More than ever before, the Chinese can now lay claim to gobs of disposable income and better fashion sense. So what’s holding back the emergence of a major Chinese fashion label?
“Local brands are rather recent and cannot claim a heritage, a history and beyond, a myth. Beyond quality, this may be the major gap to bridge with Western luxury brands,” says Laurence Lim Dally, managing director of Cherry Blossoms Market Research in Hong Kong. Imported luxury goods “get their prestige from the craftsmanship Chinese still do not have,” he says.
But a group of driven entrepreneurs are looking to change that, or at least make Chinese labels appeal to luxury fashionistas. “We want to turn round the old thinking that we can only do processing,” says Zhan Yingjie, CEO of China Garments. “China has the ability to create its own” luxury brand, he says.
China Garments is a state-owned apparel maker whose products range from Mao suits to riot gear. Recently, Zhan and China Garments released plans to launch China’s first luxury men’s apparel brand aimed at domestic consumers yet designed and produced in Italy. Aptly enough, the line will take it’s name from the Italian Sorgere, “to rise,” and the Chinese Sheji, “nation.”
Executives are banking on the idea that two nations’ heads will be better than one: Francesco Fiordelli, an Italian designer who has worked at Hugo Boss and Gucci, has been hired as Sorgere’s fashion director. Soragna (Italy)-based Raffaele Caruso will make its made-to-measure and ready-to-wear collections. The Italians have clearly got the fashion end of things. The Chinese will have to exercise their financial smarts.
“We need to educate consumers,” says Zhan, adding that Sorgere’s top two lines, dubbed Black and Blue, will carry a “Made in Italy” tag. “China isn’t just a global manufacturing center and Italy a global design center. These two roles can be mixed,” Zhan says.
It may be difficult to persuade Chinese to switch allegiance from their favorite European brands, but Sorgere knows how to entice them: the label is expected to charge about 20 percent less than top international brands. Zegna charges about $2,400 for double-breasted wool and silk suits. “Made in China products are presumed to be of low quality by the Chinese themselves,” except where China has unrivaled expertise such as in jade or silk, says Dally.
The full range will be shown at a fashion show in the Chinese capital on March 29 and available in the brand’s own retail stores first in China this summer and then internationally, including in New York and Milan.
image credit: zegna