MILAN — In line with its aggressive plan for growth in China, Versace has signed a distribution agreement with Hong Kong-based Joyce Distribution Ltd., a subsidiary of Joyce Boutique Holdings Ltd., to expand its business in that country.

Under the terms of the agreement,Joyce will distribute Versace Accessories, Versus, Versace Classic, Versace Sport and Versace Jeans Couture collections in China. Joyce will also serve as a coordinator for select Versace Collections boutiques, which sell the premier accessories line, Versace Classic and Sport collections, and the Versus retail boutiques which sell Versus and Jeans. More than 20 Versace Collections and Versus boutiques are scheduled to open in the next three years in China through the new venture.

“In Joyce, we have the perfect partner — an organization that enjoys the respect of the industry and that has a complete understanding of the Chinese market,” said Santo Versace, president and co-chief executive officer of Gianni Versace, SpA, in a statement Friday. “We have had a professional and personal relationship with Joyce and the Ma family for many years,” said Versace.

Joyce Boutiques is controlled by Hong Kong conglomerate Wheelock and Co., which also owns Lane Crawford.

Versace directly operates two boutiques in Beijing, three in Shanghai, and two in Shenzen. The firm is now focused on expanding in China’s secondary cities.

Joyce has opened a Versace Collection boutique inHarbin in March and will be opening a Versace Collection and Versus boutique in Guangzhou this fall.

“China has the potential to become even more important than Japan, in terms of sheer numbers, with 10 percent of the Chinese population adding up to more than the total Japanese population,” Versace told WWD in late February.

Over the past year, the company bought back its Chinese franchise, setting up Givi Hong Kong; renovated its existing stores in the style of Milan’s Montenapoleone model, and has registered a 10 percent increase in sales there. Versace has also set up a press office and showrooms in Beijing.

“Versace is one of the world’s most admired names, and we envision enormous potential for [its] brands in China,” said Adrienne Ma, managing director of Joyce Boutique Holdings in the statement.This agreement with Versace is a significant step for Joyce, which lost some of its business when Giorgio Armani, whose lines Joyce distributed in Asia for 25 years, took control of its own distribution there in 2001.

Versace said the company has an average 80 percent sell-through and that “women are very up-to-date” in China, especially in Shanghai and Beijing. “It is no longer a male-oriented society, and a large portion of women work today,” he said. Sales of the men’s wear collections account for 60 percent of total sales. “We are edging toward a 50-50 share.”

China accounts for about 6 percent of Versace’s roughly $500 million in overall sales, or about $30 million, and the firm projects a 20 percent rise in sales there.

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