Cha Ling, a high-end skincare brand inspired by the rare Chinese Pu’er tea, launched one-and-a-half years ago in Paris. But the brand, for which China seems to be a natural target market, has finally set foot in mainland China with a flagship store in Shanghai.
Meaning “the spirit of tea” in Chinese, the label, which is owned by LVMH, began as a secret project developed by Guerlain’s president and CEO Laurent Boillot. After five years of preparation, his team launched the label in Paris in early 2016, and soon opened up two boutiques in Hong Kong.
Shanghai is the third city Cha Ling tapped into, but local media have reported that the brand has plans to expand to Beijing and Chengdu soon.
Cha Ling made it very clear when it was launched that it would someday enter the China market, though it stated that it never intended to limit itself to that market. In an interview with Jing Daily this past year, Boillot said the goal was to appeal to an international clientele.
But, given its foundation in Chinese tea culture (as infused with French beauty traditions), China is naturally an important market for the brand. Ingredients are sourced in Yunnan from local farmers harvesting 500-year-old tea trees and then produced in Guerlain’s lab in France.
Products include Pu’er-infused cleansing powder, serum, massage cream and a “steam tablet” for purifying pores. Prices range from $20 to $200.
The brand also offers lifestyle products including perfume, clay teapots and ceramics, and forest-grown Pu’er tea. In the back of the Shanghai flagship store, customers can get spa and massage services to experience its products.
The tea inspiration originated from Boillot’s orchid research trip to Yunnan for Guerlain. He became friends with German biologist and conservationist Josef Margraf and his wife Minguo Li-Margraf. The couple were working on forest conservation projects while helping local farmers increase their income.
Enchanted by the ancient tea plant forests and the unique tea culture, Boillot began to imagine the creation of a “Sino-French cosmetics house where ethics and aesthetics, luxury and sustainable development become one.”
Unfortunately, Margraf died before anything could be realized. His widow carried on their work and supported Boillot’s vision.
Cha Ling is the latest Chinese label developed by a large luxury company. Hermès invested in local grown fashion and lifestyle label Shang Xia as early as in 2008. Kering owns the jewelry brand Qeelin. Richemont owned, but recently sold, the Hong-Kong based luxury brand Shanghai Tang after a 19-year partnership.
Cha Ling is especially unique for LVMH. While the luxury goods conglomerate is accustomed to buying and managing brands (it owns Celine, Dior, and Givenchy), it seldom creates and incubates a new label from scratch because it is a much more risky move. This single case does not necessarily hint at a shift, but says a lot about its expectation on Cha Ling and the market in China.