HONG KONG — “The American dream is over in certain ways. Now it’s the Asian dream,” said German designer Philipp Plein, sitting in his sleek Hong Kong showroom. “There’s a movement here. People are hungry to build something.”
Plein was passing through the city as part of a whirlwind tour of China, where he is rolling out several stores. “I haven’t seen a bed in 30 hours but I’m not tired,” said the designer, who was dressed in a tailored black suit with two cans of Red Bull lined up on the table in front of him.
He had just returned from a day trip to Macau, where he is opening his second store in the new Studio City complex this September. Spanning 2,158 square feet, the flagship is aiming squarely at mainland Chinese visitors. “Business-wise, Macau is enormous and we feel that already,” he said. “At the moment, I see even more potential there than other cities in Mainland China because people go there to spend and have fun. There is nothing else to do.”
In October, the brand will unveil a second boutique in Hong Kong’s Harbour City mall, a location that Plein has been eying for some time. Located near Bottega Veneta, the store will run about 800 square feet in size with a marble and polished steel interior. “Harbour City is one of the most important shopping destinations here because Kowloon side is attractive to the mainland Chinese,” said Plein.
The expansion plan follows on the heels of the brand’s success in its first store in the heart of the Central district. Despite its small size, Plein said the store has performed surprisingly well due to its high visibility. He hopes to set up a third store in the city by the end of next year.
Across the border, Plein has opened his eleventh store in China, in Qingdao, followed by outlets in Xian, Jinan and Taiyuan, which will bow this summer. Beijing and Shanghai stores are also in the pipeline for 2016. Unlike several other brands, Plein leapfrogged the two major cities, venturing directly into second-tier Chinese cities such as Zhengzhou and Shenyang. Gian Luca Traverso, Plein’s chief executive officer, said that this was a strategic move and that the stores have been “extremely profitable” due in part to more affordable rent.
“They are second-tier cities but they are not second-class people,” added Plein. “They are developing very fast. The people are starting to travel and discover the world of fashion.” He has observed an increasing number of Chinese customers who discovered the brand at home now buying in Europe.
Part of a new wave of brands flocking to Mainland China, Plein sees his delayed arrival as an advantage. “At a certain point the market cannot absorb anymore or people just get fed up [of too many products by established brands],” he said. “Consumers are always looking for something new…If you like Champagne and I give you one glass, you maybe enjoy it. If I give you five bottles then after the first bottle you say that’s enough. Now I want to have Champagne with orange juice and this is what we are.”
Today, 35 percent of the brand’s sales come from Asia. Alongside China, Plein said South Korea is the brand’s fastest-growing market. His success there has been pivotal: “It’s helping the brand a lot in the entire Asia region. In the past Japan was the driving force in trends but now Korea pretty much took this position.” His eighth boutique in the country is slated to open this August.
On the European front, the brand is moving into London’s Harrods in July and will have a presence on Bond Street by December. Plein expects the global rollout to take the current count of 65 stores up to about 100 this year.
Next, he has his sights set on Southeast Asia, particularly Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Japan is also on the horizon yet the designer is no rush as the brand is young and is still finding its footing in new markets: “It’s like a young teenager who starts to become an adult and understand the world and asks, ‘How much can I drink before I pass out after my first party?’ We have to learn our limits,” he said.