By  on May 24, 2007

BEIJING — Calvin Klein Inc. is continuing its Far Eastern push.

A group of executives — including Tom Murry, Calvin Klein's president and chief operating officer, and designers Francisco Costa and Italo Zucchelli — hit the Chinese capital and Tokyo to push the company's labels with a store opening here and fashion show in Japan.

The opening of a Calvin Klein Collection store here represents the second China visit by senior Calvin Klein management in less than a year; last November they staged a massive World of Calvin Klein event in Shanghai, and a similarly scaled show happened in Tokyo on Monday.

Executives stressed the visit represents the brand's commitment to and fascination with the Chinese market. "I see an extreme hunger for fashion," said Zucchelli, men's wear creative director for Calvin Klein. "There is an amazing enthusiasm for fashion, and an amazing hospitality in the fashion community, people are more welcoming to outsiders than in the West. Maybe because fashion is so new here."

Zucchelli said the brand is opening a Collection store in Beijing because "the market is booming, it is the strongest booming market. Every international designer has a freestanding store here, or some retail space. China is very important to us."

The new store represents Calvin Klein Collection's sixth worldwide, and debuted on May 17 with an in-store party followed by a gala dinner at People 8 with over 100 local fashion elite. The 2,500-square-foot store is located in the lower basement of the Peninsula Palace Hotel.

"The decision to open Collection in China is the combination of a great location and a partner with a great track record," said Murry. "We had been wanting to open in China, whether in Shanghai or Beijing, but location dictated where."

Most diversified international brands have opted to launch in China with their most top-end, luxury lines to establish themselves in the market as luxury brands before introducing their midrange products. In contrast, Calvin Klein has maintained a network of jeans, underwear and CK stores here since 2000, and currently has 52 freestanding stores in 25 cities in 13 provinces in Mainland China, and will have more than 1,300 points of sale for accessories, apparel, eyewear and watches by year-end 2007. "We wanted to be profitable, so we started with the core businesses of jeans, underwear and CK, and it has never been a disadvantage," said Murry. "We can also sell high-end, and bridge the price gap.""People are excited to have Collection in China," said Costa, creative director for women's wear. "It shows a big commitment to the Collection brand. But it is harder to launch, with the more expensive product and higher real estate. Our partner already has a bunch of brands here. There is a need for non-disposable product."

Murry said the company plans to open a minimum of 10 jeans, underwear and CK stores a year in China. "Shanghai is our number-one city sales wise, followed by Beijing, then Shenzhen, then Hangzhou, then Wenzhou," he said. "Collection is looking to expand, but as you know finding locations is the most difficult. We will keep it to Shanghai and Beijing for now.

"Finding retail space has not gotten easier, and won't anytime soon," he added. "Demand is growing at least as fast as space, and rents have doubled in the past few years, and tripled since 2000."

Product pricing in Mainland China is about 20 percent higher than in Hong Kong or abroad, due to the luxury and import taxes, and many brands tack on an additional 30 or more percent as a branding strategy. Edith Chen, Asia-Pacific managing director, denied that Calvin Klein does so, but explained, "In Asia we do a more premium strategy, as the Asian customer is very discerning on quality and design, and, like CK, are always modern and tasteful."

Earlier this week in Tokyo, the company had a one-night installation of the World of Calvin Klein in front of the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery within Meiji Shrine Outer Gardens. Calvin Klein collaborated with Shinichi Ogawa to create a one-level glass house at the entrance of the gallery, which was built in 1926. The Calvin Klein logo was projected onto the gallery's facade.

The 40-foot-long house was divided into two long rooms, within which there were a living room section, bedroom, closet and bathroom. Inside these settings, about 20 models posed wearing Calvin Klein's Collection line, ck Calvin Klein and jeans from fall collections, as well as its watches, eyewear, and accessories. In each section, fragrances, beauty products and home products were also laid out. The new scent, ckIN2U, was also shown in the bathroom section.Murry, Costa and Zucchelli were at the event, as were executives from Onward Kashiyama Co. Ltd., Calvin Klein's Japanese distributor and licensee. Murry said Calvin Klein is looking to open a Collection store in either Aoyama or Ginza next year.

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