ASIA BACK ON TRACK FOR FERRAGAMO

HONG KONG — Within a week of going on sale here, there were only two pairs left of a $1,250 red satin crystal-studded shoe, inspired by Marilyn Monroe and made by Salvatore Ferragamo as part of its millennial collection.
“All in festive red and gold, they are very auspicious for our tai tai [wealthy wives] customers, who came in to place orders once the news was out,” said Eileen Bygrave, who runs Mondano Ltd., the Ferragamo master franchise holder for Hong Kong and China.
Understanding local sensibilities has been one of the key factors in the ongoing success of the Ferragamo brand name in this part of the world, where the Vara shoe — a low-heeled number with a flat bow on the front — has found some of its biggest fans.
Two of the Ferragamo brothers, Ferruccio and Leonardo, were here recently to ascertain how the Asian market was faring after taking a two-year battering. Their verdict: Things are more than looking up again, expansion plans are going full speed ahead and it might even be time to forge closer links with their agents in the region.
Ferragamo opened its first Chinese outlet in the Maison Mode department store in Shanghai in 1995 and it now has seven sites in China, in such prime areas as the Palace Hotel in Beijing, the Shanghai Centre at the Ritz-Carlton and the Friendship Store in Guangzhou. Last November and December, another three stores and corners opened in Chengdu, Beijing and Guangzhou, while a boutique at the new Times Square in Shanghai will be inaugurated this April.
There are positive changes throughout the region, said chief executive Ferruccio Ferragamo, ranging from a “big resurgence” in Japan to “stabilizing” in areas like Malaysia and Thailand.
“We started seeing it at the beginning of the second trimester last year, and now we are up to double-digit growth in many Asian countries,” he said. So much so, that Ferragamo’s arrangement with Mondano, with whom the Florentine company has been working since 1988, is poised to change.
“This 12-year relationship is about to be strengthened by closer ties — what form this will take is still being discussed,” said Mondano’s Bygrave.
Mondano opened Ferragamo’s first three boutiques in Taiwan, but these were handed back to be directly operated by Ferragamo.
“This area has always been very important to us,” said Leonardo Ferragamo, chief executive officer of Ferragamo Europe and Asia, adding that even the countries most adversely affected by the Asian economic downturn, like Malaysia and Thailand, are beginning to stabilize.
“In China, there is definitely a shift in modernization. The Chinese mentality is changing, and it’s becoming very energetic. There are more and more opportunities there. People are more attentive to quality, they are more sophisticated, and as their wealth grows, they learn fast.
“Our first time there, we had to give them advice [on fashion]. But now, they are doing their own thing,” he said.
Ferragamo’s bids to update its image and modernize the brand will naturally extend to the Asian market. As reported, Ferragamo brought on Nicole Fischelis, former fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue, to update the look. The company has a new creative approach that’s much younger and sexier, extending from ready-to-wear to advertising. While the company will hold onto a couple of its classics — like the Vara pump, which is especially popular popular among the Japanese — the rest of the collection is much hipper.
Ferruccio Ferragamo said the firm’s customers have similar lifestyles, whether they are from Switzerland or Singapore.
“It’s a major task to completely modernize the name, but we can’t look forward unless we do that,” he said.
“Everywhere, our customer is evolving. She is younger in lifestyle and attitude, if not in age. And we need to provide inspiration and surprises to give her a reason to buy. Her closets are full, so we have to give her something exciting.”

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