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Welcome to The Moodie Report’s interim Honolulu Bureau at The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel.

I arrived from Seoul via Hawaiian Airlines on Friday after the most hectic of weeks I can recall in a long time, a week packed from early in the morning till late at night with breakfast meetings, lunches, dinners, after-dinner drinks and plenty of interviews in between.


After a much-needed siesta on Friday afternoon in Honolulu (one of the benefits of flying back in time) I had the pleasure of dinner at my hotel’s beachside restaurant with Sharon Weiner (below), DFS Group’s former communications and public affairs supremo here and the best-read person I know.


As is Sharon’s want, she arrived for dinner clutching a present for me. A book of course, Colum McCann’s acclaimed Transatlantic. I shall save it for the most appropriate part of this long, long trip, the final part of the San Francisco-London flight that takes me across said ocean.

The beach here, a 15-minute walk from Waikiki just along the waterfront, is called San Souci. That’s French for carefree and it’s wholly appropriate.

On Saturday morning I woke before sunrise and watched in wonder as the day broke, the moon just appearing to ease its way gently into the sea, the most ethereal sight. Later I walked down to the Outrigger Canoe Club near my hotel, where I sat and talked to two of the most influential senior executives in DFS’s glittering history in the Pacific, Richard Hunter and John Reed. As the anecdotes flowed so the hours passed like minutes. Key influences both in an extraordinary story.


Today I breakfasted with perhaps the great unsung hero of the duty free industry, Peter Fithian and his wonderful wife Bobbi (below).

Peter runs Greeters of Hawaii, a business that specialises in welcoming visitors to the airport with a smile, a kiss and a lei. He once featured in a famous CBS show called ‘What’s my Line’ (which I recall from my childhood in New Zealand) in which panellists had to guess peoples’ unusual occupations. Peter’s was to kiss girls for a living.


Over half a century ago, Peter tipped off a young fellow graduate from Cornell University that Honolulu Airport was planning to open a small duty free shop. That graduate was one Robert Warren Miller. Bob Miller. And that shop, together with a tiny store at Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport, was the foundation of an eventual multi-billion dollar empire that became Duty Free Shoppers (and now DFS Group).

Bobbi also played a big role in DFS’s early days, selling duty free pre-order (for pick-up at the airport) at city hotels (long before DFS had a downtown shop) to Japanese tourists. She is a successful businesswoman in her own right, owning Tiare Enterprises, which has a string of gift stores in Hawaii’s airports.

Tonight I dined with them again, together with John Reed and his charming wife Rose. Again the recollections, and laughs, flowed fast and free. What wonderful people, all contributors to a unique corporate and human saga that shaped our industry as we know it today.


My week in Seoul concluded with a fascinating full day of store tours (Lotte’s flagship downtown shop), interviews (Lotte, Shinsegae, Incheon International Airport) before the late flight out from Incheon to Honolulu. At this rate I’m hoping to be home in time for Christmas… or at least in time for departure to The Trinity Forum in September.


[Shinsegae department Seoul in downtown Seoul; watch this space as the company steps up its expansion plans in duty free]


[Shinsegae Duty Free's highly experienced MD Merchandising Team Seok-Ho Hong outlines the retailer's travel retail ambitions to me]

Korean travel retail is buzzing again. This time, thankfully, not with the entirely negative news of the past MERS-ruined few weeks but with talk of recovery, new stores (and new retailers), an IPO of the industry giant and, most of all, of a potential battle royal for the four downtown duty free licences that come up for renewal between now and Christmas (Lotte x 2 in Seoul; WalkerHill in Seoul; and Shinsegae in Busan).

You can find my coverage of all these developments and issues on The Moodie Report website and in our latest e-Zine, while sometime 35,000 feet up in the sky over the next few days I will try to put it all together for a major Korean travel retail feature for our forthcoming Print Edition.

