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SHANGHAI — For Carven, the decision to enter China was based on two main factors: real estate and the changing tastes of local consumers.
The French fashion house opened its first stores in China in September. In Beijing, one is located in the newly opened Galeries Lafayette, and, in Shanghai, in the Grand Gateway Mall and iAPM, a new luxury mall on Huaihai Road, a high-end shopping street in the heart of the city. Carven also has a presence in multibrand stores, including Joyce.
On Wednesday evening, Carven held its first-ever fashion show in China to celebrate its entry into the country. The show, featuring its summer 2014 men’s and women’s collections, was held at The Waterhouse, a boutique hotel located on the city’s historic Bund waterfront.
Carven entered a joint venture with distribution company Bluebell Group to enter China. Bluebell is also the brand’s distribution partner in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Ashley Micklewright, president and chief executive officer of Bluebell, said a more eclectic retail selection in Shanghai and Beijing was one of the driving factors for Carven to enter China. Real estate consulting groups have long said demand outstrips supply for premium retail space in China’s first-tier cities. Yet in recent months, a number of malls as well as multibrand stores, including 10 Corso Como and Lane Crawford, have opened, making it easier for a smaller brand like Carven to find suitable space.
“What we found is two or three years ago, if you wanted to come into Shanghai, there was a limited amount of good retail space,” Micklewright said. “In the last 12 months, new shopping malls have opened that have allowed brands to come in, and they are looking for differentiation from other malls. It is an ideal opportunity for us.”
Micklewright and Henri Sebaoun, president of Carven, said there are plans to open 20 stores within five years. The brand is now eyeing locations in Chengdu in southern China and Hangzhou, a second-tier city near Shanghai. Bluebell previously had distribution agreements in China with Moschino and Blumarine. The partnership with Carven marks Bluebell’s reentry into China. This time around, Micklewright said they will not work with local franchise partners in order to maintain tighter control of the brand’s image.
Since Carven entered Asia three years ago, Sebaoun said the region now makes up around 25 percent of global sales. Within five years, the executive said he hopes 35 percent of sales will come from Asia.
Sebaoun said more discerning and fashion-savvy Chinese consumers combined with a move away from ostentatious luxury consumption, partly due to a massive government antigraft campaign, which has curtailed the sale of luxury products, as well as slowing economic growth, could bode well for Carven’s design-focused yet more understated, accessible collections. He admits, that awareness of the brand among many Chinese remains low.
“The Chinese people are hungry for change,” he said. “There is room for changing people’s conception away from buying all branded products to fashion that is more about individuality.”