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Jolin Tsai can walk down a SoHo street without getting so much as a passing glance in her direction, save for an Asian tourist or two. Plunk her down in Shanghai’s Times Square Plaza, however — which is where the first store of her label, Seventy Two Changes, will open on Saturday — and things get a bit hairier.
“It was a natural next step, because everyone in Asia knows who she is,” says Ken Erman, chief executive officer of New York-based Seventy Two Changes, of the decision to open the one-year-old line’s first retail location there (the company previously launched a fall capsule collection at Nordstrom and select Bloomingdale’s in the U.S.). Tsai, who is 29, is a Taiwanese pop star (she sings in Mandarin, so it’s known as “Mandopop.”) And Erman knows a few things about selling clothes with a fashion-loving musician attached: He was co-founder of Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B., which he ran until late last year. Together with president Brenda Lin, who works on design, the threesome hopes the new label’s rocker-chic designs will resonate with Tsai’s loyal fans, some of whom, it turns out, may not even be old enough to shop by themselves. Tsai’s song “Slow Life” has reportedly been used in the last year by more than 3,000 Taiwanese schools as a replacement for the recess bell.
“We really started by going into Jolin’s closet, styling what she had, and designing with her own look in mind,” says Lin. For their first full collection, this meant dance-inspired pieces such as minidresses and beaded rompers. Lin and Tsai say the inspiration is flamenco — these are cute, embellished numbers, like a sequined tank dress and jacket with epaulets, that quietly echo the more fashion-forward pieces Tsai says she gravitates toward for her concerts.
“I really like Martin Margiela,” says Tsai, whose first name, which she goes by professionally, is pronounced Jolene (like the Dolly Parton song). “And, who is that — ” (Tsai is trying to remember another label.) “And Balmain!”
“Most of the jackets are very structured, with strong shoulders, and the look is kind of military,” Lin adds.
Tsai’s career took off after she entered an MTV singing contest in Taiwan when she was 18. One of her early and most popular songs was called “See My Seventy Two Changes” (it referred to growing up, not donning multiple outfits). Tsai is busy finalizing a follow-up to last year’s successful “Butterfly,” an as-yet-untitled album which will be released over the summer. She visits New York several times a year, and e-mails and talks regularly with Erman and Lin to approve designs. “I like clothes that are unique,” Tsai says. “Girls like to wear clothes that look different, make them [look] outstanding.”
Erman says he hopes the label will expand to shoes, bags and cosmetics, but the company is sticking with apparel for now. The pieces range from $75 up to $800 at retail, which Erman says is a more accessible range than some other celebrity-backed lines.
“The sales in the U.S. have been amazing, so we’ll continue to sell here,” Erman says, “but Asia is the market we’re going to focus on right now.” The company plans to open four more stores within Shanghai by the end of this year, and another nine next year, as well as several in Beijing and Guangzhou by the end of 2011.
“Jolin’s style is forever changing, so the collection will, too,” Lin adds. “Our girl wants to stand out in a crowd, but not to the point where it’s too much.”