Korea’s duty free market is the biggest in the world and, as ever when such big prizes are at stake, ultra-competitive. You could see that by the intense competition for the recent Incheon retail concessions and the new Seoul and Jeju downtown duty free licences. How the current renewals play out is the talk of the town.

hanwha_1 hanwha_2

[With the ambitious Hanwha Galleria team, a new force in Korean duty free, both downtown and airport. Look out for my interview coming soon.]

On Thursday I returned to the excellent CasAntonio Italian restaurant in Seoul to have a pleasant dinner with Regina Hahm, Equity Analyst (Cosmetics, Hotel & Leisure, Fashion) for DB Daewoo Securities Co. Regina (below) has an acute understanding of the sector and a welcome neutral perspective on some of the current developments.


We spoke about the proliferation of duty free licences here, which might seem like a good thing to those (and there are many) wishing to encourage greater competition and weaken the grip of the chaebols.

The reality, however, is that those very chaebols, Lotte and Shilla (Samsung), have done an extraordinary job in creating the world’s largest duty free market; playing a bigger role than any other sector in driving Chinese tourism; and creating thousands of jobs in the process.

To any non-Korean with an understanding of this industry, it seems (and, I think, is) irrational to weaken these companies’ grip at home (which also would undermine their ability to compete abroad). Korean politics though are a volatile affair, and there is a great deal of showboating to public sentiment on the conglomerate issue.


[Lunch with Lotte Duty Free]


The reality is that duty free retailing is a hugely complex, costly business that requires investment and professionalism. Dividing up the cake into more portions doesn’t necessarily grow it. And while Korea’s travel retail market (pre-MERS) has been in strong and prolonged growth mode over recent years due to the surge in Chinese travellers, it is also dangerously reliant on a single customer base. MERS showed what can happen if that base is eroded.

On Friday I had the immense pleasure of meeting a man who enjoys legendary status within Lotte Duty Free, Kim Bo Joon, the retailer’s Marketing Director (top two pictures below) together with Kim Tae Won (Team Leader Global Business Development, pictured bottom)) and Kim Won Sik  (Team Leader, Outbound Marketing Team) and their colleagues.




Kim Bo Joon may just about be travel retail’s most brilliant creative spirit and marketeer (rivalled only a couple of individuals in DFS whom I won’t embarrass by naming here).

That is some claim but his influence within Lotte runs deep – and his insight in terms of understanding, segmenting (I’ll explain the map of China behind him next time), communicating with and providing for the Chinese traveller is simply astounding. Some of his work on ‘Hallyu’ (Korean Wave) marketing has been game-changing and I can promise you there is something even more exciting in the wind. Watch this space.

I’ll save any further comment for a further Blog (and a major feature on our website) but will close with this simple observation: Lotte Group was directly responsible for generating 20% of the Chinese visitors who came to Korea last year, as well as providing many of the biggest attractions (not just shopping) once they got there.

The proliferation of licences suggests the government views the Chinese shoppers as a golden egg. I suppose they are. But like any egg, the golden variety is also fragile. Korean politicians should forget that at their country’s peril.


Footnote: I closed out my trip with a very pleasant early dinner on Friday with my long-time friend Bumho Kim (above), who heads Incheon International Airport’s commercial team.

It was especially good of Bumho to meet me as he is flat out preparing for the handover on Tuesday to the airport’s new retail concessionaires – their five-year contracts starting that day.  It’s an exciting but transitory time at Incheon. Many of the stores will not be finished for several months with lots of temporary shops dominating the retail landscape. Never mind: normal service will soon be resumed , Bumho assures me.

Korea, the land of the morning calm? In travel retail I don’t think so.


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[From tomorrow, 1 September, Louis Vuitton passes from Shilla to Lotte hands at Incheon]


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“Are you afraid of heights?” Lotte Duty Free’s delightful Communication Team Senior Assistant Sunju Park (above right) asked me with a smile as wide as the Hangang river as we clambered into the steel cage lift.

“No, I’m fine,” I lied, deciding that any mention of the fact that I get vertigo from standing on a kitchen stool would not be helpful to her or me at this point.

