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Italy's fashion brands pick out Hong Kong

  Photo: Marching in: Italian houses head for Hong Kong. (Courtesy of C’N’C Costume Nationale)
  Marching in: Italian houses head for Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy of C'N'C Costume Nationale)
Italian fashion houses Roberto Cavalli, Max Mara and Furla have followed in the footsteps of Prada in opening an increasing number of stylish, concept stores in Hong Kong over recent months, in the lead up to Christmas and traditional year-end sales advances.

They plan to make the SAR a strategic base from which to attract affluent shoppers and to make their brands more familiar on the Chinese mainland itself.

There is little surprise over their move. Italy's fashion sector forecast a 5.6% fall in revenues for 2012 to Euros60.2 billion, while Prada reported first half 2012 sales up 36.5%, thanks mainly to Asian distribution. Most of these sales were to the Chinese mainland, which represents the world's third largest for luxury goods.

Photo: Max Mara invests in Hong Kong. (Courtesy of Max Mara Runway)  
Max Mara invests in Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy of Max Mara Runway)  
Indeed, the World Wealth Report 2012 by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management showed that the global luxury retail market in Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, more than doubled over the past five years.

Last year, the Asia-Pacific had 3.3 million high net worth individuals (HNWIs). In 2020, China is expected to become the world's largest luxury market.

According to a study by US management consulting firm Bain & Company, presented in Milan by Fondazione Altagamma, Chinese mainland consumers account for more than 20% of the global luxury market, with Hong Kong itself representing 5.8%.

  Photo: Boselli: the SAR fifth top market.
  Boselli: the SAR fifth top market.
"Hong Kong is the fifth most important export market for Italian fashion," said Mario Boselli, President of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion and of the Italy-Hong Kong Association.

"In the first six months of 2012, such a growth [of Hong Kong's market for Italian luxury goods] was as high as 12.4% in terms of turnover and followed two exceptionally favourable years (up 34.7% in 2010 and up 24.8% in 2011)," Boselli explained.

The growth in the first half of 2012 was especially good for footwear (jumping 34.9%), whereas garments grew by 16.9% and leather goods by 10.7%.

"In 2010, Italian exports of leather goods to Hong Kong rose almost five times, while footwear doubled and garments tripled," Boselli reported.

A survey by the Italian Statistics Institute in 2011 showed Italian men's fashion purchased in Hong Kong registered the most significant growth of that year, at 42.6%.

Photo: Early set up by Prada.   Photo: Salvatore Ferragamo in Hong Kong.
Early set up by Prada.   Salvatore Ferragamo in Hong Kong.

Regional headquarters, distribution

Photo: Branchini: the SAR a reference point.  
Branchini: the SAR a reference point.  
"For Italian luxury brands, the Hong Kong market was born and developed in the 1970s," explained Armando Branchini, Executive Director of Fondazione Altagamma. "The Japanese market also grew from that mid-decade. Since then, Hong Kong keeps being a reference point for Italian top range companies."

These are present with regional headquarters, branches and joint-ventures. Or they rely on retail and distribution firms, like the SAR's Bluebell Group and Li & Fung for Mainland distribution, said Branchini.

"Hong Kong was already important for Italian fashion well in advance of China's 'opening up' [in the 1970s] and was able to retain its significance," Boselli added.

The motivation that drives top-range fashion brands to Hong Kong includes the high concentration of high-end shopping malls that attracts millions of tourists from the Mainland and from other countries in ASEAN. Another factor is Hong Kong's low tax rate.

Also, wholesale and retail channels are mature. The SAR's Lane Crawford and Joyce are among the recognisable fashion venues for Italian producers.

Joyce Boutique, established in 1970, runs multi-label and single brand stores that can be of help to innovative fashion designers.

It recently revived the fortunes of Italian fashion designer Romeo Gigli, including one of the brands which Joyce Ma, the founder, brought to Hong Kong in 1980.

This year Gigli designed a capsule collection, Joyce by Romeo Gigli, in a private label operation launched in Hong Kong and on the Mainland.

Photo: Gigli designed for Joyce.

  Photo: Max Mara's new Hong Kong store.
Gigli designed for Joyce.   Max Mara's new Hong Kong store.

The Italian Max Mara Group, with revenues of Euros1.2 billion in 2011, opened its first store in Hong Kong in 1988 and last July celebrated the opening of its duplex flagship store in Central. There are 320 stores in Greater China.

Sophisticated fashion

The Hong Kong fashion profile has changed from fashion-conscious trendsetter to something more discerning in style and quality.

According to a number of surveys and to UK-based The Brand Union strategists, Hong Kong and Chinese consumers tend to consider niche brands today.

"These spenders will look for brands like Fendi, Salvatore Ferragamo and Etro - unique style," said Adriana Saralvo, Manager of Joyce Milano.

Italian brands have been marketing hard. Through the Made in Italy campaign of recent months Salvatore Ferragamo presented a craftsmanship exhibition and Fratelli Rossetti sent its travelling museum to Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Photo: Ferragamo craftsman (centre) captivates Hong Kong.   Photo: New Fratelli Rossetti store in Hong Kong.
Ferragamo craftsman (centre) captivates Hong Kong.   New Fratelli Rossetti store in Hong Kong.

Also, Italian fashion house Costume National (with regional centres in Hong Kong and Tokyo) recorded an export share in Asia equalling 20% of sales.

Carlo Capasa, Costume's CEO, said: "Hong Kong is an important marketplace for finance and 'image' and a strategic trade platform for the Chinese mainland and other countries in East Asia."

  Photo: Red Carpet Collection from Ferragamo. (Courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo)
  Red Carpet Collection from Ferragamo. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo)
For Boselli of the Italian National Chamber: "approximately 40% of all fashion goods exported to Hong Kong from Italy are re-exported to other countries."

With Hong Kong's capital market to be tapped by an initial public offering (IPO) as with Prada last year, fashion brand Versace is now considering its options.

Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of Prada Group, said: "in the next few years, Prada Group will continue developing its retail network worldwide, strengthening its presence in China where we expect the luxury market to develop strongly."

Prada owns 48 directly-operated, single brand stores on the Mainland and nine in Hong Kong.

The Salvatore Ferragamo Group is one of the pioneers in Greater China, with more than 90 stores.

from special correspondent Cristina Bellavista, Milan

Max Mara invests in Hong Kong. (Photo courtesy of Max Mara Runway)Photo: Max Mara invests in Hong Kong. (Courtesy of Max Mara Runway)
Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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