Chinese fashion labels, including Shang Xia, Icicle and Fosun Fashion Group, are embracing Paris as a springboard for their international ambitions, opening flagship stores in the city and hiring French designers to burnish their credentials.
Chinese shoppers are the biggest buyers of luxury goods worldwide, including those of big European players like LVMH and Gucci owner Kering. But China also has its own fashion companies that are growing fast at home and are now targeting the global market.
Chinese-owned brands are looking to expand abroad, sparking a trend of new labels being established in the country with the goal of international growth, said Yishu Wang, co-founder of Half a World, a firm that offers marketing advice to brands seeking to expand overseas.
“The Chinese market is very saturated and it’s just become very, very expensive to grow,” she said, noting that it was easier to find backing from investors when taking a global view.
But in fashion’s upper echelons, Chinese companies, including ones that have purchased established European labels, have so far found it hard to take off in Western markets.
Shang Xia, founded a decade ago by Jiang Qiong Er and French luxury group Hermes International, who both remain shareholders, started out as a lifestyle brand focused on showcasing Chinese craftsmanship and then expanded into ready-to-wear fashion.
While the label is well-known in China, it has yet to achieve the broader commercial success that many in the industry had expected.
“Chinese luxury brands are still quite niche,” Kathryn Parker, a luxury sector analyst with Jefferies, said.
Shang Xia showed its commitment to Paris when it held its first fashion show on Monday on the official Paris Fashion Week schedule, sending a lineup of models in polished suits in bright colours along a circular runway.
With backing from a new majority shareholder, the Agnelli family holding company Exor, the label recently set up a design studio in Paris to complement production in Shanghai.
“It’s a very bold move to do a show in Paris Fashion Week,” said Exor managing director Suzanne Heywood, who is also chairman of Shang Xia.
“We are being watched closely,” said Isabelle Capron, international vice president at ICCF, the owner of Chinese label Icicle, noting that Chinese companies have so far had limited success in building high-end fashion businesses with an international reach.
The French luxury executive was recruited in 2013 by Shouzeng Ye and Tao Xiaoma, founders of Icicle, which bought the historic French couture house Carven in 2018 and in July created the ICCF Group.
Icicle, with sales of 334 million euros in 2020, up 12 per cent from 2019, has 270 stores in 100 cities in China. The brand caters to urban professionals with earthy-toned overcoats and suits in high quality materials, often made with natural dyeing techniques.
Icicle’s founders chose Paris over London, New York and Milan for their investment, setting up design studios, and recruiting talent from French luxury labels.
“It’s in Paris where you can find the talent to raise the level of the collections so that the label can reach an international level,” Capron said.
Fosun Fashion Group has been working to revive the historic French label Lanvin with younger, international consumers in mind, and hired Bruno Sialelli French designer from LVMH-owned Loewe label for the job.
For the spring 2022 ready-to-wear runway show in Paris, the designer showed slim party dresses, worn by models in towering platform shoes with flared heels, along with an array of handbags and a new pair of futuristic sneakers – accessories are key to the label’s growth strategy.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell closed the show, sweeping the runway with a long cape.
Shang Xia executives said they are seeking to broaden their customer base among younger consumers, add new stores in Asia this year and push into the digital realm beyond China next year.
“We are seeking new means to embrace digitalisation,” said Shang Xia founder Jiang Qiong Er, who flew in from Shanghai for the Paris show.
Shang Xia’s new creative director Yang Li said he seeks to apply Asian and Eastern design principles to the products, pointing out a bag in the collection in the shape of a triangle.
“In our culture, when we define shapes, they’re absolute and pure,” he said.
“What I want to do here is to say that China is not just a market, but a creative force as well,” Yang Li added.
- Reporting by Mimosa Spencer. Editing by Jane Merriman, of Reuters.