By  on March 21, 2006

MILAN — Giorgio Armani travels to China later this month to commemorate the arrival of his Guggenheim retrospective in Shanghai. It's only the designer's second trip to the country, but it's unlikely to be his last.

Nor are other designers shying away from China, which many cite as the world's fastest-growing market for luxury goods. The Chinese market was worth about $1.3 billion in 2005, according to research by Bain & Co. The consultancy expects the market to continue to grow at an annual rate of 50 to 70 percent.

Several forward-thinking brands entered China years ago, such as men's brands Ermenegildo Zegna and Dunhill, as well as Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada and Gucci. Chanel opened its first Hong Kong store back in 1979 when the city was still under British control. Others, like Dolce & Gabbana, Chloé and Calvin Klein, made more recent debuts in the country.

But regardless of how long they've been there, fashion houses are tracking China's rapidly changing landscape, from mushrooming real estate developments to the evolution of shoppers' sensibilities and the emerging wealth in cities beyond Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

"[Chinese customers] have to choose from an increasing number of brands, so they are forced to pay a lot of attention to a brand's image profile...both nationally and internationally," said Ferruccio Ferragamo, chief executive officer of Salvatore Ferragamo.

The company, which entered Hong Kong in 1988 and mainland China in 1994, has 30 stores in China and plans to open another 10 to 15 boutiques over the next two to three years.

Calvin Klein came to China much later, with a staggered rollout of its jeans, underwear, home collection and ck Calvin Klein businesses between 2001 and 2005. Tom Murry, president and chief operating officer of Calvin Klein Inc., said there's "unprecedented evolution" of the retail industry in the Asian country.

"Chinese consumers are becoming more discerning and interested in foreign trends with the prevalence of the media and the continuously expanding spending power," Murry said. "China today has over 60 satellite TV channels, 12 international publications, one of the highest Internet and mobile phone markets and a highly lucrative travel industry."

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