We’re not talking just any old heights here – we’re talking 85 floors or 356 metres above ground in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Sunju had kindly arranged a VIP tour for me of the Lotte World Tower, still under construction and set to become one of the world’s tallest buildings (with the second-highest viewing point) and greatest landmarks when it opens late next year. When completed it will be 123 floors or 555 metres high, towering above this sprawling city like a giant rocket in launch mode.



As the cage door closed, I realised we would be ascending up the side of the building with an eagle’s view of the ground below and the city beyond through the gaps in the tightly meshed steel construction. Quickly, very quickly, I began to see Seoul in an entirely different light from anything I had experienced in 25 years of coming here.


I suspect the meshed construction of the cage has been carefully thought out. The dreaded feelings of spinning, swaying and wooziness that you get with vertigo seemed to be absent. I tried to only look out but then couldn’t help but look down…………

Wow! Down and down and then down again. I felt like I was on a Korean Air flight. My goodness, we were high and moving higher. It was only when I looked over at the Tower building itself that I noticed how fast we were rising, the various storeys rushing by. The cars on the streets below had suddenly transformed into tiny model toys, while the vastness of the city stretched out all around us into what felt like an infinite beyond.

Sunju, who hadn’t experienced this trip before, was laughing with the exhiliration of it all. And despite myself, so was I. This was unforgettable.

사진 1


The lift stopped. We had reached level 79. “We’re going higher,” said Sunju as we walked across a metal plate and into the building itself. In future you’ll be able to see the same amazing views as a Lotte Hotel will operate on floors 72 through 101. We got onto another lift, which dropped us off on the 85th floor, 356 metres up. It’s incredible to think another 38 floors have yet to be added, (though that’s as they say, another storey).


“There’s the swimming pool,” said Sunju, pointing to a long oblong construction structure. I imagined what it will be like to take a dip here, an infinity pool like no other, I suspect, like swimming out into the clouds.

“It’s very rare to see it so clear,” said our excellent guide Woo Seuk Choi (pictured top), Lotte World Tower General Manager Experience Center Team. So clear in fact that we could easily make out the distinctive high-rise skyline of Incheon City, 34km away. Over 55,000 people will live, work or stay in this building once it is completed. “It’s more like a city, not just a building,” he added.




Just look at the almost humbling power of these images, these extraordinary vistas. The age-old power of the Hangjang river winding its way through the capital and on to the Yellow Sea. The contemporary might of another kind of sea, one comprised of thousands of high-rise buildings. The mountains looming regally, eternally in the distance.

When it is complete, the US$3.8 billion Lotte World Tower will have 21 cinema halls (the largest in Asia), a hotel, offices, residences, duty free and other shopping and numerous other world-class facilities.  But most of all, it will offer the most extraordinary 360 degree views of the majesty that is Seoul, capital of the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’.



As we walked around the bare concrete floors of the 85th floor, Sunju and I stopped time and again to gasp at the magnificence beyond.  The outside of the building now bears a giant Korean flag, a reminder of just how important this building has already become to Korean national identify. As the promotional video we watched later proclaimed, “Korea’s Dream becomes a reality high up in the sky.” Few would argue with that.

사진 2

사진 3



I felt privileged to have been given the honour of a preview visit to this amazing facility. Vertigo or no vertigo I’m coming back when the building is finished and going right to the top. Just like that. 1, 2, 3.

Footnote: Look out for a forthcoming Blog and story about Lotte’s adjacent and highly impressive World Mall duty free store (which will be extended into the World Tower when the latter is completed).


["It's time to get back into your cage Mr Moodie."]








One Response to “Hitting new heights in Seoul at Lotte World Tower”

  1. Martyn Westbury says:

    Hi Martin

    I too struggle with heights and had sweaty palms just reading the story – will be happy to go up in an enclosed lift when open though!!

    Amazing story and views.


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Lunch with Jeong-Ho (‘Jason’) Cha is always an enjoyable and enlightening experience. As Senior Executive Vice President and Head of The Shilla Duty Free, Mr Cha is one of the most influential figures in Korean travel retail, with a keen insight not only into this sector but business in general, born out of his 35 years with Shilla parent company, Samsung Corporation.



