Giorgio Armani

Giorgio Armani is on another whirlwind tour of China, stopping first in Hong Kong to show his Prive collection and launch a book.

HONG KONG — Giorgio Armani is on another whirlwind tour of China, stopping here first to show his spring-summer Privé haute couture collection, launch a book and prepare for his second trip to Shanghai in two years.

“I am really happy to be in Hong Kong,” said the designer. “It is a city full of energy and the perfect place to show Privé.”

The collection was shown Thursday to 1,500 invited guests over three shows in a specially erected pavilion in the plaza of the famed Hongkong & Shanghai Bank headquarters. “I am surprised at how perfect the collection looks on Chinese women,” said Armani. “It wasn’t made for them, but about 90 percent of the models I am using are Chinese, and their figures and the way they carry themselves are perfect.”

The designer was last in Hong Kong two years ago to open Chater House, the centrally located building that features 30,000 square feet of Armani retail space and includes freestanding Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani, Armani Fiori, Armani Libri and Armani Cosmetics boutiques. Since that opening, the cafe has closed and some of the other shops have been moved around, including Armani Casa. But the Armani team insists all is well. The designer disclosed that a new bar/lounge will open on April 14 in the space that formerly contained the cafe, and added that Armani Casa is catching on.

“Casa is beginning to work,” said Armani. “It’s getting its feet off the ground, especially with professionals. It’s here to show how Armani puts together a house, to show the Armani style.”

That style is fully evident during this Armani road show, which includes not only the fashion shows and a book-signing event in Hong Kong for “Armani in China,” but another Privé presentation, a party and an Armani retrospective at the Shanghai Art Museum. The designer, who arrives in Shanghai Saturday, will also go to that city’s Isetan department store to officially launch the brand’s fragrance and cosmetics lines in the mainland.

While there is speculation that Armani’s business in China has struggled, Paolo Fontanelli, chief financial officer of Giorgio Armani SpA, said the opposite is the case. “We announced two years ago that by the end of 2008 we would have 30 stores in mainland China, but we have 35 already,” he said.

This story first appeared in the March 31, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The company has no plans to stop there, having its eyes on China’s secondary cities. “We think that there is an opportunity to open 40 to 50 more stores,” said Fontanelli. “The brand has been very well received in China. We have revised our plans upward.”

The optimism comes courtesy of impressive sales. Armani’s wholesale sales of accessories and clothing in Greater China (which covers Hong Kong, China and Taiwan) now exceed every market but Japan.

In the case of the Giorgio Armani boutique in Shanghai, which has been rumored to be closing, Fontanelli said, “The Bund [store] is our flagship. We will remain there. I am fully expecting Mr. Armani to decide to expand the store.”

Currently, the brand has six stores in Shanghai. Robert Triefus, executive vice president of worldwide communications for the company, commented, “In Shanghai we have moved very quickly. It speaks to the sophistication of the market.” He said Armani is careful to open the right shop with the right price points in the right location to maximize sales to a broad audience.

In Beijing, it did not go unnoticed that the Giorgio Armani boutique moved from its prime ground-floor retail spot at the Peninsula Palace Hotel to a space in the basement. Triefus insisted that decision was out of their hands. “The store does very well in Beijing, We had to move because Louis Vuitton forced the landlord to take back the space. We were upset, but we’ve been offered a location one floor down that is very good,” he said.

In the meantime, the Armani camp is also beginning to look at how to deal with counterfeit goods, especially those in China. “We don’t do a lot about it yet,” said the designer. “But it’s important to explain the difference between real Armani products and fake.”

He added, “In a way, I am actually flattered; if they copy, it means the products are selling.”

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