Calvin Klein’s Beijing Sneak Peek Raises Skepticism

CK Predicts China Will Become Largest Jeans & Underwear Market In 2013

Wang Xiao (Photo by Sharron Lovell)

This week, models, bloggers and the local fashion elite came together in Beijing for a low-key dinner event hosted by Calvin Klein to celebrate the brand’s spring collection.

Held at the Long March Space in the capital’s converted factory district-turned-art-zone, 798 — where Chinese artist Zhan Wang‘s new sculpture, “Form of the Formless,” played centerpiece to a pre-dinner cocktail event — about 100 people gathered for a night of music, food, and fashion to view the label’s newest looks.

Young New Zealand-born singer Kimbra, who rose to fame after her appearance on Goyte’s multi-platinum selling song, “Somebody That I Used To Know,” entertained the crowd, which included Qin Shu Pei, Li Zhen, Wang Xiao, and Du Juan, as they indulged in a multi-course meal designed by New York chef Daniel Boulud (owner of Maison Boulud in Beijing’s Legation Quarter).

Present at the event was Francisco Costa, Calvin Klein women’s creative director, who told WWD that “China is an extremely important market for us, not only in terms of consumers.” China’s importance to the brand is, of course, no secret, as Calvin Klein expects China to become its number one market for underwear and jeans next year, unseating South Korea. While the brand has hinted at major expansion plans in China, specific details have yet to materialize.

Calvin Klein's debuted its fall 2010 collection in Shanghai, rather than New York or London

While spirits are high, we will wait to see whether Calvin Klein’s China venture (like Ralph Lauren’s) is “too little, too late” or “right time, right place.” Our skepticism mainly lies in the brand’s overly ambitious strategy to position itself as an aspirational brand, a strategy that has been employed to mixed results in China by Ralph Lauren. Considering both brands have, over the past couple of decades, been regular targets for counterfeiters (a fact that has seriously damaged the Polo name in China), it’ll take more than an exclusive party or two for Calvin Klein to move up the value chain and be a brand known among Chinese shoppers for more than underwear and jeans.

This sort of attempt towards aspirational positioning has become particularly difficult over the past few years, especially for American mid-range brands, as many Chinese consumers have become more brand-savvy and well-traveled. They’re well aware of CK’s retail segment in the US and generally perceive the brand’s status in China accordingly. This means that regardless of what Calvin Klein does, marketing-wise, it’s likely that the best the brand can expect is to remain firmly within the “affordable luxury” bracket in China.

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