In a dizzying megalopolis awash with shopping destinations, Central Embassy manages to stand out. With a fresh vision of modern-day luxury, the venue showcases a novel character that embodies an eccentric mix of traditional values and urban spirit. That unique identity is very much a reflection of the young tastemaker heading the family’s flagship mall—Barom Bhicharnchitr, middle child of Central Department Store Group’s CEO Yuwadee Chirathivat and lawyer Worachai Bhicharnchitr. Driven by a zeal to become the best retailer of his generation, the 33-year-old managing director has curated a lifestyle space like no other.
Something of a daredevil in the industry, his bold self and mindset may have been influenced by his years abroad. “Growing up, I wasn’t the most well-behaved or studious boy—those just weren’t the traits the cool kids at my school championed,” he says with a laugh. That resulted in his parents sending him off to boarding school in England at the age of 12. But it was when he moved to the US a year and a half later that things really changed. “Everyone was very competitive and you wanted to become either the top student or the top athlete. There was no excuse not to perform, and that was when I truly developed the ambition to excel.”
(See also: Boys Together With Barom Bhicharnchitr)
After Bates College, where he majored in economics and minored in Chinese, Barom returned home and worked in finance at GE Money for almost three years before entering the family business. While the music and sports enthusiast’s glossy childhood aspirations included owning his own record company, sports agency or basketball team, he tells us that a strong passion for retail has always been part of his makeup. “I grew up surrounded by the business. The first house I lived in was at the penthouse of Central Ladprao and the second was close to Central Chidlom. Our holidays abroad also usually included visiting retail stores or shopping malls. So it was a no-brainer that I grew to enjoy the business,” he says.
When Barom was approached to manage Central Embassy, he knew that it was going to be a challenge. “But I’m not the kind of person who would want to take on an easy task. I felt that it was a project that had not reached its full capacity and I saw it as an opportunity to show what I can do with it,” he shares. And it was definitely a testing start. “In November of 2014 when I first joined the management team, the global economic recession had inevitably led to changes in consumer behaviour and increased competition in the retail segment. This had engendered a lot of pressures at the time—but of course a lot has changed since then. What I’m most proud of is that we stayed focused, humble and driven to turn things around and ultimately put the project in a better place.”
Although Central Embassy debuted as the city’s new architectural landmark with a distinguishing silhouette designed by London-based Amanda Levete Architects, it had started off as a mere luxury shopping and dining destination. While home to the biggest international and local names, the venue—under Barom’s direction—is now personalised by edgy projects that defy local retail norms, such as Siwilai concept store, Eathai upscale Thai food market, Open House creative co-living space (recently taking home one of Design for Asia Award 2017’s 16 coveted Grand Awards for design excellence) and Siwilai City Club, a focus for up-market social gatherings. Coupled with the opening of its upstairs neighbour, Park Hyatt Bangkok, it has further reinforced its transformation into an inclusive urban lifestyle stop. “For the past months, we’ve been receiving many requests from retailers across the globe for a tour of the space with great compliments—and I think that alone says a lot,” says Barom.
(Relevant: Welcome To Open House)
What has set Central Embassy apart from the other retail establishments is its ability to truly give a personal touch to the expanse. “Most malls will usually embrace the traditional way of leasing out space and seldom develop their own concepts,” he explains. “Our size allows us to be more curated than others. While other shopping centres are over 200,000 square metres, we are only at 70,000. That means we are able to control the environment and offer a more individualised experience for the visitors and communicate with them,” he says. With a huge increase in sales and traffic, Central Embassy has shown itself to be no vanity project.
Taking on such a huge responsibility at a young age—especially as a Chirathivat with the family’s storied retail legacy—is no plain sailing and Barom admits it comes with a lot of expectations. “Although this is a family-run business, we’re very transparent and result driven. You’re an employer and an employee at once. And my family members are all very strong persons—they definitely don’t go soft on you. But fortunately because I’ve developed an ambitious mindset since I was young, the pressure is something I actually enjoy.”
When not prowling the halls of Central Embassy he’s out seeking new inspiration. “I don’t confine myself to retail spaces or shopping malls for ideas. I get my creativity from the streets, restaurants, parties and the people I meet,” he shares. One to embrace the work hard, play hard mantra, Barom knows how to unwind. “I love food and travel, so every chance I get I like to go on an excursion, eat good food and drink good wine,” he says.
The young executive, as aforementioned, has a profound passion for basketball and music. “ESPN.com is probably the first website that I check every morning,” he shares. His musical preferences—hip hop, jazz, soul and the old school throwbacks—are apparent throughout his establishments. He also owns a growing collection of artwork. “I like art that makes me feel good, artists such as Kaws and Alex Katz. But don’t ask me which piece is my favourite, that’s like asking which of your children is your favourite,” he laughs. Not that Barom has to make such a decision just yet—he was one of Thailand Tatler’s picks for Asia’s 50 Most Eligible Bachelors in 2016 and remains something of a prize catch in waiting.
Barom defines success as freedom. “I guess it’s when you feel comfortable about being who you are and you’re free to do the things you love that you can truly call yourself successful. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the chance to do that,” he muses. He believes that one’s ultimate goal should not be solely monetary. “More importantly, I think you have to achieve something that you’re proud of,” he says. What makes him happy? “Being able to do the things that I love every day and then just living life—balancing it so that you can enjoy seeing the world and being with the people you love.”
Photography by Chut Janthachotibutr