The much-awaited Express Avenue opens with a soft launch on May 26

Get styled at the slick Toni and Guy, pounding with music and hair spray. Lounge at Lush, stacked with bars of deliciously fruity soaps and alluring face packs. Finish with a cup of authentic Italian coffee at Cafe Pascucci.

International, and even national, brands are trickling into the city, resulting in embarrassing levels of excitement to welcome even something like a tub of fried chicken. As companies begin to appreciate the city's buying power, its retail map has been changing, albeit relatively slowly, in comparison to the other metros.

Next month, however, with the opening of Express Avenue, the city will be introduced to a rush of popular global brands, all in a setting carefully engineered to make shopping and dining more addictive than ever before.

At Chief Financial Officer R.R. Aroonkumar's office on-site, there's a floor plan displayed, making it slightly easier to grasp the enormity of this project. It's the “largest integrated development in India,” he says, adding that following contemporary mall trends it's a mixed used model, bringing together retails, offices and a hotel.

The retail — which is four floors of shopping — is the first phase, he says. The office and hotel are on two separate towers on either side. The hotel, for which they are in talks with various operators, will be completed by the end of the year.

Joined by K. Ranganathan, AGM (Planning and Projects), we walk through the building, which is cavernous and cheerful, abounding in open spaces and natural light. Discussing their eco-friendly design, Ranganathan says the malls use a lot of natural lighting thus reducing their energy load. Double glazed panels ensure that the air-conditioning doesn't continually have to battle the sunshine.

The food Court, which covers 50,000 sq. ft., is a mix of kiosks and restaurant boxes. It includes a number of familiar local brands (Sangeetha, Ponnusamy, Thattukada) as well as the obligatory international ones (KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway.)

There are also independent restaurants and kiosks studded around the mall, including The Fruit Shop on Greams Road and Cafe Pascucci, which is making it's entry into Chennai.

For entertainment beyond shopping and food, there's Dubai-based Fun City's entertainment centre covering 20,000 sq. ft. Sathyam Cinemas' is also introducing an eight-screen multiplex across a 50,000 sq. ft. space, which promises to be different from their flagship, complete with a new menu.

Although it's all relatively high-end, there's also a provision for buying your pumpkins and toor dal at the Big Bazaar hypermarket. Once you do your shopping, there are four travellators to the basement to help you lug everything to the car.

The mall's biggest advantage is this kind of attention to detail, “The basement is colour coded — so you don't get confused,” says Aroonkumar, pointing out the red, green and blue sections. They also have jet engines to remove the carbon monoxide that comes from cars. All this is controlled by an Integrated Building Management System (IBMS) that monitors everything from water levels to electric capacity.

The mall will open with a soft launch on May 26, and be fully functional by mid-June.

WHAT'S ON OFFER

FCUK — Denim wear

Hamleys — Toys showroom

Base Camp — Travel accessories

DKNY — Denim wear

MAC — Health and beauty

Lush — Health and beauty

Toni & Guy — Hair salon

Chemistry — Western women's wear

Forest Essentials — Health and beauty

Natures Co — Health and beauty