Business appeared brisk enough today in-store with young Chinese women flocked around the Korean cosmetics counters, in particular. But Mr Cha assured me that compared with this time last year, business is very slow. Slow by Korean standards is, of course, probably very good by international ones, such has been the boom in Chinese spending here over recent years, putting incredible pressure on Shilla’s limited space.


But South Korean tourism and travel retail were smashed in June and July by the outbreak of the MERS virus, which devastated both sectors. “The worst day we were down -90% [year-on-year] here and -50% at Incheon,” Mr Cha told me.

With the crisis officially declared over (by the Korean government though not the World Health Organization), things are getting back to normal. Gradually. Jason Cha believes it won’t be until October before business is running at 2014 levels. Occupancy rates at the upscale Shilla Hotel are running at around 70%, significantly higher than many city competitors which stand at around 50-60% after falling as low as 20-30% during July.



Despite MERS, Shilla has plenty to feel good about. In particular it recently won a hotly contested tender for one of the three new Seoul duty free licences, in partnership with Hyundai Development Company. If space is a problem at the existing Seoul store, it won’t be at the Yongsan I’Park Mall, where one of the world’s biggest duty free stores will be opened by the partnership in December. It’s going to be a game changer in Seoul’s ever-evolving duty free channel.


It was interesting to see where the consumer action was today. The luxury areas, particularly high-end watches, were very quiet; the Korean cosmetics and accessories sections buzzing. So were mid-priced brands (Swarovski, right at the front of the shop, particularly so).

shilla_laneige_b2b_cushion_2_434 shilla_laneige_bb_cushion_432 shilla_ohui_430






After the tour, we dined at the superb Ariake restaurant at The Shilla Hotel. At this restaurant, and particularly at the hotel’s Korean restaurant, you will get some of the best food in Seoul and today was no exception. Quite how with my limited food capacity I’m going to be ready for a dinner with one of Seoul’s leading duty free agents tonight, I don’t know, but I’m not complaining given the quality on offer.


As our lunch came to an end, Jason Cha reflected on his eight years with The Shilla Duty Free. They have been outstandingly successful ones. When he entered the business, Shilla generated sales of around US$300 million. Last year they were close to US$3 billion, a ten-fold increase.

Mr Cha’s notable recent successes include the company’s high-profile victory in the Singapore Changi Airport perfume & cosmetics tender (a business that, after a rocky beginning, is beginning to turn the corner); the securing of what looks like a financially prudent new tenure at Incheon International Airport; and most pleasingly for him, the Seoul downtown licence gain. This great leader of Shilla, Samsung and Korean duty free is truly a man to be admired.

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To truly soar, one must first unfurl - Marie Boyle, Artist

I’ve arrived in South Korea, which as I write (Saturday afternoon), is any minute due to come under attack from North Korea for alleged anti-Pyongyang propaganda on the border between the two long-divided countries.

The North has threatened to launch “a strong military action” if South Korea defies its ultimatum, warning last Friday that it is prepared to engage in “all-out war”.



I’m looking out my window (view pictured below) from The Moodie Report’s Interim Seoul Bureau at the Grand Hyatt Hotel but, based on the sanguine reaction of the locals, I’m not too concerned.


South Koreans are used to what they call the “sabre-rattling season” from their northern neighbour. They’ve heard all this before. But certainly the war rhetoric has racked up tensions to the highest level in recent years. Remember that the two Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. They have been divided, tragically, ever since.


Korean travel retailers will, of course, hope that war talk doesn’t dominate the headlines for too long. South Korea is only just starting to recover from the impact of the MERS health crisis which saw hotel occupancy rates in some of Seoul’s leading hotels fall as low as 7% in July and which even now are struggling to get above the 60% level. I arrived at my old (and wonderful) Seoul haunt, The Grand Hyatt, at around 09.30a.m. this morning (Saturday) and there was no problem (for the first time I can recall) in getting an early check-in.

