HONG KONG — Chinese designers are coming into their own and starting to give their European counterparts some serious competition on the sales floors of luxury retailers such as Lane Crawford and Joyce.
Over the span of just three years, the stores’ exposure to Chinese brands has grown exponentially, according to Andrew Keith, president of Lane Crawford and Joyce. The Hong Kong-based luxury department store picked up three Chinese brands — Ms Min, Chictopia and Helen Lee — back in 2013 as part of its “Created in China” initiative. Today, Lane Crawford carries 30 Chinese brands spanning categories such as apparel, accessories and home decor. Keith said the number should rise to close to 50 by the end of the year. Meanwhile, sister store Joyce (both Lane Crawford and Joyce are part of The Lane Crawford Joyce Group), stocks the work of some 13 Chinese designers and artists.
“It’s grown very rapidly from this kind of nucleus of designers,” Keith said, explaining that customer interest is driving the retailer’s shift to carry more of China’s homegrown design talents and diversify its merchandising mix so it is less reliant on major, international brands broadly distributed in numerous other stores.
“I think there’s an element of the fact that they’re new but I think that there’s also a pride in the fact that China is starting to have a position on a global fashion stage,” Keith said.
At the same time, the country’s “design capability” has improved and Chinese fashion brands have honed their expertise in areas like fit, fabrication and design aesthetic in a way that resonates particularly well with Chinese customers, he added.
“They’re all very talented in their own right and they’ve all got a distinctive kind of product. They happen to be Chinese but they’re not all cookie-cutter by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “What they do share in common is a real innate understanding about the Chinese consumer.”
Huishan Zhang, a London-based designer who visited Hong Kong last month to host a trunk show with Joyce, said it is a “fantastic moment” for Chinese designers to tap into consumers’ fatigue with the foreign megabrands that are so pervasive in the country.
“They don’t want to be [wearing] another big brand, then bump into another friend who is wearing it,” he said. “I think at least there’s a need there, starting to form. And obviously it’s [up to] the Chinese designer to grab that customer to say: ‘OK, you know, we are here. We want your support.’”
Keith said that the retail group is extremely choosy when it comes to stocking new brands and it sets high standards in terms of sophistication and craftsmanship. The executive said the retailer observed an uptick in the quality of the fashion coming out of China a few years ago, identifying a handful of designers that could comfortably sit beside major international luxury brands such as Chloé, Givenchy, Valentino and Lanvin. It was around that time that Lane Crawford picked up Ms Min, Chictopia and Helen Lee and it then added Comme Moi the following year.
“So we brought them in, but bringing them in kind of required a fair amount of management,” he said, explaining that these young and recently launched brands needed considerable help in areas like merchandising, product development, pricing and supply management since they were largely new to the world of wholesale.
“We brought them into the business and relatively quickly those brands started to perform very well,” he said, although he declined to quantify sales volume or growth percentages for any of the brands. Keith specified that Ms Min is now a fundamental part of Lane Crawford’s women’s contemporary business.
Although he declined to discuss figures, Keith said the group is faring relatively well despite the broader economic slowdown in China. He said business is flat in Hong Kong and will continue to be challenging but sales for women’s wear in mainland China are currently up 25 percent.
Here, a rundown of some of the up-and-coming Chinese brands stocked at Lane Crawford and Joyce stores in Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as on their e-commerce platforms:
Xiamen-based designer Min Liu graduated from the London College of Fashion and worked stints at Viktor & Rolf and Ports 1961 before launching her own brand in 2011. Her Nineties-inspired spring collection features voluminous silhouettes and feminine details like French lace, delicate mesh and ruffles.
Zhang spent a year working at Dior in the house’s leather-goods division and its couture atelier during his studies at Central Saint Martins. He said he’s out to create a “contemporary, modern Chinese lifestyle brand” that combines Eastern and Western influences. He has won the Dorchester Fashion Prize and made it to the shortlist of finalists for the LVMH Prize last year.
Designed by Chinese model Lu Yan, the brand has a chic, sporty feel. Key pieces for spring include an asymmetric drape-front skirt in cavalry twill, a peplum lace top and a sleeveless lapel vest.
Designer Christine Lau channeled her background in textile design into the fun, whimsical brand she founded in 2008. She prides herself on quirky prints of items like porcelain dolls, animals, insects and teapots. She also employs techniques like digital printing, laser cutting, embroidery and embossing in her collections.
A finalist in Lane Crawford’s talent call program called Platform, Angel Chen graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2014 and was named one of the Top Five Graduate Designers of the Year by i-D magazine. Her brand has a glam/punk spirit to it and features bold color patterns and oversized pieces.
This Shanghai-based brand targets urban women who are “strong, independent, adventurous, but also feminine.” Designer Li Hongyan founded the brand in 2009. The spring offering includes variations of cotton poplin blouses and a sequence of tops and skirts crafted from guipure lace.
Anais Mak designs this Hong Kong-based brand that was one of the LVMH Prize semifinalists in 2015. Metallic textiles figured prominently in The Studio Bercot Paris graduate’s outing for spring. Key pieces include an abstract jacquard minidress and a foil ribbon appliqué fringed maxiskirt.
Xuzhi Chen worked for British designers such as Craig Green and J.W. Anderson before establishing his own brand. The London-based Central Saint Martins graduate made the shortlist for both the LVMH Prize and the International Woolmark Prize. The designer played with textured details for spring, turning out pieces in braided textiles with frayed trim.
Design duo Kain Picken and Fiona Lau run this brand out of their studio in Shenzhen. They said they approach fashion “as a way to participate in a wider discussion about new possibilities for the production and consumption of contemporary culture.” They work with natural materials like woven bamboo and basket weave cotton.