St. John Creative Director Zoe Turner’s first capsule collection launches online Nov. 6.

St. John is looking East for growth.

The Irvine, Calif.-based fashion house built on polished knitwear has accelerated the launch of its e-commerce in China, in direct response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Chinese conglomerate Fosun Fashion Group acquired a majority stake in St. John in 2017. The decision to launch international e-commerce came together over the last month. Now that China is in recovery mode, with luxury selling again, the time was right to accelerate an online sales channel, company sources said.

St. John was founded in 1962 and in the Eighties gained notoriety as the skirt suit uniform for Washington, D.C., female power brokers. Since that heyday, it has been through several owners, relaunches and famous front women, among them Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet and Gisele Bündchen. In November, under new creative director Zoe Turner, St. John was relaunched with a high-fashion capsule collection unveiled at a New York press event, and simultaneously available to shop online in the U.S. and via Instagram and WeChat in China.

“China is the largest and most innovative retail e-commerce market in the world and consumers there will now have access to purchase St. John as we move into a new age of international e-commerce,” chief executive officer Eran Cohen said in a statement, adding, “with the revolutionary digital and e-commerce success of our capsule launch on our first WeChat mini program, I feel confident that now is the time for this promising expansion to create a new shopping experience and develop our brand efforts in China.”

The brand will launch first with third-party retailers Secoo and Farfetch, followed by its own branded web site, and social selling with WeChat and RED.

“St. John has a distinctive DNA and in the Chinese market, their Californian heritage and specialization in knitwear resonates with clients making it more desirable,” said Joann Cheng, chairman of Fosun Fashion Group. “We established FFG in 2017 and knew that we needed a long-term view in order to really build up each brand in our portfolio. Now is a pivotal time to drive St. John from a global standpoint and Chinese e-commerce is that moment.”

The brand is vertically integrated with workshops, stores and offices around the world. Collections are sold in specialty retailers in 19 countries, 37 company-owned stores and through the brand’s U.S. e-commerce.

It employed more than 1,500 people, but starting April 1, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an unspecified number of workers were furloughed, according to the company, which has also adjusted its seasonal timeline, delaying pre-fall 2020 deliveries and aligning them with a retail sales period of June to August. Fall will launch in September and resort has been canceled. In addition, the brand plans several seasonal “buy-now-wear-now” drops.