Travel retailers here are also keeping a close eye on other headlines – those pertaining to the recent devaluations of the Chinese Yuan and, more particularly, to what appears to be a very sharp slowing of the Chinese economy. The market here is almost unhealthily dependent on Chinese tourists – 43.6% of all visitors, compared with just 16.6% in 2007 – and any downturn in that sector (as seen in June and July due to MERS) can have a devastating impact.

I arrived at Incheon International, one of my and the world’s favourite airports this morning and was as always impressed by the sheer courtesy of the staff. After a prolonged wait in immigration (almost to the minute from the time I reached the sign below, which had taken me 5 minutes to reach), I was greeted with a warm smile by the immigration officer which broke into a beam as I said “Ahn-young-ha-se-yo” (hello) and “Kamsamneda” (thank you) in my tentative Korean.



[What a nice feeling to see our brand upon arrival in Korea]

I probably wouldn’t have had to wait 15 minutes if I hadn’t stopped to admire a display of children’s art in the walkway from my arrival gate. ‘Children’s eyes are a window to the world,’ read one sign, an admirable sentiment.

The display is called Art Miles, an educational and cultural project involving over half a million people from 125 countries and there was some really lovely art on display as you can see.







That got me to thinking about the role airports can play in promoting the art and culture of their respective cities, regions and countries. I flew to Incheon with British Airways out of Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. As I’ve mentioned before in this Blog, the landside T5 Gallery is one of my favourite places, let alone stores, in any airport in the world.

hr t5 gallery ext





[The wonderful work of Marie Boyle, whose quotation begins this Blog]



hr t5 gallery sign

It’s one of the very few permanent commercial fine art galleries in the world at an airport and provides a wonderful showcase for the works of British artists – established and emergent.

I’ve bought a couple of pieces there in the past, one for a former business partner and one for our office. The service and follow-up is marvellous, the curation of the art and sculpture world-class.

Airports as art galleries. Now there’s a thought. During my last transit through Miami International Airport, which I’ve sometimes been critical of in the past, I stumbled across an outstanding display of art and made a mental note to myself to champion that concept as part of our increased focus on the great notion of Sense of Place. Watch this space.



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My face has been tucked in more times than a bedsheet at the Holiday Inn - Joan Rivers

South Korea has long been known as Asia’s plastic surgery capital – home to over 4,000 clinics and reportedly having the world’s highest rate of cosmetic procedures per… er… head of population.

Reuters reckons 13 in every 1,000 Koreans have some form of plastic surgery – that’s some 637,000 reconfigured people.

Now that figure is set to be boosted considerably by foreigners (the country already has a booming medical tourism sector), following this month’s announcement that international visitors will be able to claim VAT refunds on cosmetic procedures done while visiting Korea.

Deputy Finance Minister of Tax and Customs Moon Chang-yong, told Yonhap News: “If a foreign national submits a receipt for the surgery they received from a local hospital or clinic on departure, that person can get a tax refund.” [Just don't get your nose job done at WH Smith -Ed]

CNBC called it a VAT-free tuck. What a great idea. Those in the nose… sorry, in the know, believe that such a move will help rejuvenate a tourism industry that has been ailing since the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in late June.

As luck has it, I’m bound for Seoul this Friday. Following not one but two breaks in my rugby playing career (the latter by one of my own team but that’s another story), the Moodie conch (pictured below, right to left… to right again) closely resembles the shape of the notorious Boulevard Périphérique in Paris. It may, just may, have inspired the immortal line in Steve Martin’s Roxanne:  ”Oooo, I wish I were you. Gosh. To be able to smell your own ear.”

So next week when I am meeting Korea’s leading travel retailers, I am going to get my nose as well as my facts straight (I was going to ask for a roman nose but that may be lost in translation and they’ll tell me it is already roaming).

Enough frivolity.  I’m deadly serious about this. A nose job and maybe a hair transplant in between interviews. Really. After all the bad press travel retail has had in recent days, I’ll do anything to improve the face value of the industry. What’s more, I nose I’ll get the VAT back.

mm mythos

[It's no myth: The Moodie nose has been carefully modelled on the notorious Boulevard Périphérique in Paris, below]


[Source: Google Maps; Wikipedia]



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amigos 1

Here’s a death-defying story. A story of three men. Of three cheats. And of three reasons to celebrate life.

