MILAN — Sergio Rossi is expanding in China and buying back its five boutiques in the region from its local franchisee partner, Shanghai Kutu Trading Co. Ltd.

This story first appeared in the June 14, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We’ve been in China for five years now, developed a sense of maturity and global vision and this step is part of leading the brand into the future,” said Christophe Mélard, president and chief executive officer of the luxury footwear firm.

The stores are located in Shanghai, Beijing, Ningbo and Shenzhen. Sergio Rossi is maintaining an existing franchisee agreement with Sichuan Lessin Department Store Co. Ltd. to further develop its business in second- and third-tier cities in China.

Mélard stressed that while the Italian company plans to double the number of stores in China in three years, it is not steering away from a highly selective distribution.

The executive said the brand is seeing double-digit growth in China, but he declined to provide financial details of the Shanghai Kutu transaction or on the performance in the region for the company, which is controlled by French retail-to-luxury group PPR.

Sergio Rossi has 42 directly operated stores worldwide and 36 franchised ones, and sells online in the U.S. There are 11 stores in Asia alone.

Mélard said he was “impressed” by how quickly Chinese customers shifted from being drawn by logos and brands to a more sophisticated level. “They are very aware of trends and are very mature,” he said. He noted that, with the help of creative director Francesco Russo, who joined the company two years ago, the firm has a more focused image. In addition to standing for sexiness, femininity and glamour, Mélard said Sergio Rossi “wants to be known as a luxurious Italian shoe specialist.”

“We are about comfort for women and timeless pieces. We pay respect to the silhouette of a woman, and we are capitalizing on our know-how at a factory level where our shoes require up to 160 manual steps of production,” he said.

Mélard underscored that the brand’s investment in buying back its stores “will help business, but also reinforce our message, that we pay attention to our customers’ needs by designing specific collections for Chinese fittings and made-to-order pieces. They like certain colors and materials.”

While focusing on the brand’s core footwear business and capitalizing on the success of its Cachet pump, Mélard said he is also keen to further develop the handbag division. In particular, he noted the success of the soft Viva bag, launched three seasons ago.

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