Luxury Brands See Opportunity in ‘Made in Asia’

HONG KONG — A cornerstone of a modern luxury product is the country where it was produced. Attached to the inner lining of a leather handbag, or the collar of a cashmere wool coat, labels like “Made in France” or “Made in Italy” have long been seen as bywords for sophisticated craftsmanship. In established and emerging markets alike, they also tend to drive admiration, trust and appetite for the brands selling such wares (allowing the brands, in turn, to bump up their prices).

But what would happen if the place of origin — or, at least, a European or American place of origin — weren’t such a priority?

At The New York Times International Luxury Conference in Hong Kong last week, several leading industry voices indicated that the recent acquisition of many high-profile brands by Asian investors, coupled with the large number of young Asian creatives now in fashion schools or working their way up in major fashion labels, could eventually prompt a revaluation of the accepted industry order.

“We are bringing Western brands with wide consumer recognition into China and exposing their collections to wide audiences here,” said Joann Cheng, chairman of the Fosun Fashion Group. “However, we are also aware that we have a lot of local talent rising through the ranks.”

In February, Fosun, the Chinese conglomerate and manufacturer, bought Lanvin, France’s oldest surviving couture house, adding it to a portfolio that also includes the Italian men’s wear brand Caruso and St. John, the American classic knitwear label.

As local talent emerges, “we know that these designers want a global stage and a chance to shine themselves,” Ms. Cheng said. “In the future, we definitely see opportunities for us here to create greater cross-pollination between East and West.”

Wendy Yu, a Shanghai-based private investor and founder of the venture capital firm Yu Holdings, said she believed that young Chinese designers had struggled to communicate in a global language. But broader international experience in major fashion capitals, and a better education than previous generations enjoyed, meant that they now are preparing for their moment in the spotlight.

“I think the next five years will be critical,” Ms. Yu said, “and we will see many more designers in both positions at the bigger brands and launching small independent labels.”

Ravi Thakran, group chairman for South and Southeast Asia, Australia and the Middle East at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, noted that the creative influence of Asian culture and savoir faire had started reshaping sectors of the luxury market such as aviation and hospitality. Fashion, he said, would be next.

“A lot of people now call Louis Vuitton a Franco-Chinois brand, the influence of Asia has been so huge,” he said. “Take small charms that you now see all over the world on handbags — those didn’t exist in the West. They were a purely Asian phenomenon. Louis Vuitton has probably now made a profit of $500 million just on those charms, and generates 70 percent of growth from Asia.

“And you simply have to adapt and orientate yourself towards the appetite of your customers, particularly when they are going to propel the future of luxury.”

Asian brands have been watching and learning closely from Western brands on how to be the best in class.

“In a decade they won’t just be the best in airlines and hotels,” Mr. Thakran said. “The best whiskey these days doesn’t come from Scotland, nor is the best chocolate from Switzerland. Asian brands will have trained themselves up to be the best in fashion, shoes and every other category. And be it from West or East, the best is what will sell.”

Beyond a pure geographical shift in creative and commercial power, however, another major factor has been at play. At a time of heightened political division and global tribalism, and the shopping preferences of socially conscious millennials are increasingly shaping the luxury market, some brands are deliberately rewriting their core company principles. For some, origins are no longer front and center of their branding message. It is about where the company and its consumers are going instead.

“There is a new way to be a luxury brand today,” Cédric Charbit, chief executive of Balenciaga, said. “It is no longer just about heritage and craftsmanship. Those assets are important, but luxury today is also about values,” underscoring the idea that physical provenance could become overshadowed.

“A brand should be a platform for what we believe in and what we stand for, and that people can look to, relate to and buy into. Commitment is getting as important as aesthetic.”

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