Lunch this week at the unassuming Bizzarro Italian restaurant in Paddington with Stuart Bull and Martyn Westbury did not, it must be said, involve the kind of portions it might have had a few years back. For each of our diners has very good reason to watch what they eat. Each of us has, quite simply, cheated death.

Stuart Bull, for so long the face of Mars chocolate in duty free (and now working with premium French chocolate house Valrhona and UK company Thorntons), is the most recent of the trio to have danced with death and then rejected it for a much nicer Tango partner called life.

Stuart was diagnosed late last year with oesophageal cancer, a very tough form of this always brutal beast of a disease.

Over recent months he’s been through complex surgery and tough chemotherapy and I’m glad to say that ‘Bully’ is looking better than ever, albeit I must say that his new slim-line look suggests he hasn’t been partaking of too much chocolate of late.

Lunch was on me to celebrate my own similar change of Salsa partners. Last month I was officially given the 5-year ‘all clear’ from the stomach cancer with which I was diagnosed on that fateful day, 9 June, 2010. I have become a statistic, contributing in the process to a marginal improvement of the 19.5% five-year survival rate of those diagnosed with stomach cancer.

I have no idea what the future holds or indeed how long it might be, but I have made it through the storm so far and, most importantly, seen all my beautiful, beloved children grow another five years older. Heck (note to older ones to hurry up), I might even see them married and giving me grandchildren before I depart this earth.

And Martyn, another man originally from Mars (the company not the planet)? Well, as I wrote in a previous Blog, he suffered a major heart attack while on a work trip in Mumbai, India, in 2010.

As he told us at the time: “I have been extremely lucky as part of the clot managed to pass through the artery itself and the remaining 60% blockage was able to be treated through angiography and drugs.”

The reality is that Martyn was minutes, yes minutes, away from dying. The reality is that both Stuart and I were both diagnosed just in time to save our lives. The reality is that we are all committed to trying to save more lives threatened by heart disease and cancer.

More of that another time. Let’s just stop for a moment, as we did over lunch, and celebrate three survival stories. Sometimes it’s good to hang around with a bunch of cheats.

8 Responses to “A tale of three amigos – and three cheaters”

  1. Ruby Walsh says:

    Hello dear cheaters… I would never have imagined to send love and hugs to a cheater.. But in this case I am sending you all loads!! Martyn, your article is such a wonderful reminder to Celebrate Life.. That we sometimes do not do because we keep waiting for something special to happen!! As the wise man said, life isn’t about the number of breaths we take but it’s number of moments your breath has been taken away… And I must admit I shared many of such moments with your Bully and also some with Martyn Westbury. Yes, I was laughing so much that I couldn’t breath!!
    Cheers to you all and keep on cheating and celebrating!

  2. Ian Hill says:

    Three great fellas imbibing the juice that will see them celebrating for years to come! Nothing’s gonna stop you now!

  3. Graeme Toole says:

    Cheers to 3 stalwarts of the industry , Hope they will grace the golf links of Dubai in November

  4. peter zottl says:

    Cheers to the three of you and to your Health

  5. Sharon Beecham says:

    Life – always a good reason to celebrate and am very happy to see 3 lovely people doing so. I hope the wine portions didn’t have to be cut back like the food now that would be a tragedy :) Thank you for sharing Martin and reminding us all to celebrate our own also. Sharon

  6. Mark Riches says:

    You’ll use any old excuse for a decent lunch and a glass of something decent! What a fantastic hat trick and hope there’ll be many more celebratory lunches

  7. Congratulations to the three of you. Can’t think of a better reason to celebrate.

  8. colm mc loughlin says:

    congrats to all three fighters .. so happy to see a lovely lunch date ..good luck .. Colm ..

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Type in ‘Paul Smith mini’ to Google and you’ll get 72,600,000 results.  Maybe after this Blog 72,600,001.

