Shiatzy Chen on the move in France
The latest bold step in the Chinese entrance into fashion was celebrated this Monday morning with a cocktail at the new Shiatzy Chen boutique on the avenue Montaigne in Paris. Remarkably, given the its reputation as a iconic luxury shopping thoroughfare, this will be the first boutique by any Asian brand on avenue Montaigne.
“Why Avenue Montaigne? Every major brand wants a footstep here. It’s the greatest shopping street in Paris, which will always be the world’s greatest fashion capital. So it’s very prestigious and meaningful for our brand,” explains Harry Wang, CEO and President of the house.
“And, may I add, there is no other Asian rival on this avenue – not Chinese, nor Japanese, nor Korean,” says Wang with evident satisfaction.
Founded in Taipei in 1978 by Wang’s mother Wang Chen Tsai-Hsia, Shiatzy Chen is China’s premier luxury ready-to-wear label. And one that has grown organically over the years.
Currently, the brand is busy opening five stores in China, adding to an existing 30. It also boasts 36 in Taiwan; seven in Macao; two in Japan; one in Malaysia and now two in France, with the existing Faubourg St Honoré unit.
The new store is designed to emphasize classical elements of Asia; using metal screen like cut like partitions in traditional Chinese homes; and lots of 3D marble, “which we Chinese like,” underlines Wang. The 120-square-meter two-floor boutique actually opened in August, but feted its arrival on the day of Shiatzy Chen’s latest runway show in Paris.
“We do not retail in department stores. Their buyers complain our price is too expensive. Especially FOB. We have tried hard but so far this has not worked,” admitted Wang. Nonetheless, the brand has grown organically and rapidly, boasting revenues of some $80 million from its network of boutiques.
Shiatzy Chen actually means New Look of China. The designer’s father was a successful fabric retailer in Taiwan, and Wang’s mother worked as tailor for her father, learning how to cut. It is still today a family-owned business. “So far. We could be open to a conversation with another group. But not a hedge fund. We know how to do business in Asia and do very well. Our consumer is still the classic rich wife – the majority of them are Asian. Not so much career women, as we don’t really do office wear.”
Wang studied finance at Boston University and then worked as a broker, before he joined the family company . His first task: opening the flagship in Taipei in 2003. He also boasts a masters in hotel management, and part of the company long-term plan is to open a hotel.
At one stage, the brand owned a large store on Shanghai’s store Bund, but the owners took back the space half way through the 20-year-lease, in a move that spoke volumes about the risks of doing business in China.
“You see, the owner was arrested so no one wanted to touch the building! Before, business could be tricky in China. Different departments would cause problems and you could get fines of a couple of million RMB. But President Xi he has stopped all this. It is a very good improvement in my view,” says the agreeably upfront Wang.
A campaign against conspicuous consumption did dampen business for many in China, but not Shiatzy Chen. “We grew at over 25% per year for the past six years. Though, the Chinese consumer is changing. When they travel to Europe these days they want to see the culture and sights, and not just to shop.”
Wang’s next moves are simple: to open more stores. Their largest flagship is 1,200 square-meter over five floors in Taipei, located between Louis Vuitton and Pucci. Though their average is 100 square-meter.
“We own all our stores – so we can still survive and even thrive. We are doing very okay which is why we can open stores! And our long-term goal is is 120 stores,” he concludes.
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