent Mall, this behemoth, along with the Vincom Center, which opened in 2010, and the Eden, which will open this year, shows that Saigon is pushing to join the ranks of Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur as a major regional shopping destination. The problem is that there remains a huge gap in what is available in terms of clothing here. Whereas anyone on any budget can find something in those other three cities, the Vietnamese obsession with designer labels means that all you can find here are either obnoxiously expensive, authentic Jimmy Choo and Diesel stores; or poorly-made copies of such brands. There is absolutely no middle ground, which is unfortunate for someone like me, who likes to dress fairly decently, but without breaking the bank.

It really is amazing to see the lengths people here will go to show off labels. People who have the money to buy the real deal deck themselves out in glitzy outfits; while those who don't have the money wear "Gucci" flip-flops, "Calvin Klein" sweatshirts, and "Versace" motorbike helmets. Most of my teenage students come to class dressed head-to-toe in upscale labels of various authenticity.

This demand allows stores to set prices as high as they please, since they know that the upper-class will still buy anyway. For example, at the recently-opened Gap outlets (where probably 80% of the clothing is manufactured right here in Vietnam), a decent pair of pants costs over $100, which is absurd.

I shouldn't have been surprised, then, to see the inside of the Crescent Mall. It would be right at home on Singapore's vaunted Orchard Road, and is full of luxury outlets (with many more on the way) where the rich shopped while the middle-class took advantage of an air-conditioned respite to look at things they can't buy.

The architecture inside was pretty neat though.

I got a little carried away with the M.C. Escher-esque escalator pictures
It wouldn't be Saigon without the Colonel
Parts of the mall look like an airport terminal.

The Crescent Mall is definitely nice to look at, and it is yet another addition to Phu My Hung's growing collection of places that make you think "Is this really Vietnam?", but it doesn't really give the city anything new. When will we get something in between this and, say, Saigon Square, where $5 "Burberry" shirts that will fall apart in a few weeks are the norm? Expats like to joke that it's hard to shop for clothes here given how much bigger we are than the average local, but I'd argue that the dearth of mid-range items is the bigger problem. It's no surprise that all of the malls here (Zen Plaza, Parkson, Vincom etc.) are losing money. Most people can't afford them!

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  1. It's shocking how similar Vietnam is to China, but I guess it makes sense if you take a look at history.

    There's the exact same problem here in China - you can pay $5 for a knock-off "Calvin Klein" shirt that will rip apart before it exits the store, or you can pay $50 for the authentic thing.

    There is no shopping for middle class people like myself, which is a huge shame. I'm not interested in knock-offs or name-brand stuff. I would rather shop at a place like Kohl's, but sadly that kind of store doesn't exist in China.

    Before I moved to China, I always falsely assumed that shopping would be way cheaper there. It made sense - everything is made in China, so they wouldn't even have to import anything...how wrong I was!

  2. I thought the exact same thing - I'm perfectly happy with Old Navy, and I figured since most of the clothes in the American stores are made here, they would be dirt cheap here. Turns out they can't even be found...

  3. Michael, Your writing and pictures are FANTASTIC !Following you Along the Mekong has become a ritual in my daily reading that I looked for with great anticipation! Merci

  4. Thank you so much for the compliments! Glad you are enjoying it!