To clarify from the outset, we’re not talking very short skirts here. The English fashion designer memorably collaborated with the famous British car brand Mini (then owned by Rover) in the 1990s, Smith coming up with two limited-edition models that quickly assumed iconic status.

The first was a discreet blue, derived from the colour of one of Smith’s own shirts. The second was anything but discreet, as you can see from the picture below.



It’s currently on display at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London, where I (like I suspect many others) fell in love with it at first sight.

Regular readers of this Blog will know that I have a penchant for Paul Smith socks (as seen below), always buying them at the retailer’s quite wonderful stores at Heathrow Airport (also pictured below).





I reckon if Mini’s owners (nowadays, German manufacturer BMW) and Mr Smith got together with the Heathrow Airport retail team, they could sell  just about as many of these as they could produce. Or what about a Dubai Duty Free-like raffle for a single car? Or a ‘How many pairs of Paul Smith socks can you fit in a Paul Smith Mini competition’?

Imagine this combination of great British brands in a great British airport. I’d buy a ticket; hell I’d even buy the car – with a pair of Paul Smith socks as a GWP of course.



[Funnily enough I have two pairs of these particular Paul Smith socks]

One Response to “A Paul Smith Mini to match my socks”

  1. Great post and Heathrow should definately do those promotions.

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irina and mm

You’ve heard of underground cellaring for wine, but never underwater, right? Wrong.

Meet Irina Wiedemann. She is fronting an extraordinary project that blends outstanding wine with a dash of Daniel Defoe and an amazing cellaring concept.


Irina, whom I met at June’s ASUTIL conference in Panama, is coordinating the limited edition launch of Crusoe Treasure (http://www.underwaterwine.com). It’s a brilliant idea, inspired partly by Defoe’s story of Robinson Crusoe who survived as a castaway on a desert island for 30 years, and partly by the discovery in 2010 of a sunken trade schooner 160 feet below in the Baltic Sea. Inside, the vessel divers found 168 bottles of Champagne that, it transpired, had kept beautifully.


According to a report in Smithsonian.com, wine connoisseurs agreed, several of the bottles being auctioned for up to €100,000 a (literal) pop. I quote from the Smithsonian report: “By a stroke of luck, most of the bottles had been preserved in ideal condition – at a depth characterized by minimal light and temperatures ranging between 35 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers observed very low levels of acetic acid in the wine, a primary red flag for spoilage. So as part of the testing, the team had a panel of wine experts take a taste. The compiled responses were then compared to the chemical findings.”

Philippe Jeandet, a Professor of food biochemistry at the University of Reims said after a sampling: “It was incredible. I have never tasted such a wine in my life. The aroma stayed in my mouth for three or four hours after tasting it.”

The question was posed. Did deep-sea aging enhance and protect wine during the aging process? The answer was an emphatic yes. Crusoe Treasure was born.

We have the first and only underwater wine cellar in the world,” Irina tells me. “[After the Baltic tasting] we said ‘OK, why not try something, so we collected wines from 27 different Bodegas in Spain and we started the experiment. We tasted them every month to see the evolution and it was surprising. We would always keep the terrestrial brothers [wines aged in traditional fashion] to compare and the underwater wines would always be better.”


The company’s wines, all fine Spanish expressions (and all certificated), are being aged at around 20 meters depth in the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean in a bay near to the northern Spanish city of Bilbao. “We chose this area because we have the right currents, a combination of huge waves coming from the ocean and the currents from the river, so what we wanted to achieve is lots of movement,” says Irena. “Then we have this huge structure [to hold the wines]. It’s like a huge cement cage with windows, so the currents can go through.

“We actually have created the cellar to be an artificial reef. And now we have over 2,000 species living with us. It’s incredible.”



gift box

So are the wines. You’ll have to wait a few days for the full story which I’ll bring you in an enthralling interview and profile of the company. But let me leave you with some thoughts. First, the wines are outstanding. I tried an underwater-aged Ribera del Duero, one of my favourite Spanish wine regions and it was stunning. Second, what a superb gift idea (especially at around €185) such wines would make for travel retail, notably in the cruise business. But why not just about anywhere? I am convinced that travel retail’s future lies in increasing the ratio of products that cannot be procured elsewhere – not in the High Street, not on Amazon, not on Alibaba.


