updated 12 May 2012, 19:20
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Sun, Mar 07, 2010
The Business Times
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Ann Kositchotitana
by Melissa Lwee



IT'S hard to imagine that prior to opening Front Row in 2005, Ann Kositchotitana had zero fashion experience. After all, the Thai-born, American-educated Kositchotitana was the woman responsible for bringing cult labels such as APC and United Bamboo to Singapore.

'My background is not in fashion,' says Ms Kositchotitana who moved here after marrying a Singaporean. 'Before I moved here in 2004, I worked as a management consultant in Los Angeles and New York for five years and then as a strategic planner in Bangkok for 11 months. Fashion was only something that I had a passion for.'

She adds that she decided to open a boutique because she wanted to give people a retail option outside the confines of Orchard Road.

'Back then, when I first moved to Singapore, Orchard Road was the only shopping place around and I found myself bored within two weeks,' she recalls. 'I had always wanted to open a concept store that incorporated fashion, food and art and there wasn't anything like that here. In November 2005, I turned 30, a pivotal age, so I told myself it was now or never. That was how Front Row at Ann Siang Hill was born.'

Front Row started with a bang, not only gaining attention from many of the local and regional press - Vogue Australia, WGSN and even French Vogue went on to feature the little boutique off the beaten track.

'When French Vogue called, my heart almost stopped,' reveals Ms Kositchotitana. 'They featured us on their website alongside the Marc Jacobs store in LA and Liberty in London for a special Christmas story they were doing on storefronts.'

Despite Front Row's success today, Ms Kositchotitana remembers vividly how difficult it was when she first started the boutique. 'When we first started, the big brands didn't know us so it was really difficult convincing them to let me stock their labels in my boutique. Today, five years down the road, we have labels coming to us, but back then, I had to beg,' she says with a sigh.

'Plus, my business strategy was that I would deal directly with the labels, cut out the middle man, and fix the prices as close to home country prices as possible which we could only do if we bought a sizable amount per brand so there was a huge upfront investment involved as well.'

Ms Kositchotitana adds that over the past five years, Singaporean consumers have changed dramatically, from being totally clueless about cult labels to fashion savvy consumers who embrace freshness and creativity.

'There is definitely a market for independent and cult labels in Singapore. I know, because our sales have been going up,' she says with a laugh. 'The thing is, there was a point where luxury goods were considered exclusive but not anymore because anyone can buy something from, say, Louis Vuitton today. People want special pieces that are different and which allow them to stand out.'

Front Row has certainly come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2005 at Ann Siang Hill. Last December, Ms Kositchotitana relocated to Raffles Hotel and two months later in February opened a sales and media showroom called Front Row Studio at Seah Street. She will also open a standalone APC store at Raffles Hotel in April.

'I initially started Front Row as a store for my friends and me to shop at but it has grown into something more,' she explains. 'Apart from being a showroom, Front Row Studio was started so that we can work as agents for brands that we believe in. However, we're not just a middle man. There are also local brands such as Utt'er, Antebellum and iamwhoiam that I've been nurturing and mentoring through Front Row for the past two years that I now want to sell to the rest of the world.'

It is well known that Ms Kositchotitana is a huge bastion of support for young designers both in Singapore and in the region, giving many of them their big breaks by stocking their wares in her boutique.

She concludes: 'I'm especially supportive of young designers. Generations come and go, so I'm always on the lookout for the next successor, the next big thing. If you're not always on the top of things, your store will be forgotten, if you don't find things before other people, you become obsolete.'

Front Row at Raffles Hotel APC (to open) at Raffles Hotel.

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