XIAMEN, China — As fashion and luxury labels cash in on the seemingly insatiable demand for their goods in China, the country’s homegrown designers are aiming to boost their profile, both abroad and at home.
One of them is Richard Wu, who will unveil his spring-summer collection on Monday in New York. Although the 40-year-old has opened a showroom in New York, he said he doesn’t have any immediate plans to grow his business outside of China. Rather, he hopes the cachet of staging a show in New York will help lure even more customers in his native country.
“I would like to attend fashion shows all over the world to attract the Chinese consumers and be recognized and accepted by the Chinese,” said Wu, whose brand is called VLOV, a play off the phrase “victory and love.”
Wu’s strategy could work. After all, many Chinese consumers prefer to buy their Louis Vuitton bags in Paris rather than Shanghai; some are convinced that their Bordeaux tastes better if they sip it in France rather than Beijing.
Even before landing the New York show, the designer had been working to make his brand more international. Oleg Antosik, a Christian Dior model, was flown to China to be the face of VLOV’s fall 2011 collection. Photos of Wu with Dior Homme designer Kris Van Assche, who Wu says is one of his main inspirations, and Diane von Furstenberg, who Wu met in New York in February, have been widely distributed to Chinese media.
The designer, whose Chinese name is Wu Qingqing, is considered one of the top names at Beijing’s China Fashion Week. Based in the city of Xiamen, which is home to many of China’s apparel companies and close to key manufacturing hubs, Wu cut his teeth as a designer for an export company before launching his own label in 2002. He studied apparel design at the Xiamen Arts and Crafts College of Fuzhou University.
VLOV’s distributors own and operate 556 points of sale across China, including 36 standalone stores. Wu has a team of nearly a dozen designers and offices in Hong Kong and Xiamen, a city in southern China just across the ocean from Taiwan.
He was the sole owner of the brand until it was listed on the OTCBB in 2009. For the first half of 2011, net sales totaled $41.8 million, up 16.1 percent from $36 million in the same period the year before. According to the brand’s Web site, VLOV’s emphasis is on “fashion-forward designs” with a look similar to Calvin Klein or Hugo Boss.
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week organizers approached Wu to show in New York via the government vehicle China Fashion Designer’s Association, his staff said.
According to the brand, the concept for the spring collection is based on the letter V. Designs are minimal. High-density wool, embossed polyester and creased linen are the main materials. Three style groups with colors of gray, which represents the future; black, representing “the origins,” and blue and white, symbolizing hope, will be shown.
“The inspiration comes from architecture, the shape of modern buildings and [the lines] of a car,” Wu said through a translator.
When he launched VLOV, the designs were a mixture of grunge and hippie chic: cargo pants, retro graphic T-shirts, canvas messenger bags and ripped denim advertised with half-naked models with the brand’s name tattooed on their backs.
According to Wu, the idea was to create a clothing line for China’s post-Eighties generation, a group coming of age around the turn of the century who had no siblings due to the one-child policy and more than ever sought individuality — a style of their own that separated them from previous generations.
That group is now approaching 30 years old. They are seeking more sophistication and class and have more money, profiting off of the country’s breakneck economic growth of the past decade. And they need something to wear that reflects their success. Sensing the impending demand for a high-end men’s wear brand, VLOV was reinvented as sleek, posh, luxurious and modern. In keeping with that pared down aesthetic, Wu eliminated a period in the brand’s original name after the V.
Wu said the VLOV of today is a manifestation of his personal lifestyle — one that arguably many new rich Chinese embrace. In the designer’s stable of all black, shiny cars are a Mercedes and a Porsche. He enjoys drinking wine and traveling — on his desk in his Xiamen office overlooking the Taiwan Strait, Wu has a book titled “Wild Wonders of Europe.”
Despite cutting a jet-setting figure, Wu is soft-spoken, nonimposing and almost shy ahead of his New York debut. Just days before leaving for the U.S., he and his team appeared overwhelmed. Models still needed to be selected. There were concerns that part of the collection was lost in transport. It seemed the designer was not totally sure about what he has gotten himself into.
But one thing he doesn’t appear to be fretting over is the critical reception to his collection. He’s arguably a little too candid about the motivations behind his staging a show in an international fashion capital like New York.
“To start a brand [in China], the first thing that is important is the marketing, not the design,” Wu said.