It is well-known that the newly wealthy Chinese are captivated by recognized logos. A more subtle trend is the importance of authenticity and heritage to Chinese luxury consumers.
For modern luxury, Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld best described heritage using the words of the German writer and poet Goethe: “Make a better future by developing elements from the past.”
This year, some of the biggest hotel openings in Shanghai are in historic buildings. The Peace Hotel’s elegant 1920s building on the Bund was renovated, restyled, and reopened in late July as the Fairmont Peace Hotel, where rooms start at 2,400 RMB, or US$355, a night.
The Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund opened the Waldorf Astoria Club in October with 20 suites in the former 1910 Shanghai Club Heritage building.
While the prestigious Plaza 66 shopping mall in Shanghai is known to carry every major luxury brand, the Bund’s historic waterfront buildings is still considered the city’s most luxurious area.
This craving for history and heritage is driven by the Chinese consumers desire “to understand the provenance, history and heritage and lifestyle they are buying into before they part with their hard-earned money,” according to Fairmont Peace Hotel’s general manager Kamal Naamani.
In fact, history and heritage are highly prized elements of top luxury brands in China. The wealthy are generally younger with little memory of its past heritage, which was largely erased during the Cultural Revolution despite China’s long history.
Now foreign luxury companies are wooing Chinese consumers with the allure of their origins and history.
Earlier this year in Shanghai, Louis Vuitton set up a workshop in the Plaza 66 mall, designed to demonstrate to shoppers the French luxury company’s history and manufacturing traditions. Zegna sends craftsmen to Asia to give in-store presentations of the materials and skills involved in making its suits, ties and shoes, and to give advice on Italian styling.
In Van Cleef & Arpels’ boutique in Hong Kong, a “magic mirror” — a screen framed much like a traditional painting — shows video of the its Paris workshop that depict the complex labor behind its creations.
“We introduce ourselves always as a French jeweler,” said Benjamin Vuchot, the Asia-Pacific chief of Van Cleef & Arpels. “If you are a wealthy Chinese consumer, the range of creations available to you is huge. Money and price may not be an issue — but authenticity and heritage are very, very important to luxury shoppers here.”
Interestingly, Van Cleef & Arpels saw that Chinese visitors spend more time on the legacy pages than anywhere else on its Web site. “They seem to crave history,” Mr. Vuchot said.
A company’s long history helps establish trust in the brand. This explains why the “Italian-ness” or “French-ness” of a brand with its generally long history is so appealing to Chinese luxury consumers.
Ironically, Chinese shoppers favor authenticity and are willing to spend more because it guarantees they are not getting a fake.
Yet, a company can not solely rely on its roots, it has to innovate. “Shoppers in China are more open and interested in fashion, trends, newness and innovation than Americans and Europeans, who are more fixed in their likes and dislikes,” according to Gildo Zegna, chief executive of Zegna.
image credit: van cleef & arpels