Former Armani Designer Looks To Take Chinese Cashmere Brand Global

Home-Grown Chinese Brands Have Global Aspirations, But Also Need To Convince Chinese Shoppers

Graeme Black (Image: WWD)

While a new generation of independent designers kicks up their activity in Beijing and Shanghai, pumping out a steady supply of avant-garde-leaning collections, influential home-grown Chinese brands still remain a rarity. With the notable exception of Chinese brands supported by major international partners, such as the Hermes-backed Shang Xia, Richemont-backed Shanghai Tang, and French-Chinese jewelry house Qeelin, few clear leaders have emerged in the running to become China’s first internationally successful premium marque. Furthermore, as competition grows fiercer among Western luxury brands that — as Chinese designer Zhang Zhifeng once jingoistically put it — “come [to China] to invade cities and to occupy the land, to grab the market and to pan for gold in our prosperity,” building a name for domestic brands is a difficult task within China, let alone globally.

However, luxury labels such as five-year-old Inner Mongolia-based cashmere brand Erdos 1436 are stepping up to the plate to fill the gap. In an attempt to up the ante and woo customers at home and abroad, Erdos recently appointed Graeme Black, former designer for Armani, Hugo Boss and Ferragamo, as Erdos 1436 creative director. Known throughout China for its relatively conservative, no frills designs for “a serious woman — a working woman,” Erdos 1436 currently has 22 official stores in China, as well as a lucrative made-to-order business for high-end clients. According to WWD, Jane Wang, general manager of Erdos 1436, with Black’s design expertise the brand hopes to double its China locations within the next few years, looking onward from there at potentially expanding into wholesale and boutiques in Europe.

Erdos look from Black's first collection, modeled by a Miss World contestant earlier this month (Image: WWD)

While inspiring, it’s only when coupled with strategic positioning and planning that such ambition proves promising. Keeping in mind the words of wisdom of Christian Blanckaert, former Executive VP of Hermes International, Erdos 1436 may just have what it takes to hit the big time. But first, as Blanckaert said, “a luxury brand must first be recognized in its own country before hitting the world stage.” Having already sourced an impressive clientele base among some of China’s most powerful women, including executives and the wives of top government officials, Erdos may have a leg up in this department.

Second, Blanckaert added, “a brand must determine their objectives, build a good design team, and have a story to tell […] The brand needs to have substance, in order to avoid over-reliance on marketing, and let the clothes speak for themselves.” Black’s first collection for 1436 certainly holds water, based on the runway show held on August 12 in Inner Mongolia, modeled by nearly four dozen contestants from the Miss World competition. The new collection, which took Black two months to design, included everything from sportswear to evening gowns, highlighting bright knits of fine cashmere in blues, greens, reds and pastels. Transitioning the cashmere and sportswear brand into evening wear, Black hopes the new collection will urge women to see Erdos 1436 in a new light.

But does Erdos satisfy Christian Blanckaert’s final words of advice, “Chinese brands need to show that they can produce beautiful handcrafted items, such as silk or cashmere products, in order to let the market see that they are capable of world-class quality”? Fabricating quality cashmere, a traditional material in windswept Inner Mongolia, and positioning its product as investment pieces for seasoned shoppers, Erdos 1436 may also be well-placed here as well to benefit as more of China’s consumers move away from the “show-off stage” of luxury consumption and towards appreciation and seeking quality that satisfy personal tastes rather than logo-led trends.

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