Inner circle of luxury

Updated: 2013-07-29 07:21

By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)

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Inner circle of luxury

Louis Vuitton's first women's store in Beijing at the Shin Kong Place offers clothing, as well as handbags, shoes, luggage and accessories. Provided to China Daily

Inner circle of luxury

From left: Philippe Fortunato, actress Sun Li, CEO of Louis Vuitton Michael Burke and actor Wu Xiubo at the store opening. Zhang Wei / China Daily

Inner circle of luxury

The label's Fall/Winter 2013 collection features slips and silk pajamas paired with fur coats and jackets. Zhang Wei / China Daily

Inner circle of luxury

The label's iconic traveling trunks and bags are available at the store. Zhang Wei / China Daily

Inner circle of luxury

An installation outside the store recreates the look of Louis Vuitton's Fall/Winter 2013 runway show in Paris. Provided to China Daily

Changing standards of living means new levels of demand for luxury, as Tiffany Tan reports.

A couple of hours before the end of the workday Friday, a young woman could be seen darting in and out of the dressing room at a Louis Vuitton store in Beijing. She put on a lacy black cocktail dress and matching peep-toe high heels, then presented the ensemble to a man relaxing on one of the store's plush sofas.

Outside the store's glass doors, a crowd began to form around the installed velvet ropes, waiting for some of China's biggest movie stars to walk down the red carpet and grace the opening of Louis Vuitton's first women's store in Beijing.

Two decades after entering the Chinese market, the French fashion brand has become one of the country's most sought-after names in luxury. Now, its most pressing challenge is to maintain the image of exclusivity - built from its beginnings as a trunk maker to European royalty - even as it continues to push for bigger sales in China.

Louis Vuitton's new women's store at the Shin Kong Place in Beijing, with sections dedicated to luggage, handbags, clothing, shoes and accessories, is seen as a way to highlight among Chinese consumers the brand's heritage of exclusivity. The Chinese are now the world's top luxury spenders, making one out of every four luxury purchases globally, according to a report by consulting firm Bain & Company.

"With this new store we would like to take a step further and provide adapted shopping experience and service for our sophisticated clientele," Philippe Fortunato, president of Louis Vuitton China, says in a statement.

Last year, in the annual China Luxury Study conducted by Bain, the French label fell to second place among Chinese women's "most desired luxury brands" - after being in the top spot the previous two surveys. Among Chinese men, it remained in first place.

In the second World Luxury Index China released last month, the brand dropped to No 2 among the most sought-after fashion brands in the country.

"Louis Vuitton has been pushing very hard in the Chinese market, suffering from saturation," says David Sadigh, founder and CEO of Digital Luxury Group, the firm that conducted the report. "(Its mother company) LVMH understood this very well, reacting immediately, announcing price increases and the production of higher-end leather products."

A tour of the Shin Kong Place store shows another way that Louis Vuitton has adjusted to the quickly maturing tastes of Chinese luxury buyers. Its leather bags, in calfskin, python, ostrich and crocodile skins, come in a rainbow of colors - but many no longer have the brand's popular L-and-V logo emblazoned on their surface. Understated luxury is now the growing thing in China.

Since the store offers women's products only, this will also help the label to deepen ties with female customers by offering them tailor-made products and services, say analysts.

"To create special events, to deliver special products, to really be able to do this marketing game that you are not able to do anymore because your consumer base became so wide and huge around the world," says Jonathan Siboni, president of Luxurynsight, a Paris-based luxury consultancy, which has worked with other brands in the LVMH Group.

"I think Louis Vuitton, they will try to find new ways to renew this personal connection," Siboni says in a phone interview. China has two other women's stores, in Shenyang and Hangzhou.

To mark its launch, the Beijing women's store is the first among Louis Vuitton's 47 Chinese branches to offer the fashion house's Fall/Winter 2013 collection. This is advertised in an installation at the mall's atrium, which recreates the look of the Paris runway show where the collection was presented.

The pieces, which feature slips and silk pajamas paired with fur coats and jackets with gradient embroidery, as well as skirt suits and velvet dresses, received glowing reviews from industry insiders.

"In its unabashed aching romance, and in its desire to create a personal, human-scaled sense of what Louis Vuitton can be, it was a collection that touched heart and mind," Vogue magazine says of designer Marc Jacobs' latest work.

Before the film celebrities came Friday, the male customer had already finished shopping for his wife. It turned out that the woman modeling the clothes for him was a Louis Vuitton sales personnel helping him pick out shoes and dresses. Such are the privileges of being in the inner circle of luxury.

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(China Daily USA 07/29/2013 page9)