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Q&A: Pedder Group President Peter Harris

WWD caught up with the executive to discuss footwear and accessories trends in Asia, as well as how Western brands should approach Far East expansion.

If you ask anyone where to shop for designer duds in Hong Kong, Lane Crawford will undoubtedly come up. Behind the upscale department store’s accessories and footwear collections is the Pedder Group, Lane Crawford’s independently managed sister company, which has recently been on an expansion tear.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

WWD caught up with Pedder president Peter Harris, a former Lane Crawford merchandising executive, to chat about trends in the Asian market, as well as hurdles Western brands may encounter when moving into the region.

WWD: You’ve recently teamed up with Lane Crawford to bring Western designers such as Christian Louboutin, Sam Edelman and — on Wednesday — Manolo Blahnik to Hong Kong. Is this part of a larger strategy for Pedder?
Peter Harris: The Pedder Group was formed in 2003 to specifically build the business of the categories of footwear and accessories for the Lane Crawford Joyce Group in Hong Kong and China. We are very active in bringing designers and creatives to our stores, which provides our customers with up-close-and-personal contact with designers.

WWD: What luxury brands are popular in Hong Kong and China? Do the tastes of Asian consumers differ at all from that of their Western counterparts?
P.H.:
The Chinese customer is clearly very well informed, either through exposure to markets such as Hong Kong through traveling abroad, or through more local access such as press, or through the very sophisticated blogging community in China. From Christian Louboutin to Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim to Tory Burch, the customers are seeking brands in a very similar way to their Western counterparts. Presentation is a very important component of the Chinese character. It’s important not only to be following established brands, but also to be discovering what’s new and to be the first.

WWD: What are some fashion trends you are seeing that are popular in Asia right now?
P.H.:
The fascination with embellishment, print and trims over the last seasons has been replaced for the spring [season] with a strong following for color and print. There has been a very spirited response to the color palettes of spring 2012. Most notable are Proenza Schouler, Celine, Stella McCartney, Givenchy, which have been very early sellers. Again, I believe our customer is shopping in a very eclectic way specific to matching a high and low price point and mixing tailored with more extravagant pieces.

WWD: In America, there has been a trend away from logos or merchandise with the brand’s name prominently displayed on the product, toward more subtly branded wares. Is there still a big logo trend in Asia? If so, why?
P.H.:
I would agree that this market has moved toward a high degree of subtlety in terms of branding; of course there are still segments of customers who are conscious of and still purchasing into the logo component. The Bottega Veneta weave, the Chanel quilt, the [Roger] Vivier buckle, the [Christian] Louboutin red sole, the [Alexander] McQueen skull, the Wang rivets are more sophisticated takes on the initialed logo, with customers recognizing these details as part of the brand.

WWD: Are you seeing any signs of slowing in the Asian market at the luxury level? If so, how has the customer responded?
P.H.:
Clearly, our customer here in Asia is sensitive to what is happening economically in the broader market and certainly reacts as a consequence of the continuing negative news coming from Europe and the United States. Perhaps she is buying more carefully, not as much, and as frequently, but with more of an eye toward the seasonal must-haves. This was certainly the trend during the 2008 financial crisis and we have instructed our merchandisers to be sensitive to this past experience.

Interestingly, we are finding that a number of our key brands remain resilient. Clearly, the customer is making choices as to where and what she wants to buy; core brands within our portfolio such as Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Tory Burch, Celine and Balenciaga are among those being followed closely. New investment brands such as Proenza Schouler, Nicholas Kirkwood and Charlotte Olympia are generating a lot of interest.

WWD: What is the best way for Western brands to market themselves in Asia, and what should they know before entering the Asian market?
P.H.:
They should do the following: Have a clear global position so as to be easily located when abroad for Asian shoppers, clearly be represented in the pages of the international press so to be accessible to consumers, bloggers, etc., and be present in “local,” well-considered fashion publications. They should also have wholesale adjacencies that are consistent with the brand’s positioning globally and have a marketing approach that targets Asian customers, through public appearance programs, access to local TV content, etc. Lastly, they should incorporate the correct value proposition in terms of quality, price and fashion position in line with Asian demand.

WWD: What are some upcoming projects Pedder Group is working on?
P.H.:
Our expansion plans for spring 2012 include working through our joint venture with Christian Louboutin on the opening of a third store in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenyang in China. We will also launch a capsule collection with Louboutin in April, celebrating the 20th year of his brand. We’re also planning on opening two new footwear and accessories concepts in Hong Kong that are focused on the edited season’s must-haves. In May, we’ll launch “On Pedder Men,” a freestanding men’s footwear and accessories store in Hong Kong. Brands to be featured include Christian Louboutin, Lanvin, Jimmy Choo, Givenchy, Comme des Garçons, Tricker’s and Visvim.