SHANGHAI — Vivienne Westwood’s brand is now officially in China, but it’s unclear whether the designer really cares.
“I actually don’t know that much [about China],” Westwood said. “I have never really taken that much interest.”
Westwood landed in Shanghai last week to celebrate the opening of her first flagship in the city, which is located in Grand Gateway 66, a massive mall located in Xujiahui, a shopping and entertainment hub in the western district of Xuhui. The flagship is Westwood’s third on the mainland — in June, the brand opened a location in Beijing’s Shin Kong Place shopping center, followed by a second opening in Shanghai’s IFC Mall in September.
On Tuesday, she unveiled an exhibition in the atrium of the shopping center that showcases 40 years of her shoe designs. On Thursday night, Westwood’s spring collection was shown at Shanghai Fashion Week, where she was a guest of honor. And Friday, she gave a talk at a local university about China’s role in fighting climate change, an issue Westwood fervently tries to raise awareness about in the West.
“I think my manager would have had a very hard time to persuade me to come if I would have not had this opportunity to talk,” Westwood said while waiting backstage before her runway show Thursday evening. “Normally, I would have taken a holiday. I would have gone to Beijing, which I have never been to because I might never come again, and if I am coming all this way, I would like to know something about the country.”
Whether or not Westwood knows — or wants to know — that much about China may not really matter as it seems a particular segment of Chinese consumers already are familiar with her brand. According to Giuseppe Aragoni, Westwood’s global commercial director, 60 percent of the sales at the company’s 20 or so stores in Hong Kong are generated from mainland Chinese. Sales in Asia also make up about 60 percent of the company’s global business. South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, where the brand first opened in the Eighties, are among the strongest regional markets, Aragoni said.
Westwood has entered a joint venture with Inzone, a government-owned commercial property management firm that owns shopping malls and department stores across the country.
As part of the partnership, Vivienne Westwood will be called Vivienne Westwood China on the Mainland. There are plans to open an additional 30 stores over the next three years. This year, two more stores will open, one in Hangzhou, a city near Shanghai, and one in Jilin, a province in northeastern China that borders North Korea and Russia, a market where the brand is also popular, according to Aragoni. Inzone is also planning to open at least two Westwood stores in Vancouver where there are large diasporas from Hong Kong and China.
While nothing has been finalized, there could be plans to develop specific lines for China, Westwood said. “I imagine something like that might happen,” she said.
For now, Westwood’s goal in China, soon to overtake Japan as the second largest luxury market worldwide, is to communicate to the country’s increasingly affluent consumers not to consume quite so much in order to help the world combat climate change.
“I am not actually being disingenuous when I do really say stop buying clothes to people,” she said. “The slogan is ‘buy less, choose well, make it last.’”
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