It’s been almost three years since Hong Kong-based retail group Trinity bought Savile Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes in May 2012 for an initial £32.5 million (US$50 million). Figures after the acquisition reported the British brand accounted for 20 percent of Trinity’s total sales as of April 2012-13 and was the the third-largest sales contributor for the retail group in 2014, behind Kent & Curwen and Cerrutti 1881.This financial announcement comes during a period of bold corporate executive decisions for the brand with a history spanning over two centuries. Trinity forecasts that it will have to pay out annual increments of up to £60 million (US$92.3 million) to Gieves & Hawkes, subject to positive growth in China. These strategic implementations could potentially provide the framework for luxury retail business models looking to connect Chinese consumers with foreign heritage brands.
With over 100 stores in China, the man responsible for spearheading the aggressive expansion in Asia and the United States in the near future, Ray Clacher, was appointed managing director in February 2012 at Gieves & Hawkes after a cull in top-tier management. It was shortly after the reshuffle that Gieves & Hawkes reported a reduction in losses to £634,000 (about US$976,000) in 2013 from £3.34 million (US$5.14 million) in 2012. In an interview with Jing Daily in London, Clacher said that the company has “a new team; a new vision. Jason Basmajian was brought in as chief creative officer; we needed to bring new blood and it’s worked out very well. The partnership with Basmajian happened organically, we spoke about the opportunity and the Gieves & Hawkes brand vision late one night in a bar in Beijing and the rest is history.”
Basmajian previously completed a six-year stint at high-end Italian menswear label Brioni before taking on the responsibility for modernizing and pushing the brand forward under Chinese management while respecting the heavy British heritage. Jing Daily talked to Basmajian about the various components needed to centralize the brand vision across all markets and the pressure of ensuring growth in the competitive Chinese market. “This was a brand with immense opportunity. There was great success in China and we needed to respect the local market strategy but make efforts to tie together a universal message.”
For its marketing strategy in China, the brand is focusing on creative content to convey its contemporary message, merging the physical experience with virtual content. Gieves & Hawkes has enlisted international brand ambassador Alex Hua Tian, an equestrian sportsman from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while putting an emphasis on social media (WeChat in particular), offering new tailoring for a younger market with a ready-to-wear collection, and featuring creative content with several lifestyle videos and a website rebrand.
“With a modest budget we’ve created short films online to fast forward our image. No translation is required to convey the same message across all territories, storytelling our product,” said Basmajian. “It’s international design with a British accent. We’ve been able to connect and start a dialogue with our customers, whether it be in China or UK, and convert traffic from our webpage and social media into in-store revenue. We’ve received as much free placement as we have [paid] placement with rich digital content.”
The iconic 1 Savile Row store received a regal renovation at the start of Q4 2014 with a seven-figure facelift, in time to welcome Christmas and Chinese New Year consumers. “The aim is to make you feel relaxed when you’re here,” said Basmajian. “We have our own in-store scent and a home-host to greet you when you arrive. Yes, we are a heritage bespoke tailoring brand, but we also have a ready-to-wear collection to showcase; we need to adapt to our consumers and be able to greet all generations through our doors. It’s our window onto the world. The in-store time you spend is important to us and we invested heavily to translate our brand context into a real experience.”
The acquisition of the iconic British brand has proved fundamental in taking Trinity outside of China and establishing the conglomerate as a market leader in high-end international fashion. Gieves & Hawkes is paving the way in providing a solid template for other luxury brands to connect with Chinese consumers by unifying—not isolating—them as part of a global audience.