Thursday, May 29, 2008


Lane Crawford says its Beijing store is the first stage in a long-term plan for China and other stores will be rolled out in the future.

Retail analysts say that having a flagship store rather than being among dozens of brands carried in a high-class department store is the best way to achieve brand recognition and exclusivity in China.

However, it is difficult and expensive to find good sites for boutiques in China due to exorbitant rentals in high-end areas.

Reaching out beyond Beijing and Shanghai is the next step. The southern boom city of Shenzhen replaced Chengdu in 2007 as the city with the highest average spending on luxury goods, according to Credit Suisse, while the size of the luxury markets in Shenzhen and Wuhan doubled.

Braun says fast-growing northeastern cities such as Dalian offer better opportunities for expansion than southern cities.

Zhang Ning from Guangzhou heads to Hong Kong to shop at Herm

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"They're overpaying (on rent) but they're looking at China as an investment," said Marcel Braun, Hong Kong-based executive vice-president of Swiss company DKSH, which advises luxury firms on market expansion.

"Fifteen years ago brands came and left. Now they can't do that anymore, China's too important."

Rampant copying of accessories brands remains a problem for luxury goods firms in China, but it is much less evident among high-end apparel.

Yet nevertheless high-quality copies of designer handbags can be purchased across Beijing and Shanghai for just a pittance of the retail price of the originals.


China's luxury market is still in its infancy and luxury retailers are experimenting to find the right model and get the sales strategy right, analysts say.

Lane Crawford has pieces of modern art on display in its spacious Beijing store, aiming to offer a new concept in shopping. It sells more than 600 high-end fashion brands, but visitors to the store say shoppers are often scarce.

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Their purchasing power and the growing sophistication of a more established wealthy clientele is creating a very diverse market for fashion, says Angelica Cheung, editor of Vogue China. The magazine was launched in 2005 and it has 320,000 readers.

"It's very different from the West, there are a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities and there are wealthy people emerging all the time," said Cheung.

"A young woman who might now be on a monthly salary of 5,000 yuan (US$716) could next year be running her own business. So it's a very aspirational market. Her first luxury product might be a Louis Vuitton bag but within a few years she might move on to something more niche such as Marni."

Chanel is the most preferred high-end fashion brand for affluent Chinese followed by Giorgio Armani, according to a report by MasterCard.

Oscar de la Renta says China is central to a strategy for Asia which it hopes will account for 20 percent of its sales within five years, up from 5 percent at present, helped by its burgeoning accessories' business.

Luxury brands can easily sell their perfume and cosmetics in local department stores. But when it comes to ready-to-wear fashion, they are all competing for space and customers in a handful of luxury malls such as Plaza 66 in Shanghai and Lane Crawford in Beijing where rents are sky high.

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The opening of Lane Crawford's first store in Beijing last October has expanded the China presence of British designers such as Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney and heralded the arrival of more niche designers including Dries Van Noten, Hussein Chalayan and Rick Owens.

Buyers from Lane Crawford now take prized front-row seats at fashion shows in Paris and Milan, alongside buyers from high-end U.S. retailers Saks and Nieman Marcus.

Meanwhile, Chinese fashion editors, headed by Vogue China, have become an influential presence on the European fashion scene.

China's ongoing transition to a more market-oriented economy after decades of strict communist rule is producing a constant stream of newly rich.

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