By  on October 6, 2005

NEW YORK — With a luxury appeal that transcends most Chinese imports, Blanc de Chine is getting ready to open its first U.S. store in late November, on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street here.

The site, 673 Fifth Avenue, blends Chinese tradition with modern styling and sophisticated fabric treatments.

"We are bringing the heritage and culture of ancient China to a modern ready-to-wear approach," said Jack W. Drapacz, vice president and general manager for the Hong Kong-based Blanc de Chine in North America. "We felt there was a void in the luxury market when it came to Eastern-influenced collections."

Blanc de Chine's arrival follows that of Shanghai Tang, the subsidiary of Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, which has a store on Madison Avenue between 63rd and 64th Streets. Shanghai Tang offers a broader range of products, however, including more casualwear.

Blanc de Chine will have two selling floors totaling 2,400 square feet, a 1,000-square-foot showroom for wholesaling starting next year, a two-story window for a grand view into the store, tall decorative bamboo screens, and a spiral staircase. It's being designed by architect S. Russell Groves, who is known for a clean and sensual approach that Drapacz said is consistent with the Blanc de Chine aesthetic.

The company has only one store, a 12-year-old unit in the Central District of Hong Kong.

Women's rtw, representing roughly half the volume of the line and ranging in price from $400 pants to $2,500 dresses, will be on the first floor; men's wear, with jackets priced from $600 to $1,200, and home products will be displayed on the second floor. The collection emphasizes Mandarin-collared jackets; the "Qi Pao" little black dress, which is offered in various styles; Italian fabrics; jacket and coat linings as meticulously styled as the outer shells, and generally, looks that "don't overwhelm the wearer," Drapacz said. "They become one, with him or her."

Also offered are cashmere tops; blazers in silk, cashmere, cotton and linen; pants; eveningwear; coats; blouses; pajamas; scarves and belts, and a special "leather silk," which is silk that is naturally treated through a proprietary technology to make it look like leather.Among the home products are travel blankets, sheets, duvets and sleeping bags, all in silk. About half of the collection is in women's, about 30 percent men's wear, and the rest home goods.

Drapacz previously worked at Vivienne Tam, Polo Ralph Lauren and Financo, where he was often involved in strategic development and branding assignments. He acknowledged the Blanc de Chine brand is virtually unknown in the U.S. However, he said it has a following of expatriate bankers in Hong Kong and those who repeatedly visit the city. He also said the timing for the U.S. launch is good, considering how influential China has become in America and the current popularity of designers such as Derek Lam, Jeffrey Chow and Vera Wang.

He sees the U.S. having just a few more Blanc de Chine stores, possibly in Los Angeles and in south Florida. A Shanghai store is also being considered, as is some real estate in Europe. "This is not going to be a 50-store chain in the U.S," he said.

Drapacz would not disclose the company's volume as it is privately owned by real estate developer Kin Yeung. However, other sources said the volume is somewhere between $5 million and $10 million.

He was more forthcoming on the Fifth Avenue store's potential, stating it should do more than $1,200 in sales per square foot per year, which equates to close to $2.9 million.

Yeung owns the building at 673 Fifth, which previously housed The Museum Store. The company also owns a factory in Nansha, China, and has 300 employees, including a team of designers. Two collections, for fall and spring, are created each year, with three to four deliveries per season. There is also a diffusion collection called Bleu de Chine, which is sold in stores in Asia and may be introduced to the States in the future, Drapacz said.

The designs are inspired by eight Zen-influenced principles: sensuality, serenity, purity, simplicity, harmony, subtlety, comfort and functionality.

"Blanc de Chine's name is taken from the white porcelain of China that was used in the 18th century," Drapacz said. "It was coveted by Europeans for its delicate nature and beautiful composition."

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