BEIJING — Demand for branded luxury goods may be slowing in China in part due to President Xi Jinping’s extended campaign against graft and extravagance, but small, artisanal companies that offer limited or bespoke products are hoping they can step into the gap.
Gorreri, an Italian handbag maker that specializes in the use of crocodile and snakeskin, has sent its head of sales, Laura Cadei, to Shanghai and Beijing four times in the past year to introduce the brand’s products and she said she is starting to see a response after selling in the country for a year.
“I believe a lot in this market,” she said at the third edition of the Luxury China Expo in Beijing, a trade show that capped its three-day run here last week. The expo attracted about 300 exhibitors including luxury goods companies, sports-car manufacturers and wine makers.
“Our bags are about the materials and design, not the logo and I think people here increasingly appreciate that.”
Another Italian company, Tasselli Cashmere, a producer of fine, logo-free knitted goods, also sees huge potential in China. The company, which exhibited at the China Expo, has opened an office in Shanghai to help win more clients among China’s discerning rich.
Tasselli’s head of Chinese operations, Enrico De Luca, said the brand’s existing Chinese clients behave much like European customers — choosing designs and colors from a look book — but first-time buyers often need educating about the product.
“People don’t really know what artisanal products like ours are. For example, they are surprised when they learn they have to wait up to two months for us the make and deliver the product,” he said.
A Gorreri bag costs between 10,000 yuan, or $1,620, and 80,000 yuan, or $12,961, at average exchange. Tasselli sweaters and jackets range in price between 2,600 yuan, or $421.25, and 25,000 yuan, or $4,051.
“Our philosophy is to make something different, for people who don’t want to be part of the masses, for people who want something excellent,” Cadei said.
She lists politicians, film stars and entrepreneurs among her clients here and says her business is growing despite the crackdown on graft and gift-giving.
“The very rich, the rich and even people from the upper-middle-class buy our bags,” she said. “I am very satisfied with how we are doing.”
Like Tasselli, Gorreri is an older brand, looking for a new lease of life, or at least new customers, in China. Founded in Parma in 1963 by Gino Gorreri, it designed and made one-off handbags for private clients across Europe and took on manufacturing contracts from some of France and Italy’s best-known fashion houses. It fell on hard times as its founder aged, but Cadei says the legacy of excellency persists. To this day, it still buys its leather from Hermès.
Similarly, Tasselli was founded in 1970 in Bevagna, Umbria. It claims 5,000 customers around the world and sees China as the logical next step.
It could be an opportune moment for Gorreri and Tasselli to target Chinese consumers. Analysts and executives have said Chinese consumers have grown tired of obvious logos and ubiquitous brands.
Similarly, I&C, a new Paris-based fashion house, is making China a key part of its strategy. The brand held its launch at the Beijing Expo.
Founded by Pascal Songo, a former footwear designer for Nike and Adidas, the label aims to grow in China before trying to crack the European market.
“It would take us years to break though there,” he said. “By manufacturing in Paris, but designing with the Chinese customer in mind, we hope we can bring something unique to this market,” he added.
The brand, which makes heavy use of patent snakeskin leather and bright colors, makes shoes, bags, trainers and dresses. An I&C bag will retail for about 2,000 yuan, or $324, and a pair of evening shoes for about 1,500 yuan, or $243, he said.
Of course bringing new brands to China is not easy. The premium and luxury market is already very crowded and Chinese customers are increasingly showing an interest in high-end domestic labels.
And while the size of the market is what makes it attractive, it also means it can be hard to find the customers, agents and partners.
“I find out of the hundreds of contacts I make at a show like this, only one or two will be useful,” said De Luca.
Cadei, who lives in Italy, said she is also eager to make contacts in China.
“I am looking for someone, a shop, a VIP shopper, who wants work with us,” she said. “China is the market I am putting all my energy into.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
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Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast