Airport shopping today is unrecognisable from even a decade ago. The biggest change has not been inside the duty-free store but in the rest of the departure concourse where more individual branded shops have opened. By far the most appealing of these have been fashion and luxury boutiques.
All the big hubs across Asia, Europe and to a lesser extent, the US have strengthened the international fashion labels they offer. The one you will most often come across is probably Hugo Boss which seems to be everywhere. But other big names have been entering the airport channel as it has matured and delivered the right luxury environments for some brands' upscale products.
In the past five years, Giorgio Armani, which once shunned the airport business, has made a concerted effort to open in prominent hubs around the world and is now in more than 20 locations via the Emporio Armani franchise including Dubai International, Manchester airport, Punta del Este airport in Uruguay, and Sydney. Meanwhile, Ralph Lauren more recently also started on the same path and had four flagship boutiques in European airports at the last count: Munich, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Copenhagen Kastrup and Amsterdam Schiphol. Then there are those sought after labels like the UK’s Paul Smith, Germany’s Escada or Italy’s Etro that retain their roots by limiting themselves to just a few airport locations, usually in their home and nearby markets.
Hong Kong International now boasts a line up of more 25 luxury boutiques in Terminal 1 that includes Bottega Veneta, Dunhill, Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Loewe, Valentino and Versace. Such a concentration of luxury names would be hard to find in the best shopping streets of some capital cities! Heathrow too is crammed with the top brands including Harrods, Bulgari, Cartier and Burberry in its key international terminals: three and five. Even lingerie houses such as Victoria’s Secret, Imtimissimi and Parah have been appearing with their own boutiques at airports like JFK in New York and Malpensa in Milan, indicating just how widely the fashion shopping offer has been extended.
While the allure of luxury and high-end fashion brands is undeniable, they don't fit every passenger's pocket. In the past, aside of seeing the ubiquitous Tie Rack, airport malls had a tendency to overlook their lower spending customers. Today, airports have started to accommodate regular passengers too and branded stores are more representative of the High Street. A Diesel store here and a Billabong or Puma store there, United Colours of Benetton and Accessorize - all these arrivals attest to the change in thinking. These days, the branded boutique mix closely reflects the passenger profile of each hub. And airports also tend to pick the most international or upcoming brand in a specific sector such as sports fashion, or casual leisure.
New concepts such as Collezioni, which allows smaller airports such as Glasgow, Porto and Venice to use a single retail provider to introduce a number of labels • all with their own branded doors, means that even when you travel to/from a regional airport you may well find yourself trying on an Ermenegildo Zegna suit or a Lora Piana scarf.
And, finally although branded boutiques have pulling power, multi-brand fashion stores such as Attitude at Manchester or Gerzon at Schiphol also often stock the brands that are creating a buzz in their respective local or international markets.