By  on November 19, 2007

HONG KONG — Valentino has had a retail presence in Southeast Asia for some 30 years, but last week’s opening of a new Hong Kong flagship marks a change in the company’s strategy in the region. Modeled after the recently opened Valentino store in Rome, the 3,100-square-foot shop was designed by Italian architect Antonio Citterio and will itself become a role model for future Valentino stores in Asia.

“We always say we want to focus on Hong Kong, which remains the focal point for the Southeast Asian market. It’s why we decided to open a flagship here,” said Graziano de Boni, president of sales and marketing worldwide for Valentino. Including this new store, Valentino now has five shops in Hong Kong—three on the island and two on the Kowloon peninsula. All have opened within the last year after Valentino began directly operating its Hong Kong business.

Before today, the brand’s most recent store opening was a freestanding boutique at Elements, the new mega-mall designed to attract Mainland Chinese shoppers. “We have opened five stores in a short period of time because we’re extremely pleased with our business here,” said de Boni, who added, “Our Hong Kong business, in dollars, is up 55 percent.” He attributed the brand’s success to attracting a mix of “local, young Hong Kong shoppers” and Mainland Chinese customers. “We definitely have found an influx in Mainland customers, especially at certain locations, like IFC and Ocean Centre,” said de Boni, referring to popular malls in the Central business district and the Tsimshatsui tourist area.

This new store is located on the ground floor of The Landmark, home to other notable flagships, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Fendi as well as Harvey Nichols. (The previous Valentino boutique at The Landmark was operated under a joint venture with Hong Kong retailer Swank Shop.) “We were very lucky to get this ground-floor location,” said Giovanni Di Salvo, Valentino’s CEO for Asia Pacific. “The store has terrific windows and great visibility,” he said, noting the company waited patiently for the space during Hongkong Land’s extensive renovations of the building. The store, the only one to jut into the main concourse, faces The Landmark’s fountain, a popular meeting place for locals.

Although the store carries only women’s ready-to-wear and accessories, Di Salvo said this will change. “Men’s wear will be added starting with the spring/summer collection,” he said.

As de Boni pointed out, men’s wear and accessories are keys to the brand’s growth, especially in China where Valentino will open its first two stores in the spring. Both stores will be in Beijing, one at the Peninsula hotel, the other at Park Life, which will be home to the new Park Hyatt hotel. “In a way you can say we’re late [entering the China market], but we’re not really” said de Boni. “The timing is right for us for two main reasons: one, because we have developed a substantial accessories business, which is a key product category for the China market and for all of Asia, and also because we did not have much men’s wear business before, and the two driving products in China or any developing market are women’s accessories and men’s wear. Women’s high-end ready-to-wear always follows later,” he said.

The company is finalizing plans for a 2009 Shanghai opening but is not in any hurry to expand throughout China. “The future is very interesting.

There are no plans for 50 stores in three years, but the Chinese customer is fast differentiating between what is true luxury and what is mass luxury,” said de Boni, who said such ambitious store-opening plans are better suited to accessories-based brands. Instead, Valentino will enter uncharted territories through its wholesale business, notably via its partnerships with Imaginex and Lane Crawford (both are part of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group). “Until a year ago our wholesale business was nonexistent in Hong Kong, but Lane Crawford gives the brand a great opportunity to develop business and gain exposure in markets that we would not be going into right now,” said de Boni. Valentino ready-to-wear is sold in Lane Crawford stores in China, while Valentino accessories will be sold in shop-within-shop boutiques at three Mason Mode stores in Shanghai.

While Valentino’s China business is still in its infancy, elsewhere in Asia the company is growing. A second Valentino store will debut in Macau in spring 2008 with the opening of the Four Seasons hotel; the brand’s first shop in Bangkok opened a few months ago, and the business in Taiwan has just become directly operated. Most notable, however, might be Korea where Valentino is looking for a location for a flagship store and already has six freestanding shops. All six are scheduled for renovation so that, like those in Hong Kong, they too reflect the new Valentino look—gold walls, beige carpet and “V”-print wallpaper included.

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