Seventeen years ago, an executive from an international company paid a visit to Shanghai Jahwa United Co. Ltd. — among China’s oldest and largest cosmetics firms — and implied its products lacked originality and competitiveness.
The chairman of the board at the time “was so embarrassed that he decided to develop something really special, really different, really impressive,” recalled Zhuo (Joe) Wang, executive vice president of Shanghai Jahwa, during his speech, which was peppered with poetry he had translated from Chinese into English.
Three years later, Herbalist (whose name literally means “an anthology of 100 herbs”) was born. The brand has since been built into a powerhouse based on a “three ‘i’ motto” — insights (“understanding your consumers’ needs and wanting to position a brand competitively, attractively and successfully”); integration (“making your products, distribution and marketing communication match one another and work together”), and insistence (“staying the course and avoiding self-inflicted setback”), said Wang.
The brand was sold with entry-level prestige positioning from the start.
“Most local Chinese companies are playing the defensive in the low and middle ends of the market. There are a few progressive companies also playing the offensive, moving upward to target the upscale, affluent consumers,” explained Wang.
Herbalist opened its debut store in Shanghai in 1998, and practically no sales were rung up the first day.
“We started with stand-alone, exclusive stores — our own stores. Why? Because we were forced to do that. None of the department stores wanted us to be in them,” he said.
Today Herbalist is in 1,001 doors, including Chinese department stores. The brand is expected to generate more than $400 million in retail sales this year.
Yet there’s still some resistance to it domestically. According to a recent survey, although an increasing number of Chinese consumers want luxury goods made for them, 85 percent of such consumers are still not ready to accept that sort of prestige brand made by a domestic company, said Wang, adding, “This perception creates huge hardships for companies like us doing luxury goods in China.”
Herbalist dreams of being a global leader. Four years ago, the brand launched in France, through Sephora, and has since entered Holland, Spain, Italy, Poland and Turkey. It’s been registering 40 percent on-year growth in Europe, yet considers it a challenge to create favorable perceptions in the mind of consumers.
“To Chinese companies, going global — especially going to the developed markets — is really a new and daunting task,” said Wang.
“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
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
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