Shiatzy Chen’s exclusive interview with Luxe.Co
The high-end Chinese fashion brand, SHIATZY CHEN, is the first Chinese member of Fédération Française de la Couture. Since its debut at the Paris Fashion Week in 2008, now the brand has appeared in the fashion week for 23 consecutive seasons. At Beijing time 00:00 on October 6, the brand’s 2021 Spring/Summer collection will be launched online. Though the launch event is online, the soul of the brand – Ms. Shiatzy Chen (the picture below) didn’t slack off at all. In an exclusive interview with Luxe.co, Mrs. Wang (the nickname given by her team) said that the preparation started 18 months ago. “Personally, the COVID 19 pandemic made me more alert and resourceful. I’m more actively considering what to do for the next season. Lately I come to the office on Saturdays and Sundays…I hope my pace can be quicker!” said Mrs. Wang.
SHIATZY CHEN was founded in 1978, then set up a studio in France in 1990. In 2001, the brand opened its first store in Paris, and in 2008 it made its debut at the Paris Fashion Week. In 2009, the brand became the first Chinese member of the FHCM. After more than 42 years of brand building, the first goal that Mrs. Wang set for SHIATZY CHEN, “to become a brand that is instantly recognizable”, has been achieved. Today, in this post-pandemic market that is full of both challenges and opportunities, as a Chinese pioneer brand that has explored the western market, how does SHIATZY CHEN plan its next move? In this exclusive interview with Luxe.co, SHIATZY CHEN’s CEO, Mr. Harry Wang will share with us the latest moves of the brand and its strategic plan. “We want to shift the focus back to the Chinese mainland, while putting efforts into online campaigns to promote two brands (one is SHIATZY CHEN, the other is a younger brand),” said Mr. Wang.
An Online Launch Event that is “Uneasy” : Designer Brand X Digital Marketing
For outsiders, an online launch event, compared with the traditional offline runway show, seemed easier both in terms of cost and preparation. But the truth is far from it. Mrs. Wang said in an open manner: “We have been doing the runway show for several decades. But when you go online, you need more story-telling. The shooting method is also entirely different. For me it’s a new challenge. We need to communicate with many parties, including the director and the artists on how to make this into an extraordinary film. It requires even more preparation time.”
Her biggest takeaway from the process is that “steering online filmmaking and offline runway shows involve two very different teams and offer very different experiences.”
It is reported that for past runway shows SHIATZY CHEN has maintained close cooperation with the renowned Paris fashion campaign planning company, La Mode En Images. Many of the top international luxury brands, like Louis Vuitton, are also clients of the company.
During this interview, Mrs. Wang exclusively revealed to Luxe.co that this season will feature “a well-known and brave woman from ancient China.” For this she has prepared for two years. The Taiwanese visual team worked with the famous photographer, Zhong Lin, to tell the tale of a heroine’s surreal, poetic and fantastic journey through clothes and fashion.
In fact, this is not the first time that the brand tried an online launch. In March this year, due to the impact of the COVID-9, the brand made a last-minute decision to call off the offline show, and to launch the 2020 Autumn/Winter collection, [THEATRE] online by adopting the form of “combining body art and clothing creativity” for the first time. Although the cancellation means a huge waste of human efforts, materials, time and money, judging from the final result, the online launch accurately presented the seasonal theme of integrating Chinese and Western theater elements and also offered a close look at the Jacquard printing on yarn technique that the brand tried for the first time.
According to Mr. Harry Wang, under the influence of the trend to wear traditional costumes, more and more young KOC are voluntarily spreading the show and the outfits on new social media platforms. This year, SHIATZY CHEN opened official accounts on Red Book and V.qq.com, seeking to communicate with more potential customers at different touch points, in a bid to gradually attract the traffic to the brand’s official website (the upgrade of the website will be completed within a month)
According to McKinsey & Company’s 2020 China Consumer Report, a new generation of consumers living in middle or low tier cities are becoming the new engine of growth. But most of the global bands’ resources are distributed in first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Therefore, new social media platforms become a new battlefield where brands can reach potential customers in middle or low tier cities. Mr. Harry Wang said that this 2021 Autumn/Winter collection will also be launched through Douyin, Bilibili.com and V.qq.com accounts.
