JCR: What’s happening in China in terms of fashion?
KL: Fashion has been really happening in China for the last three years. For WestEast we have offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai and deal heavily with luxury brands. For those brands the Chinese market is really happening. Some may think that there’s not a lot of people with money to buy luxury products in China but that’s not so. Of course, financially Japan is still bigger than China, but out of China’s 1.4 billion inhabitants, the audience for luxury goods is proving greater than we imagined.
JCR: Who is the luxury goods audience?
KL: Successful entrepreneurs, high officials, expatriates, people with new found wealth, businessmen from Hong Kong and Taiwan, etc… the family members and lovers of the people above are the major buyers of luxury products.
JCR: What about this audience’s brand consciousness?
KL: Brand consciousness is growing significantly.
JCR: Is it the big global brands that this market knows very well or is it like Japan where the big players and the lesser-known designers both have a place?
KL: The Chinese fashion knowledge base is totally different from Japan’s. Like any market that thrives on new money, the obvious move is to labels that are well known. This is the case in China. I think things will have to develop for another five, six, or even 10 years for this market to appreciate lesser-known labels.
JCR: What are the highly rated brands in China?
KL: Louis Vuitton, Zegna, Ferragamo. And they rank high because they came early. China for me is like paper, the earlier it comes, and the more it’s appreciated.
JCR: What about the Guccis and Pradas?
KL: Yes, these labels are coming up too, but Gucci, for example, has not been too aggressive in China, but now they are trying to open more and more shops. For now many people come to Hong Kong to buy these labels. Prada was a bit worried in the beginning, they’ve been very careful, so they’ve only started strong brand positioning in the region this year and will continue aggressively into next year.
JCR: Are all these developments concentrated to a particular region?
KL: Beijing, of course. Consumers buy a lot in Beijing. Shanghai, too. Shanghai is stylish and chic and more of a showcase, so as a major brand you have to be there, too. Harbin, the north region of China is quite rich and also buys a lot. Wenzhou is also an important region. This is one of the richest cities in China.
JCR: Do you predict a fashion explosion in China similar to the one in Japan in the ’70s and ’80s for luxury brands?
KL: Absolutely. Luxury brands especially will have serious market penetration in China. And my insider knowledge shows that several different big brands are planning retail stores in China.
JCR: How does the notorious knockoff market impact brand purity in the region?
KL: The copy thing is everywhere. There’s a problem here but it’s not something that can be controlled. And I think brands already know that. A long time ago they were able to manage it in Japan or Thailand but it’s impossible now. But I really don’t think that brands care, because it’s not their target market. The people who buy the fake ones — they won’t buy the real ones. As the tai chi philosophy goes, if you create something the opposite always comes out.
JCR: What role does a fashion forward magazine like WestEast play in defining style for the region?
KL: We are not a mass market publication but we have become a must read for an important consumer segment, and also for editors across the region, Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc, and certainly we are doing something interesting for the region. Recently Cultural Weekly, an important Asian publication, said that since the inception of WestEast, the Chinese media has had to rethink their whole packaging and presentation. I give a lot of speeches across Asia and I’m frank with my audience that just because WestEast was the first doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best magazine, and this really empowers other creative people to feel that they can do something creative like us. It’s been a very positive example for this community as well.
JCR: As a result of WestEast‘s success, have you seen the launch of several other publications?
KL: Not necessarily a slew of new publications, but we have noticed older, established publications changing their formats to mimic ours. Some have switched to English and Chinese bi-lingual format, for example, like us
JCR: What’s the dialogue like between fashion and politics in China?
KL: For my father’s generation, they have been through a lot of politics but for us, we’re not so interested in politics. In WestEast, we aim to do something for our culture but on the political side things are too powerful so I prefer to not talk about it.
JCR: But do politics affect your day-to-day operation in China, or do you just publish what you want, controversial text, racy images, etc?
KL: Like any magazine in other regions, we say and cover what we want.
JCR: What’s your prediction for the next few years for China?
KL: The market will get much bigger, and it’s important to note that it will happen very, very fast. It’s an exciting and fantastic market but I call upon brands to spend some time and money to educate themselves about the culture. It’s not just an opportunity to come and grab money. And on the flipside of that what’s really exciting is that there is an group of young creative people moving here from Europe and elsewhere, so China is not only a destination for the big brands.
Photo: WestEast Elizabeth Hurley cover