How much more exclusive could you get than this – the world’s only ‘underwater wines’? Imagine if, say, Dufry (through its new World Duty Free acquisition in Spain) was to offer these wines in duty free/travel retail, ideally exclusively. Can you imagine they would not sell?


And why stop there? Why not DFS or Heinemann (these would be gobbled up at the Heinemann Arrivals duty free shop in Oslo) or any national travel retailer such as JR/Duty Free in Australia, or LS travel or Aer Rianta International in New Zealand? And here’s the thing. Crusoe Treasure doesn’t plan to stop with the waters or wines of Spain. It’s actively looking for winemaking partners around the world. Can you imagine what, say, a New Zealand Pinot Noir from Central Otago or Marlborough or Martinborough might taste like with a little extra aging in the cool waters of the Pacific?

How about a French Bordeaux aged in the icy waters off Bergen for the good citizens of Oslo? Would it work? Who knows? You might end up with Icewine. But what fun finding out. Oh my taste buds are already salivating. Watch this (underwater) space.

*If you’re interested in talking to Irina let me know and I’ll put you in touch. My  interview with her will appear soon on The Moodie Report.com

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One Response to “Deep sea diving for some of the world’s great wines”

  1. marco passoni says:

    Actually this venture is amazing but not so unique.
    There are at least two italian wine makers using the same cellaring technique and I guess one in France.

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In an industry full of human dynamos, I doubt any are quite as supercharged as my lunchtime companion of today, Adda Rodríguez.

Till last month, Adda was Area Manager South America for Heinemann Americas, a position she took on after a highly successful stint with the outstanding Miami-based fragrances & cosmetics distributor Essence Corp as Area Manager South America. Before that she ran her own company, Arzy Style accessories, one of the most innovative independent players in Latin American travel retail.

Now Adda is returning to her entrepreneurial roots, having founded a new company called The 7c Group. We’ll bring you full details later this month but in Adda’s own words, 7c (it stands for Seven Continents) is all about “connecting people”, principally (though not exclusively) in the Latin America she knows and loves.

Adda [e-mail: info@the7cgroup.com] will be based in Paris and plans to help brands around the world navigate the intricacies and complexities of entering the diverse Latin American travel retail markets. I can think of few people more up to the task. Adda is a ‘people connector’ extraordinaire, a human cannonball of ebullience: kind, generous, driven, respected and capable.

Watch this space. The woman who put the style in Arzy is about to unite the seven continents.

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Diagoras, a 5th century BC poet and sophist, was also a famed Greek atheist. But the airport that bears his name, Rhodes International Diagoras, shows no lack of belief when it comes to retail, while the outstanding way it has championed local products might even have inspired him to pen a verse or two.

In a recent Blog, I praised Hellenic Duty Free’s (Dufry) offer at Athens International and it’s good to see the retailer also providing a quality shopping offer here at a much smaller airport.

The store is big, bright and inviting; the balance between international and Greek products (including a mightily  impressive focus on items from Rhodes) just right. There’s plenty of promotional activity and the staff go the extra mile – one brought me over a shopping basket when they saw me laden down with Greek products (below), while a delightfully engaging sales assistant called Chrisi (pictured below) did a brilliant job in explaining the main promotion on offer, offering me a discount brochure on fragrances post my original purchase and encouraging me to fill in a customer feedback form.

Here’s one company (and its team) doing its/their very best to revitalise the stricken Greek economy by emphasising Greek products and Greek virtues. Sophist teachers used philosophy and rhetoric to teach arete (excellence). The teacher whose name the airport bears would be proud of these students. There’s examples of arete everywhere.
























 [Below: The strong local offer is complimented by a well-ranged international offer, including Victoria's Secret and a good beauty, confectionery, spirits and tobacco offer]



[FID screens in-store: A key customer assurance, so often overlooked in travel retail]








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