Focusing on Online Campaigns,
Seeking Diversified Cooperation in Middle to Low Tier Cities
From establishing the Paris studio in 1990, opening the first Paris store in 2001, to entering the Paris Rue Saint Honoré in 2009, and opening the store in Avenue Montaigne (close to PRADA) in Paris in 2017, SHIATZY CHEN spent 27 years to steadily expand its European market channels.
But this year, under the impact of the pandemic, the French luxury market which is heavily reliant on traveler’s consumption was plunged into a crisis. The same thing happened to Japan, HK. And Macau. Local Taiwanese consumers also seem to lack confidence. According to Mr. Harry Wang, starting from March and April, the brand has been reorganizing stores in the overseas market, closing ones with poor performance to minimize operating cost. But to their delightful surprise, “The sales figures in the mainland China market during and after the pandemic even outrun those of the same period last year. The recovery rate of the performance is 120%.”
After adjustment, now SHIATZY CHEN owns 22 direct-sale stores in mainland China. And 70 stores around in worldwide, Mr. Harry Wang said these stores’ performance are even better than that of the 32 stores they used to own. It is reported that this month the SHIATZY CHEN store in the Peninsula Beijing will open. Together with other stores in Hangzhou, Changsha, and Chengdu to be opened in succession this year, this store will adopt a third-generation store image.
While we cautiously open new stores in first-tier cities, the brand will look for agents in second and third-tier cities. He said that in some regions, the brand’s cooperation with the agencies has been very stable. Take Wuhan for example: one store managed by one agency can generate tens of millions of sales revenues. In addition, the brand is trying to enter multi-brand stores in cities where there is no direct-sale store, testing the products’ appeal to local consumers.
He said that their market share in mainland China has overpassed that in Taiwan. For the next stage, the brand’s expansion center will be shifted to mainland China, at the same time focusing on online channels.
According to Mr. Harry Wang, right now the online sales revenue in China accounts for 5% of the total revenue. Judging from the statistics, there is still much room for improvement. But he also admitted that there are difficulties facing high-end brands who want to expand the online channels. Customers finding it difficult to try the clothes on is one of the problems. During the pandemic, social media KOL’s amazing ability to sell products is also witnessed in Taiwan. Mr. Harry Wang said, the company will invest the equal amount of a brick-and-mortar store’s budget to expand online channels. How to maintain the brand’s tonality while displaying the products’ details through pictures and videos is a problem they are working on right now.
Category Expansion under a Young Design Language
“We invited our youngest colleagues (the generation after 95s) from mainland China to share their fashion preferences and provide advice to the Taiwanese design team, because they also represent our main target consumer groups in the future. Sometimes their opinions can even be decisive,” Mr. Harry Wang said openly in the interview.
According to Harry Wang, the average age of SHIATZY CHEN female customers in mainland China is around 40 (between 35 and 50), a younger age compared with consumers in Taiwan and Macau. However, as a highly recognizable Chinese element brand, how to maintain an open attitude and embrace the young consumers is always an important question.
For this interview, Mrs. Wang wear a white Chines-style stand-collar top. Unlike the brand signature mandarin collar, this top has a lowered collar. Reportedly, this is a detail adjustment that the retail team made after collecting advice from terminal young customers.
“Clothes is fashion, and fashion follows the times. If we are not standing together with young people, if we don’t understand what they want, your distanced from them will be longer and longer, then you can’t sell products to them,” she said.
