BEIJING — For the first time since the fashion house was founded in 1952, Chloé has introduced one of its chief designers to Mainland China as a sign the brand is hoping to build momentum in the country.
Clare Waight Keller, Chloé’s creative director, landed in Beijing on Wednesday night for a presentation of the house’s spring 2015 collection for hundreds of local consumers. The trip was Keller’s first to the mainland and marked the first event Chloé has held in China since 2011, when it presented a collection in Shanghai to celebrate its fifth anniversary in the Chinese market.
Though Keller’s time in the Chinese capital is short — she is scheduled to fly out on Thursday after a celebration of the opening of Chloé’s 10th boutique in the country, a 1,600-square-foot space featuring shoes and ready-to-wear that is located in Shin Kong Place, an upscale shopping mall in central Beijing — the creative director said she hoped she would have time to explore the city’s cultural artifacts and historical buildings to find possible inspiration for future collections in their use of color and the impact of natural light.
“I always find it interesting to absorb things from new cities,” Waight Keller said. “The light is always different. You can visit different art and cultural sites — all of this plays into all of the things you collect in your head. Sometimes, it is a color or collage or use of color I have seen with something else that you would normally not see back in Europe. But quite often, it is the light that makes the biggest difference.”
Waight Keller chose a selection of what she called the spring-summer collection’s “strongest” looks for the event, held in a museum-like agricultural exhibition center known by locals as a venue for produce and other trade fairs. The six-minute show, held in a wing of the Greco-Romanesque building, was preceded by a dinner hosted by Angelica Cheung, editor of Vogue China. Attendees included a number of Chinese celebrities and models. Waight Keller chose only Chinese models to present the collection.
“China has become so much more international now. What sells here sells well in Europe and America,” Waight Keller said. “But what they really react to here is that luxury really needs to say luxury. Something ultracasual at a super high price, I think that is difficult to understand in this environment here. When you come as a luxury brand, Chinese consumers want to see the quality. They want to see the beauty. They want to see something that really speaks to them and makes them feel chic and luxurious.”
Chloé chief executive officer Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye was also in town for the event. He had been on a weeklong tour of the house’s business operations in the country. While the executive said business in China still lags somewhat far behind Japan, which is its number-one market in the region, the country has been gaining momentum as female consumers look for more sophisticated, understated luxury, particular in the ready-to-wear category. De la Bourdonnaye declined to disclose sales figures for Chloé in China but said the Chinese purchasing Chloé are “probably the number-one consumers worldwide.”
He said the decision to bring Waight Keller to China stemmed from the work the creative director has done since 2011, when she joined the house to reinvigorate the brand, and a need to showcase that fresher face of Chloé to Chinese consumers.
“Since Clare arrived, she has really rejuvenated the brand and made Chloé even more modern, and that has translated into fantastic momentum in China,” de la Bourdonnaye said. He observed that the brand has been minimally impacted by the Chinese government’s anticorruption campaign, which has significantly hit certain sectors of the luxury industry in which goods were purchased as gifts between government officials and business associates for bribes or other favorable treatment
“The market has softened in general, unquestionably, but the prospects have not,” de la Bourdonnaye said. “I believe the promise of the market is still huge in addition to the people traveling outside of China. The number of Chinese clients who have been embracing Chloé has been booming.”
The executive said Chloé would continue to approach China with a somewhat demure strategy. One of the most challenging aspects of the market, he said, is finding suitable retail locations. Instead of expansion, Chloé will focus on overhauling existing locations to better meet client needs, only opening new boutiques if top real estate becomes available.
“We are not a brand that screams,” he said. “We don’t want to be ostentatious. It is more about details and proximity to clients. The awareness of Chloé is increasing, but it is still low compared to the big brands. We are working at our own pace.”