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Asia Watch: Luxury Lovers … No Longer Unique … Ice Heists

LUXURY LOVERS: A study by Saison Research Institute of Japan has found that 94.3 percent of Japanese women in their 20s have Louis Vuitton goods and 92.2 percent of them own a Gucci product. Among other brands, 57.5 percent of women in their 20s own...

LUXURY LOVERS: A study by Saison Research Institute of Japan has found that 94.3 percent of Japanese women in their 20s have Louis Vuitton goods and 92.2 percent of them own a Gucci product. Among other brands, 57.5 percent of women in their 20s own Prada products; 51.7 percent own Chanel, and 44.3 percent have Christian Dior. About half of women in this age group, or 49.1 percent, own a Louis Vuitton bag, according to the study.

This story first appeared in the March 11, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The survey was conducted in the Tokyo area in September 2002 and 1,048 women and men out of 1,200 monitored between the ages of 20 and 60 answered the questions. The institute is a subsidiary of Saison Group.

For all the women questioned, Christian Dior is the must-buy brand, with 78.6 percent owning a Dior product. Among the other top brands, 64.4 percent own a Gucci product; 64.2 percent, Chanel; 63.7 percent, Burberry; 61.5 percent, Louis Vuitton, and 49 percent, Hermès. Within Christian Dior, 29.8 percent of the women questioned have the brand’s cosmetics, while 14.1 percent own scarves and 9.4 percent own other accessories. Women in their 40s and 50s are the most loyal consumers of Christian Dior, said the study.

Among men, 62.1 percent own a Burberry product and 40.3 percent own Dunhill.

Regarding the reasons for buying luxury goods, 43.6 percent of those questioned said, “Its quality and fashion [style] are satisfactory,” while 34.5 percent replied, “Because I just like luxury brand goods.”

“Young female consumers have luxury brands from overseas for their self-satisfaction, while the elder consumers trust the quality and traditional status of the brands,” commented the institute. — Koji Hirano

NO LONGER UNIQUE: Uniqlo, once the hottest retail concept in Japan, has hit problems in the last year and is now scaling back on its Western ambitions. Fast Retailing U.K. Ltd., its British subsidiary, said it will close 16 of its 21 stores in Britain to focus on those in and around London.

Fast Retailing opened its first Uniqlo store in the U.K. in September 2001, with the goal of 50 stores in three years. But “in the new market, the brand recognition for Uniqlo was less than expected and sales at each store stayed low,” said the firm. Shops in Knightsbridge, Regent Street, Wimbledon, Richmond and Uxbridge will remain open, but the other 16 units will be closed by August.

The company said it still believes the U.K. market has potential, so it will scale back to the five stores to improve its profitability and then perhaps expand again. Under the restructuring plan, Fast Retailing U.K. expects to become profitable for the next fiscal year ending May 2004.

The Japanese firm will take an extraordinary charge of $25.4 million dollars in the fiscal year ending August 2003 due to the downsizing measure. Dollar figures were calculated at current exchange rates.

The first Uniqlo shop opened in 1984. The firm went public in 1994 and experienced fast expansion through the Nineties, when its fleece jackets became the megahit item in Japan. There are now 574 Uniqlo stores, but its growth has stalled. For the fiscal year ended August 2002, the firm announced net profits of $236.4 million on sales of $2.9 billion. — K.H.

ICE HEISTS: Diamonds worth more than $2.4 million were stolen from two different booths on the first day of trade at the Hong Kong International Jewelry Show. One American dealer lost diamonds valued at $1.1 million, while a $1 million necklace was stolen from a Belgian dealer.

Much to the embarrassment of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), which organizes the fair, these thefts mark the sixth major diamond heist in Hong Kong in the last three years. They occurred despite extra security measures, including additional police, undercover agents, private security firms and close-circuit television monitors.

While declining to speak publicly about suspects, local police issued an internal memo warning of the activities of South American syndicates linked to Colombian cocaine cartels. Schmuel Schnitzer, president of the Israel Diamond Exchange, said that such heists do not occur at fairs elsewhere in the world. “The criminals must see [Hong Kong shows] as a soft touch…and I say it very regretfully, but the organizers need to face up to the criticism and they need to implement stronger security measures.”

As it stands, many of the more than 1,000 exhibitors hired private security for the fair’s duration. The HKTDC added even more surveillance cameras and personnel after the first-day heists. Despite this, a waist bag containing $5,100 was stolen on day two.

Lawrence Yau, a spokesman for the HKTDC, commented: “The jewel thieves are not native Hong Kong citizens — they are overseas professionals. But they are not sophisticated — they use simple diversionary tactics. That is the frustrating point.”

The $2.4 million haul at this event brings the three-year total to $14.2 million. In September 2002, diamonds worth $3 million were stolen in three separate robberies at the fair. In June 2001, a man was arrested after trying to steal a briefcase containing $7.9 million in diamonds and, in a separate incident, 60 diamonds worth $640,000 were stolen. In March 2000, jewelry valued at $64,000 was taken and a dealer’s briefcase holding gems worth $205,000 was stolen. — Constance Haisma-Kwok