Chinese designers are pushing into Paris to expand their customer base, but importantly, to build credibility among Chinese luxury buyers as trends in luxury and fashion continue to mature at home.
“Several decades ago, wives of Taiwan entrepreneurs (the trendsetters) worshiped foreign things a lot,” said Wang Chen Tsai-hsia, head designer for Taiwan-based couture brand Shiatzy Chen tells WWD, “There were a lot of imported goods, but then they became accustomed to and fed up with these foreign things. The same is true with mainland.”
To lure Chinese buyers back to their roots, Shiatzy Chen holds shows in Paris. It has opened retail shops there, as well as in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, following the travel destinations of China’s wealthiest.
Shiatzy Chen has been in China for thirty-five years. The secret to the brand’s success, according to Wang, is honoring Chinese traditions and designs. After Taiwan split from the Mainland during the civil war of the Forties, Wang said, tradition and culture was more closely guarded on the island. She added, “[China] has begun to return to traditional culture and toward appreciating domestic culture and design. I believe this is just the transition period and the old traditions will come back.”
Astute designers have an advantage when they open up shops abroad, because they are more in-tune with the trends unfolding at home. But they still lack the sales figures and popularity of bigger European brands abroad, according to new reports out of McKinsey.
Shangdong-born, Paris-based designer Laurence Xu is fusing elements of East and West into his designs, hoping to convey the best of both worlds. He brings key elements of Western design – like British lace – into the bold colors, lines, and embroidery of Chinese tradition. Xu’s first runway show took place in Paris on July 4, and though he would not talk numbers, he says the business is growing.
Xu’s advantage might be his willingness to customize pieces for clients. “China has a bad commercial environment. China’s shopping malls are part of the real estate-system, which is not buyer-centered,” said Christine Zhao, fashion consultant for Inlife International. “This system does not encourage innovation or diversification. It drives out customization.” On the other hand, Xu’s appointment-only showroom in Beijing appeals to the exclusivity today’s Chinese buyer wants.
Foniz Huang, a high-end fashion buyer based in Beijing said, “I think Chinese higher-end consumers have changed their tastes mainly because they have gotten to know more brands and the market has provided them with more choices.” With so many options unfurling today, the standard European brands that to do not resonate as fashionable may lose sales to those brands more attuned to the Chinese consumer specifically.
photo credit: sharron lovell/wwd