SHANGHAI — Vera Wang’s strategy for entering Asia is nothing short of a full-on blitzkrieg.
This story first appeared in the April 10, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
At the end of February, Mario Grauso, president of Vera Wang, confirmed that the brand was eyeing the Far East; however, he said that no deals had been signed and no concrete plans could be confirmed.
Now, a little more than a month later, plans are much more concrete and it’s clear that Wang’s strategy is to open boutiques as quickly as possible in almost every market across the region.
“It is important to capture the region all at once,” said Grauso who was here over the weekend as part of a two-week trip that included stops in Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore. “I don’t think we want to be fragmented. We want to enter with a bigger presence in Asia, so it was a concerted effort to open a few stores at once. The Asian consumer is constantly traveling, so I wanted her to see a store in Seoul, a store in Shanghai.”
Wang will open its first space in Tokyo in June, which will be a flagship boutique on the ground floor of a bridal store in the Ginza shopping district that is being developed by Hatsuko Endo, one of Japan’s top bridal companies and also Wang’s partner in the market. By July, Wang will have a similar space in a bridal store that is now under construction in Seoul. This month, the company is also opening stores in Moscow and Sydney. In July, it will open in Kuwait.
Grauso said the brand is close to signing a deal with a partner for its operations in Mainland China and Hong Kong. A space in Shanghai will likely open before the summer. Stores in Hong Kong and Singapore will be open by the fall, he said.
Wang’s bridal collections will be the initial emphasis in Asia, with other product categories possibly introduced later based on consumer demand.
“Clearly when you get to Asia, Vera is most known for her bridal,” Grauso said. “So we feel it is safest and easiest for us to lead with bridal.”
The timing for entering Asia stems partly from the fact that Wang has developed and rolled out its own retail concept in a number of cities across America that executives now say they feel can be easily exported to other markets.
“We feel strongly as a company that bridal not sit in environments that are not our environments,” Grauso said. “We have always been very hesitant to allow people to carry our bridal here [in Asia] because we have not been able to build environments. That is really why we have not entered Asia properly. I don’t think we had a concept as strong as we do today.”
The other reason for entering the region is that couples are spending more money than ever on elaborate weddings. “The emphasis on wedding is so strong here,” Grauso said. “So we feel really good about it.”
It is clear that Wang’s emphasis in the region will be in the Chinese market where millions of couples spend billions of dollars annually on elaborate weddings, which are used as vehicles to display a family’s wealth and social status.
There are talks for Wang to have her own television show on the mainland, in which Grauso said the designer would leverage her Chinese roots to connect with local consumers. Chinese model Shu Pei has been the face of several Wang campaigns.
“Vera is Chinese, so I think she can probably relate to this consumer more than anywhere other than the U.S.,” Grauso said. “Culturally, she really understands the Chinese, so I am not too worried. I would be nervous to enter simply with bridal if Vera weren’t Chinese.”
With the exception of red wedding gowns, Grauso said product selection and pricing will remain the same as in other markets. There are no immediate plans to sell lower-priced gowns such as the Wang designs that are available in the more mass market David’s Bridal in the U.S. There are also no plans to rent out wedding gowns, which is a common practice in China.
“We would like to stay aspirational,” Grauso said.