SKP Beijing

It’s not your usual cover coup, but a coup nonetheless: The charismatic Chinese retailer known to every chief executive officer in the biz as Mr. Ji is on the cover of the next issue of System magazine, photographed remotely by Juergen Teller no less.

System magazine cover

Mr. Ji on the cover of the next issue of System.  Juergen Teller

The chairman of SKP, widely considered the best luxury department store operator in China, Ji Xiao An gets 34 pages in the issue, including a long and lively conversation with Prada honcho Patrizio Bertelli, moderated by editor Jonathan Wingfield. The two men spar over a number of subjects, including where Mr. Ji should open his next branch of SKP. (He has already expanded from Beijing to Xi’an.)

“You should open SKP in Shanghai. I tell you every time we meet, but you never listen to me,” Bertelli laments.  “We need to be patient and make the right decision instead of just expanding for the sake of expanding,” Mr. Ji retorts.

Bertelli describes Mr. Ji as a formidable businessman, with strong opinions, impeccable timing — and a tendency to expect anything that is suggested to him be done without fail. “He is like an elephant, and it’s much better to avoid a clash with him because you could get crushed if you go against him,” Bertelli warns.

The Chinese retail pioneer told the magazine he expects the fashion industry in China to grow at least three-fold in the next decade, but that it will take time to produce internationally known brands, given the lack of a sophisticated infrastructure. “We need more creatives, pattern makers, an entire support system,” he says.

In her editor’s letter, System cofounder Elizabeth von Guttman notes that the story was 18 months in the making, “partly because Mr. Ji has never granted an extensive interview outside of China, so a period of time has been required to build trust.”

She said she wished to bring attention to “his immense power in our industry, as well as being a visionary yet still quite unknown on this side of the world. The store’s extraordinary rise and continued success is so emblematic of the broader shifts in consumerism, geopolitics and the global economy.”

The issue, weighing in at 350 pages, is out this week.

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