In 2018, on the 90th anniversary of Disney’s Mickey Mouse, SHIATZY CHEN teamed up with Disney to launch the Mickey X Dunhuang collection. Mr. Harry Wang said that through this cooperation and after research, the team draw an important conclusion – “women’s clothing priced at around RMB 2000 is a relatively acceptable price for today’s young consumers.”
Based on this experience, the brand decided to unveil a collection targeting youngsters in 2021. Based on the brand identity, the new collection is oriented in “a prestige and avant-garde style with sub-cultural connotation”. Products in the collection are priced at around RMB 2000and sold through our official website and Tmall flagship store.
Mr. Harry Wang is very confident in the launch of the new line of products. He said: “Right now we have 20 to 30 thousand members in the offline brick-and-mortar stores, and our goal is to accumulate millions of members in 5 years through online channels.”
Apart from seeking resonance with young people through the design language, SHIATZY CHEN is also constantly thinking about how to enrich the product selection through category expansion.
The current sales figure is that women’s clothing accounts for 80% to 90% of the brand’s total sales revenue; shoes and bags account for less, around 5%. But for renowned high-end brands, shoes and bags usually contribute around 60% of the sales. So, strengthening the shoes and bags business is an important goal for the nest stage.
SHIATZY CHEN has introduced a jade bracelet handbag that enables us to see the possibility. To use a jade bracelet as a handle is rare in a western-dominated world of handbag design. It draws its inspiration from the ancient China custom that when a daughter marries, the mother will give the daughter a jade bracelet as a symbol of inheritance. The bag’ body is made in Italy and then shipped to Taiwan. The jade is sourced from Hualien, then polished and assembled by an old master (see the picture below).
“The New Look Of China”; the Unchanging DNA
The message hidden in the brand name, SHIATZY CHEN, is “The New Look Of China”. SHIATZY CHEN interprets Chinese fashion culture in an entirely new way and has been praised as “the Chanel from the East” by French fashion media Le Monde. Behind the recognition and praise from international media is SHIATZY CHEN’s constant efforts to explore the eastern culture and find a balance between eastern culture and western clothing techniques.
- Fabric: 95% fabric and yarn are imported from Italy. Every season, the supplier will offer 5 exclusive limited editions printed and jacquard fabrics.
- Embroidery: the embroidery plan is finalized after discussion with Suzhou embroidery ladies, and the embroidery is created domestically by using traditional Suzhou embroidery skills such as Dazi, Canzhen, and Luanzhen.
- Cut: combining eastern elements with western three-dimensional cut to enable the clothes to be more suitable for women’s body features. The ratio between the inner and outside cut is 1:1.
During the interview, Mrs. Wang has expressed to us the brand’s original aspiration of inheriting and preserving Chinese culture. This has never changed.
“To be recognizable is of utmost importance to a brand. How many brands are there that once you put it on, people instantly know what you are wearing? I believe Chanel excels in this respect. I’ve been thinking about this. My clothes should be like this as well. Once you put it on, people know you are wearing something from SHIATZY CHEN. I think I’ve accomplished the first step. I’ve established the DNA that a brand should have. I will continue to integrate Chinese elements into my design. We will tell a Chinese cultural story every season. I feel this is the right way to promote a nation’s culture. This will be my lifetime mission. Even one day I have to close my eyes, I still hope the one after me can pass down the Chinese culture. Right now, there is still much room for improvement. I hope I can have more wisdom and strength to carry on this and do it better.”
Reportedly, Mrs. Wang, already in her 60s, is still responsible for 1/3 of the design drawing. The design team led by her is based in Taiwan and Paris, with more than 30 designers in Taiwan and more than 10 in Paris. They meet online every Wednesday to discuss the design.
Looking back at the themes of every season: China, Silk Road, Calligraphy, Ink Painting, Opera Facial Makeup, Paper-cut, Tri-coloured Glazed Pottery of the Tang Dynasty and Shadow Puppet… SHIATZY CHEN has always been exploring the possibility of integrating Chinese traditional culture and modern international trend based on the unchanging DNA.