HONG KONG — Hot on the heels of the opening of its first U.S. flagship in New York last month, Valextra has set up shop in Hong Kong’s IFC mall. Now new chief executive officer Alessandra Bettari is hatching plans to open a store in London in 2015 and a foray into Mainland China is in the pipeline.
“It’s a moment of expansion, investment and acceleration,” said Bettari, who flew in from Tokyo, where she is also eyeing potential outlets. “Hong Kong is really part of a strategy of opening in key hubs in the world.”
Designed by architect Marco Costanzi, the IFC store is an example of Valextra’s new retail concept, which will be rolled out internationally. Clad in Ceppo di Grè, a stone traditionally used for building facades, the space spans about 861 square feet and is accented by brass and leather details.
“We realized there was big potential when we started seeing more customers from both Hong Kong and Mainland China coming to Milan,” she said. “They have an in-depth understanding of the product.”
In recent years, an increasing number of Mainland Chinese customers have embraced the brand’s subtle, logo-less accessories. Bettari has observed a considerable segment of the Chinese market no longer opts for flashy products to affirm their status and taste: “There is a diminishing need for shouting logos,” she said. “From what I see, I think there is a shift in awareness. They are maturing with an incredible speed…Our customers don’t need to prove they have good taste. They are totally sure of it.”
While the brand acknowledges sales have fallen due to uncertainties from the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, the ceo still sees the city as a key market and a gateway to Mainland China — and potentially Southeast Asia and India. “You have to go ahead. Volatility is part of life,” she said. “Sometimes when the economy is not really booming, it’s the right time to offer something new. There are opportunities which we think exist for Valextra here.”
The Milanese brand opened a store in The Landmark in Hong Kong in 2006, but shuttered it a few years later. It has not had a point of sale in the city since. “Of course it’s going to take time to rebuild our presence, but we have a lot of potential investment planned for the relaunch of this market,” said executive director Marco Scarpella, who added that they are considering other distribution channels in the city, such as Lane Crawford. While Bettari declined to provide sales projections, she said, “From what we’ve seen, we expect it will be profitable in the first year.”
The brand is gearing up for the launch of its own e-commerce site in January in Europe and the United States. By the end of next year, it plans to tap the Chinese market. “E-commerce in China is huge,” explained Bettari. “Having said that, it’s not the most transparent in terms of operations; that’s why it’s not the first place we are starting.”
Asked what’s next, she said the brand will initiate collaborations with industrial designers, interior designers and others from outside the fashion world. For the opening of the New York and Hong Kong stores, for instance, Valextra invited Italian designer Martino Gamper to create a line of products and it is planning to join forces with him again in the near future. “We are also working with an American designer at the moment on a bag that turns into a table, which I love,” she said.
Last year, Valextra opened an outpost in Singapore. It has six stores in Korea and seven in Japan. Future stores in Beijing and Shanghai are on the cards and Dubai is another market they are considering. Given the response to the newly unveiled New York store, the ceo is also planning to expand the label’s presence in the U.S. and work with Barneys New York in various cities outside New York, where the retailer already carries the brand.