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CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Unveils China Initiative

Thanks to the financial support of Silas Chou, this spring the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund will launch a China Exchange program.

Thanks to the financial support of Silas Chou, this spring the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund will launch a China Exchange program, with Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez shipping out to Shanghai and Uma Wang visiting New York.

This story first appeared in the March 6, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While details are still being ironed out, the initiative is expected to become an ongoing one, given the interest and potential for growth in each respective market, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s executive director, Steven Kolb. “We never want to do anything as a one-off. We really like to connect and invest in things that have real meaning and depth,” he said.

China is a largely underdeveloped territory for many American designers. The country’s retail market in 2012 and 2013 is expected to grow at a rate of 14 percent, and luxury retail should strengthen by 20 percent during the same period, according to Isabel Cavill, a senior retail analyst with Planet Retail, who specializes in the global clothing and luxury retail markets.

The idea for such an exchange program surfaced when Chou and Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour were chatting at a dinner about a year ago, said Kolb, who declined to discuss Chou’s investment in the program. Fostering emerging talent between the two countries is of great personal interest to Chou, Kolb said. Chou, president and chief executive officer of his Hong Kong-based family business, Novel Enterprises Ltd., one of the world’s leading vertically integrated textile and apparel manufacturers, has more than 40 years of experience. He is co-chairman of Michael Kors Corp., having purchased a majority stake in the company in 2003 through Sportswear Holdings Ltd.

Kors, whom Wang will work with during part of her stay, said of Chou’s sponsorship of the new program, “Here is someone who knows the business in China and in the States. There aren’t a lot of people who have had that level of experience in both places. The whole thing seemed so natural for us to get involved.”

Kors added, “The world is tiny now. In 1981 when I was starting out, our idea of global was Canada. We thought Holt Renfrew was a foreign account.”

Having met Wang, talked about fashion and reviewed her portfolio from one season to the next, Kors said he found her to be “inquisitive and curious, both creatively and from a business perspective, which is important. The trick, particularly when you are starting out, is to know who your woman or your girl is, and Uma does,” Kors said. “She also has the greatest thing, which is the curiosity of youth and newness. But if you combine that with sophistication, which she does, that is the greatest combo.”

A number of alumni of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund have cited China as one of the opportunities they are most interested in learning more about. “We are always asking them what it is they want help with and where we can create opportunities. That’s really how the Americans in Paris program with Tommy [Hilfiger] came about,” Kolb said.

Chou could not be reached for comment Monday, nor could Proenza Schouler’s McCullough and Hernandez, who were on vacation.

Wang, whose White-sponsored runway show in Milan at the Palazzo Reale last month earned kudos, will be in the U.S. throughout May and for the first week of June. The Shanghai-based designer will return to the U.S. two weeks before New York Fashion Week and will stay to watch the shows. While details are still being ironed out, Wang’s schedule will include working with Theory as well as Michael Kors.

Wang will also spend time at Barneys New York, Google and Vogue. Her itinerary, which will include cultural experiences and industry events, is being tailored based on her input, Kolb said.

Finding a place to live, never an easy task, is something Wang won’t have to worry about, since W Hotels has agreed to put her up at one of its New York properties.