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VM Choice: Sheep installation at the Landmark Hong Kong

Turning Hong Kong’s Landmark mall into a land of make believe, a very colourful flock of sheep has been corralled in the atrium space to celebrate Chinese New Year. The obedient life-sized sheep - some grazing, some looking at admiring tourists and residents - include a few cute lambs.

The sheep are placed on faux grass encircled by a golden stonewall. A red Chinese-style bridge runs around the wall, enabling the sheep to be viewed and photographed from a vantage point. Slightly incongruously a giant red-foliaged Bonsai tree rises from the centre of the field, and from above are suspended brightly-coloured clouds.

I believe this is intended to be ‘penjing,’ the Chinese and original form of the better-known Bonsai. Growing both penjing in its various forms and Bonsai is a popular hobby with a number of Hong Kong residents, as is seen at the annual flower show in Victoria Park. The rounded form of the sheep is nicely echoed in the ball shape of the penjing and the clouds. Such auspicious ball shapes are much seen at CNY, from Ferrero Rocher chocolates, to balloons, to oranges.

At the apex of the terraced field, almost away from the flock, stands a golden ram. The King of the Flock is slightly reminiscent of Landseer’s painting ‘Monarch of the Glen.’ As with the sheep, he is made in white-sprayed fibreglass, and has been given a shaggy fabric fleece.

The sheep’s coats are of eight different colours. The sheep is the eighth animal in the Chinese astrology calendar, and in both Cantonese and Putonhua, the number eight, ’baat and ‘ba’ respectively, sound very similar to the words for ‘fortune,’ and ‘proper’ and ‘wealth’ respectively, making the number very highly desirable across Asia.

The Year of the Wooden Sheep or goat, which commences on 19 February, depends on the translation of the Chinese character yang (in pinyin) which in northern Asia, including Japan and Mongolia, is read as ‘sheep.’ In southern Asia it is translated as ‘goat.’ This may be due to climate and familiarity, as there are few herds of sheep bred for their fleece found in tropical regions.

The sequence of animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig, is determined by the order in which the animals reached the far bank of a river on their journey to attend a meeting called by the Jade Emperor. This fable, The Great Race, of animals helping each other on their separate journeys acts as a mnemonic: the animals and their reputed activities are aligned to divisions of the agricultural year. It has been in use since the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 ACE).

The wood of the five Chinese elements: (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water), is also open to interpretation as ‘wood’ can be thought of as ‘tree,’ suggesting growth and life. The five elements are used as the basis for treatment in Chinese Traditional Medicine, Chinese classical music, martial arts, and fung shui. This last acted both as a form of town-planning and interior design in the past, and continues to have an impact in VM in Hong Kong store windows today.

High quality installations in shopping malls attract footfall, and not just from existing customers. Local press coverage and word-of mouth result in many – perhaps most - Hong Kong people making a journey or a detour to see a notable installation. This should result in increased sales. For this to be effective, a slightly cute format with broad appeal is needed, allowing customers to take both photographs and ‘selfies.’ The quality of the installation is critical: anything that looked ‘too American,’ rather than Asian for example, would not generate mass appeal.

Most Asian malls create three installations a year, sometimes more depending on the stores there. Some will use their space for pop-ups although the Landmark, operated by Hong Kong Land, part of the Jardine Matheson empire, does not. The Landmark, one of the top-Hong Kong malls, adjacent to The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel and the Landmark Harvey Nichols store, contains only premium stores and restaurants in its five floors, with Dior, Fendi, and Celine acting as ‘anchor’ stores on the ground floor.

Fendi even has an additional separate men’s store in the basement. The only supermarket, ThreeSixty on the fifth floor, specializes in natural and organic foods. For the current and recent quarter, the Landmark will have also completed a wonderful Christmas display, and will probably remove the sheep at end of the month to reveal the fountain, the permanent fixture in the atrium and which is currently beneath the field of sheep, before concealing it with an Easter installation in a few weeks time.

As visual merchandising and marketing professionals, we know that increasing the attention that a retail space receives and increasing footfall, increases sales. Installations, backed up with appropriate images on the mall website and effective press and marketing, generate interest, establish brand awareness, and drive sales. Brands do this everyday, but it is something that malls in some parts of the world have not yet embraced. The Landmark may be an exemplary example, but it is one that all mall management would do well to emulate. That’s a lot of work for this cute flock of sheep.

Photographs: Alvin Yeung of YMK Design.

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