In China, where even big name luxury brands are still working hard to forge relationships with consumers, an independent designer shoe label might easily slip under the radar. But founders Mary Alice Malone and Roy Luwolt of Malone Souliers, a three-year-old London-based luxury footwear brand, found that the opposite was true. In fact, their standout stilettos (and flats) had piqued the attention of discerning Chinese women in the UK well before they entered the China market.
“Chinese customers would come to our showroom, which is appointment only, not make any appointment, and then knock on the door and demand it,” Luwolt, who manages the business side of the venture, told Jing Daily. “At some point we kind of had to go, ‘I guess we need to answer.’ … We’ve seen very sustained demand and opportunities in that market.”
Malone Souliers made a stop in Beijing last week to introduce its Autumn/Winter ’17 collection, which will soon be on sale at fashion accessories and footwear boutique On Pedder. The Lane Crawford-managed retailer was Malone Souliers’ first foray into the Asian market, although they had previously been available to Chinese customers through luxury e-commerce platforms like Farfetch and ShopBop.
Affluent millennial Chinese consumers’ craving for “newness and freshness”—traits that the wildly fashion-forward duo from the United States have injected into their collections every season—has prompted Malone Souliers to look past organic development and take steps towards launching a social presence in China on Weibo and WeChat. Luwolt said they’ve discovered that globally, it’s the younger consumer, the “social media victim” who is determining “what luxury means to them,” and helping to drive the evolution of the brand.
“It’s that emergence of an age whereby everything is in fact as user-oriented as one could imagine it could be, so if you’ve been attentive to that user all along, it isn’t so much of a dark corner or a blind spot—everything in our strategy has been about being attentive,” he said.
In the China market, this attentiveness to what consumers want specifically plays into fabrics (customers tend to lean towards satin and velvet), and even the shape of the heel (the sculpted metal heel is popular), and there are even nods to the culture, albeit somewhat accidental, said Malone, the design genius behind the brand.
For example, this season includes a Marianne suede slipper, decorated with a landscape scene in metallic nappa leather inspired by traditional Chinese Taoist art, a special subject to Malone, who studied art at university in Colorado. “In all my study of art, traditional Chinese painting has always been one of my favorite landscapes,” she said. “I find them incredibly meditative, and I find it really beautiful how it’s about the technique being perfect.”
But, of course, for a brand that’s rapidly making a name for itself in global markets, China is just one piece of the puzzle. The next collection, pre-Spring/Summer ’18, which will make its debut at Lane Crawford stores in the mainland, is sure to reflect the various cultures and regions the brand is currently expanding into.
And while many brands are striving to cater to the Chinese market with their designs, Luwolt is confident that their target consumer in China is one who responds positively to this amalgam of inspiration.
“The Chinese customer today, she’s not stuck in China, she’s traveling around the world—she’s living in London, and she’s traveling to New York,” he said. “So you have to understand that there’s not only a global consumer, but a global citizen of a consumer, and we have to pay homage to that with every single collection.”