BEIJING — Sir Paul Smith doesn’t seem totally convinced that his second foray into Mainland China is going to be a smashing success. But he also doesn’t seem too worried.
“I suppose the biggest challenge is the fact that we’re not as well-known” as the larger designers already in China, said Smith on the official opening day of his new flagship here. “So it’s very much about finding the customer that is confident enough to wear something that doesn’t shout out that it equals money. It’s more of a discerning customer.”
That approach might be timed right. A report released this week by the Zurich-based Julius Baer Wealth Report notes that Chinese consumers are increasingly choosing understatement and quality over logos and brands. The report said established brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Christian Dior continue to dominate Chinese luxury sales, but consumers there are also open to new brands and are “savvier about the relationship between quality and price.”
Smith, along with distribution partner Bluebell, last attempted to open stores in Mainland China in 2002, a venture that lasted five years. Bluebell “persuaded us to open,” Smith said. “They already had a successful business with Paul Smith in Hong Kong and they thought it was time to go into Mainland China.” But the stores were done in by larger brands with extensive marketing campaigns, Smith said. His 2002 venture “was too early and too secret, in a way.”
This time, with new distribution partner ImagineX, “the signs have been great,” Smith said. The 3,800-square-foot Beijing location has been open since May 6, and sales returns are already “over budget.”
A Paul Smith store opened in Tianjin late last year, a 5,000-square-foot megastore is planned for Shanghai sometime in the next few months and a Chengdu unit is set for later in the year, an ImagineX spokesman said. The company expects to open as many as 20 stores in top-tier Chinese cities in the next five years.
The Beijing store is situated in Sanlitun’s trendy Village North area, surrounded by stores such as Alexander Wang, Montblanc and Giorgio Armani. Like all of Smith’s other stores, this one has its own personality. Large glass windows frame a pink, yellow and orange color-blocked-style exterior. Inside, the two-story shop is an eclectic mix: an 1850 Dutch painting of a snake signifies the Chinese Year of the Snake; mosaic tile in a side hallway is inspired by Paris; a Fifties-style sideboard; a reproduction antique Chinese cabinet, and hundreds of photos, posters, and works of art from Smith’s personal collection line the walls.
Rooms separate men’s and women’s merchandise, which includes shoes, cuff links, scarves, handbags, jewelry, socks and apparel ranging from casual sweatshirts to floor-sweeping silk dresses.
The challenge, just as in 2002, is to convince Chinese consumers to see beyond the logo. The fashion market in China was conquered by what Smith describes as “the more established, more marketing-led companies.” Their success was based on the fact that the wealth in China “is relatively new,” he said, “so I think a lot of the shops that have an obvious logo and an obvious identification did well because it was sort of like a sign that you were doing well.”
Since Smith doesn’t rely on logos, he had to take a different tack. “I don’t know how to describe it really — I mean, you like the clothes because you like the clothes,” he said, “as opposed to them being a symbol of doing well.”
In other words, the ideal Paul Smith customer is as eclectic as the stores. Smith said he hopes to appeal to everyone from 13-year-olds to rock stars and prime ministers. “And in fact, I’ve got all of them,” Smith said. “I’ve dressed many prime ministers, many French politicians, Italian politicians, rock stars and actors.”
Smith mainly seems to have his eye on the younger crowd for the future of his collections. “What’s interesting now is there’s a whole generation that’s grown up without these big brands who are now older,” he said. The 12- to 29-year-olds “think Paul Smith is pretty interesting,” he said.
In fact, after posing for photographs at his Sanlitun store, Smith gave an hour-long lecture and slide show to a group of 300 Beijing fashion and design students, describing how he found inspiration through his photography and the colors around him. One design of a man’s blue suit came from a photo he took years ago of a security guard at Beijing’s Forbidden City.
“You have to be different,” he told the students, who sat in silence, listening to a simultaneous translation on their headphones. “Question things all the time.”
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews