SHANGHAI TANG BACK ON TRACK

Byline: Kavita Daswani

HONG KONG — For those who thought padded Mao jackets and cheongsams had gone the way of grunge — fun at the time but all a bit passe now — Shanghai Tang has another point of view: Chinoiserie is as strong as ever, and the retailer has repositioned itself to take full advantage of it.
The upscale Chinese emporium, which opened a spectacular Madison Avenue store in 1997 in a blaze of publicity, went very quiet in the wake of the Asian financial difficulties: expansion plans were temporarily put on hold, the New York store was moved to smaller and more subdued premises after two years and its celebrity-driven marketing (Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, Whoopi Goldberg and Lauren Hutton all wore Shanghai Tang clothes to public events) seemed to slow down.
However, after major internal restructuring at the Hong Kong headquarters, much of which was orchestrated by owners the Vendome group — which also owns such brands as Alfred Dunhill and Montblanc — Shanghai Tang is bouncing back. David Tang, the lively jet-setting entrepreneur who founded the company and continues to serve as its chairman, last year appointed John Aexel as chief executive officer and installed a new design team.
As a result, expansion plans are back on, and are as aggressive as they were in the company’s earliest days.
Thursday marks the opening of the first Shanghai Tang in Singapore, a 450-square-foot boutique on the first floor of Ngee Ann City, the city’s most prestigious shopping center. The venture is a tie-in with Glamourette, a Singapore-based high-end fashion retailer. In the next few weeks, the company hopes to confirm the acquisition of prime retail space in Beverly Hills, where it hopes to establish a presence by the end of the year.
And by next spring, there will also be a Shanghai Tang in London, reportedly on Sloane Street.
Aexel said plans for further expansion were well under way. Despite the vagaries of fashion, he said Shanghai Tang was still able to pull in customers.
“Every day, you find people looking for new, innovative self-definition,” he said.
He added that since Shanghai Tang opened its first store in Hong Kong in 1994 — a 12,000-square-foot flagship in the historic Pedder building on Pedder Street in the Central shopping district — it has pulled in more than four million visitors.
“People come back because of the product, the concept, the name and the brand, and also because of the experience,” Aexel said.
That experience extends to a smaller boutique in the Peninsula Hotel here and one at Hong Kong International Airport, both of which opened last year.
Another source at the company said that it had revitalized its image with a fresh fashion collection, as well as an ongoing stream of new accessories and lifestyle products.
“There has been a change in the retail strategy,” the insider told WWD. “The original New York store was too large. The place we have now is much more intimate, and features unusual things like floral stenciling on the floor and antique panels flown in from China.”
The company’s new store in Manhattan, which opened last April at 714 Madison Avenue at 63rd Street, occupies 6,500 square feet — a little more than half the size of its original home located on Madison Avenue at 61st Street, which was 12,000 square feet.
Aexel said the ongoing success of the company would be based on “revitalizing Chinese designs with a twist of the dynamism of the 21st century.”

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