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SINGAPORE — When Carolina Herrera first came to Asia, Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Japan was slated to become the world’s number-one economy.
Since then, labels bearing the Herrera name have grown to be sold in 107 countries. In Asia, her presence has been largely restricted to fragrances, bridalwear and a small selection of ready-to-wear at department stores like Hong Kong’s Harvey Nichols.
Now the designer is making a concerted push into the region with CH Carolina Herrera, her secondary line. Last fall the label opened its first Asian boutique in Seoul, followed this spring by a 4,300-square-foot, three-story store in Tokyo’s Ginza district and a smaller space in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands casino resort. Openings in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian commercial capital, are slated for this fall.
“Some properties are wholly owned and others are [run] with local partners due to nuances of culture,” said Caroline Brown, president of Carolina Herrera. She declined to give more details of partnership agreements.
“We’ve already done all the other places and we are ready, so why not?” said Herrera of the move into Asia. Dressed in her signature white blouse and an orange skirt from a botanically themed, past-season collection, the designer was here Wednesday for the Audi Fashion Festival, which would open with a showcase of the fall collections of CH Carolina Herrera and Carolina Herrera New York.
Herrera’s move into Asia had been long planned, but it comes as the region’s consumers are cutting back. In South Korea, private consumption dropped by 0.3 percent in the first quarter of 2013, while retail sales in China increased by 12.4 percent, down from 14.8 percent year-on-year, government statistics show. Singapore’s economy contracted by 0.6 percent in the same period, though Herrera gave it a little boost with a trip to the city-state’s Little India neighborhood to purchase tunics and costume jewelry.
The company also faces competition in the form of competitors at similar price points that are better established in emerging markets. “It’s saturated,” said Herrera of the large number of Western brands that have set up shop in China in the past five years. “Maybe there are too many.”
Brown said that the novelty factor of an internationally known brand entering a new market, and CH Carolina Herrera’s wide selection of goods — it includes accessories, men’s, women’s and children’s wear — would help. “It’s a huge commitment to buy [rtw], so they can enter with accessories first,” she said.
Customers shopping at CH Carolina Herrera’s Asian outposts can expect product selection to be consistent with the brand’s Western shops, meaning that the label will roll out its fall collection even in the perennially humid climes of Singapore and Malaysia.
“There is no season anymore,” said Herrera, who noted that wool crepes and cashmere used in the Forties-inspired collection that hits stores in July were lighter than ever before. “It is better to dress for summer in winter and for winter in summer because of heating and air conditioning.”
There are little nods to local tastes in the form of interior architecture — the Seoul store features oriental-style wooden latticework — and capsule collections. For Singapore, Herrera released a limited-edition series of linen bags hand-embroidered with images of orchids, Singapore’s national flower. All 20 pieces, priced at upwards of 2,375 Singapore dollars, or $1,935 at current exchange, have sold out.
But can the brand, known for its elegant, pared-back aesthetics, cater to logo-obsessed Chinese consumers?
“I have a lot of bling,” insisted Herrera. “The evening collections are elaborate and glamorous, though I like daytime to be more simple. We women…maybe one minute we want logos and the next we don’t.“