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BEIJING — Montblanc is invoking the spirit of Grace Kelly and the glitz of Monte Carlo to tout its massive new flagship in the country’s capital.
The brand’s new concept store, its largest to date at 19,375 square feet, makes its home in a diamond-shaped stand-alone building in luxury development Sanlitun Village. On Friday, executives and celebrities including Jessica Alba and Naomi Watts assembled to fete the store and its inaugural installation dedicated to the brand’s Princesse Grace de Monaco collection of jewelry, watches and writing instruments.
“It’s really quite a step. It’s not about the size, it’s about a concept. I believe in today’s world, customers want to select very carefully,” Montblanc chief executive officer Lutz Bethge said in an interview. “We thought that might be a unique opportunity to create a platform for our customers to get close to our brand.”
Against the dramatic backdrop of a re-created Casino de Monte Carlo, Watts, Alba, Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard, Maggie Cheung, Chinese actress Lynn Hung and model Emma Pei walked the red carpet for the opening night event, each speaking briefly to the invitation-only crowd of about 1,000.
A full orchestra, beplumed dancers, and impersonators portraying Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Kelly herself entertained the crowd — though the impersonators were met largely with polite silence, perhaps not surprising in a country that spent most of that era closed to the outside world.
Montblanc, part of Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, opened its first store in China in the early Nineties, tapping into a culture where corporate gifts such as watches and ornate pens are customary. The brand now has about 100 stores in mainland China operating in more than 40 cities stretching from Harbin in the north to Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong in the south. The Sanlitun concept store opened earlier this year.
“[China’s gift-giving culture] is what has created the success for us in China. People could recognize us and get to know our brand, and that has helped us to become very successful,” said Bethge.
The Sanlitun store’s first installation, expected to last through the summer, includes interactive film screens featuring the inside of the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the Grand Prix and the Casino de Monte Carlo, as well as three screens dedicated to the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, which received a donation at the collection’s launch and receives a portion of its proceeds.
“We found that China and Japan have this huge fondness for her,” said Toby Boshak, the New York-based executive director of the Princess Grace Awards, who attended the opening. “This has been a long time in the making. It has turned out beautifully.”
“I didn’t know about Grace Kelly before,” admitted the doe-eyed Lynn Hung, known in Mandarin as Xiong Dailin, offering that she had heard of Diana, Princess of Wales. But the young actress was taken with the delicate, trailing diamond and pink sapphire petal necklace and bracelet she modeled for the event, which she said would undoubtedly appeal to Chinese women.
The collection includes interlocking, diamond-studded petals in bracelets and rings, and a four-petal design inspired by scattered rose petals, with tiny diamonds evoking droplets of dew. Many pieces are limited editions.
The concept store opening comes at a time of some uncertainty in China’s luxury market. With the country’s economy slowing, sales growth is expected to do the same, as evidenced by competitor Tiffany, which has cut its earnings forecast in part because of Asia’s slowing economies.
But Bethge, who declined to reveal sales figures, is resolute in his optimism for Montblanc’s China performance. The country has been Montblanc’s largest market since 2008, a position that is not expected to change.
“In the end I believe in the luxury industry…we are artisans, we are craftsmen. We are creating gifts. Montblanc is creating lifetime companions,” Bethge said. “You have to distinguish between the long term and the short term. I believe in the long term, this market will continue to strive forward. I believe in the entrepreneurship of the people here and in the economy.
“Even if at some point in time there will be a dip in the China market…in the long term, I see China as a continuing, huge opportunity for us,” he said.