Luxury multibrand retailers are gaining ground in China thanks to their extensive portfolio of niche designer brands.
Mach & Mach’s crystal-encrusted shoes, Zimmerman’s fairy dresses, and Cult Gaia’s beach-style handbags are trending items on Chinese lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu. KOLs and local young women are increasingly looking for lesser-known brands to express their fashion taste and personality via their outfits.
Andrea Panconesi, president of multibrand retailer LuisaViaRoma, tells Jing Daily: “Chinese clients overseas are one of our main target groups. Chinese consumers have a strong appetite for luxury fashion, and we have witnessed their demand for niche designers grow strongly. While established luxury brands remain popular, there is a notable trend towards seeking unique and exclusive pieces.”
Luxury German e-tailer Mytheresa delivered solid results in Q1 2023, despite ongoing macro headwinds and competitors’ promotional activities. “The company [globally] has grown over 20 percent in recent years, and our expectation from China in coming years is to double that,” Mytheresa’s CEO Michael Kliger said in the business’ earnings report.
Local consumers are used to online purchases, including for high-end items. According to Yaok Research’s 2022 report 31 percent of luxury sales happened online in China in 2022.
“Mytheresa clients lead busy, professional lives and thus enjoy the convenience and efficiency of shopping online; our pre-selected curated offerings of only the best pieces meet their needs. Customers want products now, immediately, and hassle-free,” says Steven Xu, President for China and Asia Pacific at Mytheresa.
To stand out in the competitive online arena dominated by Tmall and JD.com, these retailers are redoubling their efforts to connect with domestic shoppers.
Courting China through events
With the pandemic ending, large-scale events are back, filled with Chinese stars.
In June, at Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, Italy, LuisaViaRoma staged its ‘Runway Icons’ show in partnership with British Vogue in front of more than 2,000 guests. The evening opened with a performance by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. An A-list cast including Natalia Vodianova, Irina Shayk, Ashley Graham, and Chinese supermodels He Cong, Zhang Lina, and Wang Quyou walked the show sporting signature and new capsule pieces from both established and emerging designers.
Chinese influencers supermodel He Sui, and KOLs Declan Chan, Mayaoo, Michelle Song, and Molly Chiang sat in the front row alongside Leonardo Di Caprio.
“By inviting influential Chinese personalities, we aimed to establish a more personal connection with our target audience and increase our brand’s visibility in the Chinese market. Their presence greatly contributed to creating a strong resonance and forging meaningful connections with Chinese consumers,” says Panconesi.
In April this year, Mytheresa hosted a large-scale event at the Bvlgari Hotel in Shanghai to mark the launch of its project, China Designer Program by Mytheresa, which creates exclusive pieces in collaboration with Chinese emerging talents. “Many of the exclusive capsule collection pieces sold out right after the launch,” says Xu.
As well as online offerings, these luxury e-commerce platforms provide intimate offline experiences to their VICs (very important customers) to enhance relationships and secure loyalty. “We are trying to be wherever our clients are,” says Xu.
Examples of recent global top customers events include a dance party and Beverly Hills dinner in Los Angeles and a two-day experience in Venice with Jimmy Choo, including a gondola tour, and dinner in a private palazzo with the footwear’s creative director, Sandra Choi. “We plan to bring these experiences to our local clients in China to ensure that we are offering them ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences,” says Xu.
Similarly, Farfetch is hosting intimate VIC dinner galas across the globe. Last month it threw a roaring 1920s party in Beijing, a fashion exhibition in Shanghai, and a flowery dinner night at Gucci Osteria in Seoul.
Supporting Chinese designer’s collections
Domestic consumers are showing greater cultural patriotism, a trend dubbed guochao, or national pride. The shift has impacted companies’ marketing efforts in China.
International fashion and beauty giants like Canada Goose and Estée Lauder are tapping homegrown designers, such as Feng Chen Wang, Angel Chen, and Shushu/Tong, and making waves in China. But, multibrand retailers were among the first to experiment with this strategy.
“We understand the importance of customization and localization in the global fashion industry,” says Panconesi.
In 2017, LuisaViaRoma partnered with Chinese-born London-trained designer Angel Chen to release a capsule collection. During Paris Fashion Week in March this year, the multibrand retailer held a dinner to promote its collaboration with Taiwanese jewelry designer Yun Sun. The appearance of Fan Bingbing — China’s highest-paid actress — at the event made headlines on China’s microblogging site Weibo.
Mytheresa launched the China Designer Program by Mytheresa last year. Shortlisted designers Xu Zhi, Jacques Wei, Susan Fang, and Didu have created and released capsules on the retailer’s site. Additionally, Mytheresa boosted its collections’ exposure via launch events in Shanghai and Paris and partnerships with the Chinese version of T Magazine.
Multibrand retailers are building deeper bonds with patriotic local shoppers by showing respect and support for Chinese talents. Additionally, according to a recent McKinsey report, in 2021, 52 percent of surveyed Chinese consumers preferred local fashion apparel brands to foreign ones. In light of this, luxury e-tailers are looking to expand their portfolio of Chinese designer brands to stay relevant to homegrown consumers. For instance, Ssense has lately increased its stock of emerging local talents, such as Shushu/Tong, Shuting Qiu, and Yvmin.
Having an in-house China team
Operating an e-commerce platform in China entails numerous challenges. The competitive landscape, cultural differences, and regulatory complexities are among the key obstacles multibrand retailers must navigate.
“To overcome these challenges, we have implemented a comprehensive localization strategy and invested in a dedicated team that understands the Chinese market and its unique nuances,” says Panconesi, whose platform has operated in China for over a decade.
For newcomer Ssense, having Sequoia Capital as a shareholder and its partner and former Vogue China Editor-In-Chief Angelica Cheung as a board member provides valuable insights and resources that enabled it to consolidate its presence in China. After the venture capital firm’s $4.1 billion investment in the retailer to expand in China, Ssense enlarged its Chinese designer offerings and partnered with UnionPay to offer extra discounts for homegrown shoppers.
However, unlike its rivals Net-à-Porter, Farfetch, Mytheresa, and Luisaviaroma, Ssense has not established a presence on Gen Z’s beloved inspiration-sourcing platform Xiaohongshu.
“Building strong relationships with local partners and emerging Chinese designers, and continuously monitoring and adapting to market trends are also crucial elements of our strategy to thrive in the Chinese e-commerce landscape,” says Panconesi.