Designer Paul Smith Plans To Open 20 China Stores In Next Four Years
The latest installment of London Fashion Week, which wraps today, featured the same runway shows, major designers and groups of fashion rubberneckers we’ve come to expect, but attendees this month have taken note of one group whose presence has been perhaps felt more than ever this time around: Chinese fashion buyers. With department stores, shopping malls and top luxury brands continuing their inland march in China, the second-largest luxury market in the world, demand remains high for high-end British fashion. For their part, designers from the U.K. have been eager to tap this growing market, particularly those who lack the immediate name recognition enjoyed by “early adopter” brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci in China.
With cities like Beijing and Shanghai largely moving on from the first couple of stages of luxury consumption — namely, blind consumption of anything “Western” and expensive, then a laser-guided focus on the largest French and Italian high-end brands — the market (at least in first-tier Chinese cities) appears ripe for designers like Julien Macdonald, Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood to jump in or expand on the Mainland.
“There’s quite a boom in the world of fashion and I believe that is mostly because of China,” designer Vivienne Westwood told Reuters after her Red label fashion show. “At the moment, we’re all benefiting from this big interest in China.”
Asked if she was courting Chinese buyers, she said: “No, they’re courting me, they’ve come to us.”
At London Fashion Week, which ends on Wednesday, Chinese buyers have been seen taking their seats at catwalk shows.
“About five years ago, everybody was saying it was Russia, and then Russia, India and now it’s Russia, India, China,” British designer Paul Smith said.
“We do really well in Hong Kong. Next year we’ll have one (store) in Beijing, one in Shanghai then hopefully over the next few years, about 20 in the next four years. But it’s early days still yet, I’m still very cautious.”
Despite the often breathless optimism of these designers, obstacles naturally remain. High rents, shopper apathy at some of China’s largest and most lavish shopping malls, counterfeiting and a yawning brand recognition “gap” between coastal and inland cities mean China — despite the huge opportunity afforded Western designers by its booming but sprawling high-end market — warrants caution rather than hysteria. As such, Paul Smith, who plans to ramp up his locations in China in a measured, gradual manner, appears to be on the right track. For her part, Vivienne Westwood, who opened her first mainland China location in Beijing earlier this year, appears to be doing the same.