In the films created by extreme sports documentary maker Thierry Donard, skiers and snowboarders are regularly seen being dropped out of helicopters onto snow-capped peaks and barreling down precipitous slopes. Now, the filmmaker is embarking on a new challenge with his fashionable luxury skiwear label Perfect Moment: entering the China market.
As China’s ski industry develops rapidly in preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics, the high-end skiwear label founded by Donard sees now as the right time to break into China. Available through luxury retailers such as Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion, Perfect Moment will be entering the China retail market for the first time through Lane Crawford next year. The brand has been increasing its focus on the mainland China market after setting up its business base in Hong Kong, where it is helmed by creative director Jane Gottschalk.
One of the brand’s major advantages for reaching China is the fact it appointed Shanghai-based fashion designer Helen Lee as its chief designer in 2014. Lee oversees the design of both the skiwear label and a brand new water sports collection that will be launched in Lane Crawford this summer.
“The idea that we’ve brought a French heritage brand from the mountains to a Shanghai designer—that story is very powerful; it’s relevant to China and Asia. It’s such a rich story,” says Gottschalk.
The decision to expand in China comes after the July announcement that Beijing will be the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics. “Even though we have a Chinese designer, it was always the international market we were focusing on,” says Gottschalk, “but we’re finding more and more now—particularly with the Winter Olympics coming up—that China is starting to wake up to the whole ski market.”
Gottschalk, who does daring helicopter drop-offs onto mountains herself, notes that Donard’s films will help to market Perfect Moment in China—the skiers in the films all wear the brand as they perform death-defying stunts. Donard is in talks with Chinese TV channels about airing the films, which have featured co-sponsorship from luxury brands such as Tag Heuer. “I think the Chinese market will love these movies. You just don’t see anything like it,” says Gottschalk.
As ski resorts are being developed in snowy areas across China, from Harbin in the northeast to Xinjiang in the northwest, the China Ski Association says the country now has an estimated 10 million skiers. President Xi Jinping has announced the creation of a “three-hundred-million-person winter-sports plan” in the lead-up to the Olympics, which would mean that over 20 percent of China’s population would participate in winter sports, and the government is investing in extensive infrastructure to make it easier to reach the ski areas.
But selling skiing to a large portion of the population doesn’t come without its challenges—especially those in the site of the Winter Olympics. Yanqing County, where the Alpine skiing events will be held, receives about two inches of snow annually.
According to Lee, who skis and has previously teamed up with a ski resort in Yabuli to design competition uniforms, Chinese ski resorts are “not as challenging” as top international resorts. She says that most of China’s serious skiers opt to travel abroad to places like Japan, Canada, and Europe to find high-quality slopes. “The skiing and snowboarding lovers have such high expectations,” she says. For now, “most of the skiers and snowboarders” who head to Chinese resorts “want to see how they can compare with the best ski resorts” internationally.
But Lee and Gottschalk note that China’s government and ski resorts are making big investments in the run-up to the Olympics. “They’re actually taking it pretty seriously,” says Gottschalk. “If you look at what they did with the last Olympic Games, you know that whatever they’re going to do is going to be fairly spectacular for the winter.”
Since skiing is “a very new market,” notes Gottschalk, the majority of Chinese skiers are still at the beginner level. Because many are still testing it out to see if it’s worth the investment of time and money, “the norm is to actually go to the ski resort, hire the clothes, and then give them back,” she says. “The concept to own your own is quite new as well.”
As a result, the brand is being very cautious in the China market as it maintains its high-end image. According to Gottschalk, “I think we’re going to do it quite slowly; not just suddenly push it everywhere. We’ve always operated with quite a tight model so that we can really build the name and drive the growth.”
But skiing has become a potent luxury status symbol for China’s growing upper-middle class and wealthy population, and Lee notes that mountaintop selfie-taking is a vital part of a ski trip for many Chinese skiers. Lee’s designs of jackets, ski pants, and après-ski clothing feature bright colors and patterns, which Gottschalk notes will be especially popular with Chinese customers.
According to Gottschalk, however, the fashionable design is not as high a priority as the skiwear’s quality. “It’s not about making it really fashionable,” she says. “This is about bringing something interesting and different design details but not necessarily high fashion.”
While the majority of new Chinese skiers won’t be completing the daring stunts in Donard’s films for quite some time, Gottschalk notes that the ability of the clothes to remain warm, dry, and comfortable is still the paramount concern. She says that the choice of Helen Lee as chief designer was aimed at the goal of “having a designer who can learn about and work with technical fabrics.” While Chinese skiers “want to look good,” she says, “I think the utility is most important.”