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Business Insider


Business Insider


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Opportunity Knocks

Sandeep Sekhri left his homeland of India 27 years ago to move to Hong Kong – an entirely new city to him – as a young restaurant manager. Today, as the CEO of F&B group Dining Concepts, he’s the man behind 28 quality restaurants, bars and lounges across Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. According to Sekhri, the optimist always sees tremendous opportunities

Opportunity Knocks

Sandeep Sekhri left his homeland of India 27 years ago to move to Hong Kong – an entirely new city to him – as a young restaurant manager. Today, as the CEO of F&B group Dining Concepts, he’s the man behind 28 quality restaurants, bars and lounges across Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. According to Sekhri, the optimist always sees tremendous opportunities

People > Business Insider


Opportunity Knocks

August 25, 2017 / by China Daily Lifestyle Premium

What made you decide to come to Hong Kong in 1990? 

I grew up in Delhi, India. After I had graduated from hotel school, I realised I had chosen the wrong profession – because in hospitality, your income is never commensurate with your input. So I said to myself, “Why don’t I try to go overseas? At least I’ll get paid more.” The company I worked for in India had a position available for a restaurant manager in Hong Kong. I was 24 years old and had never flown to other countries prior to that. There was no internet in those days – I had no idea about where I was going or what I was going to be doing. But I was definitely prepared for the real world.

When did you decide to start your own business? 

In 2002. I had just been promoted to managing director and became a partner of the group I was working for. But I saw a lot of opportunity in Hong Kong; it’s a very entrepreneur-friendly city. So I left the company abruptly in 2002 and decided to do something on my own. The first restaurant was Bombay Dreams – named for a musical playing in London those days. Then I found investors and opened a second Bombay Dreams in March 2003. 

The business of the Hong Kong food industry is seen to be tough for non-Chinese cuisine – be it Italian, American, Indian or Thai – because it needs to be adapted to local patrons.

The most popular restaurants in Hong Kong are Cantonese; the second most popular cuisine is Japanese. Expats are only about 10% of Hong Kong. For the 90% who are Chinese, they travel a lot – they go to Europe or the US, they know the latest food trends and they’re very aware. I would say Hong Kong is probably one of the best places in Asia to be in the restaurant business. But of course, I do have to adapt for the local market, too. 

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Can you give an example? 

One thing that’s very important is that when you read a menu, you should be able to relate to the dish. You can’t overcomplicate dishes. Also for example, for Indian food, we don’t cook as heavy as we do back in India, so we make it a lot lighter and a lot less spicy here. 

How do you deal with the high rental costs in Hong Kong? 

When you negotiate in real estate, the key is to get a longer lease. You make sure that for the option for the renewal period, you have a maximum cap agreed upon when you initially sign the lease. Otherwise, the landlord can double or even triple the rent. We’re linked to the mercy of our landlords, but at the same time you need to protect your own interests. 

What is the most exciting part about running a food group?

Some weird study says 95% of people in this world have thought of opening a restaurant, cafe, bar or club at some stages of their lives. Everybody thinks they can open a restaurant, but they forget it’s a 24/7 job. In this business, you’re dealing with people – and many emotions. That’s what makes it enjoyable. And you have to be passionate about what you do. 

Having opened a few themed bars and lounges as well, what would you say are the biggest differences between restaurants and nightlife spots?

Restaurants finish by 10.30 to 11pm, whereas bars start at that time. Serving drinks versus serving a three-course meal is very different – bars aren’t uptight. The people who run the bars are also of a different breed. So you need more pleasant people who are more outgoing and extroverted. If you’re miserable and unhappy, you go out drinking; if you’re really happy, you go out drinking, too. 

What do you think is required to succeed in the industry? 

You have to be creative – you have to be above-average in order to succeed in Hong Kong. Value for money is very important. I have a very simple way of looking at it, which I tell my team: if a customer doesn’t remember how much he paid for the meal when he leaves the restaurant, then it means you’ve done a good job. 

Since many F&B groups in Hong Kong have opened restaurants in the mainland, would you consider eyeing the mainland as your next business frontier? 

I’d never say no, because one of our shareholders is one of the top property groups in China – Prometheus Capital, owned by Wang Sicong [the son of Dalian Wanda Group founder Wang Jianlin]. But I would have a partner to do that instead of operating on my own, as I don’t understand the market there.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? 

What I’ve learned over the years is to under-promise and over-deliver. There’s no shortcut to success. 

Sometimes youth are told that the key to success is working hard, but there are certainly many other factors in life that can determine the results…

Absolutely. I did five restaurants from the second half of 2012 to the end of 2013 – and all of them didn’t work. But I take setbacks in a very positive way. I just want to keep moving forward – so I don’t give up. Have an eye for opportunity, grab it and make the most out of it. When the opportunity isn’t immediately apparent, then you need to seek one out.

What do you do outside of running the group? 

I go to the Chinese University of Hong Kong or City University to give lectures and special series. They ask me to inspire and motivate the kids. I love doing that.

Image: Dining Concepts

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Ride Your Dreams

Look Cycle, a French company based in Nevers, Burgundy, is a major player in the design and manufacture of carbon bicycles. The inventor of clipless pedals for cycling, the company is recognised for its know-how, advanced technology and innovative products. Nine countries – including China, for the past 15 years – have chosen Look to equip their national track cycling teams. On the eve of the Tour de France, in which the riders of the Fortuneo-Vital Concept team will be using Look equipment, CEO Federico Musi reveals the secrets of his company’s success

Ride Your Dreams

Look Cycle, a French company based in Nevers, Burgundy, is a major player in the design and manufacture of carbon bicycles. The inventor of clipless pedals for cycling, the company is recognised for its know-how, advanced technology and innovative products. Nine countries – including China, for the past 15 years – have chosen Look to equip their national track cycling teams. On the eve of the Tour de France, in which the riders of the Fortuneo-Vital Concept team will be using Look equipment, CEO Federico Musi reveals the secrets of his company’s success

People > Business Insider


Ride Your Dreams

June 30, 2017 / by Philippe Dova

Is being an avid cyclist an essential qualification for the CEO of a group like Look?

Ours is a business where it helps to understand our clients’ passion – to have a feeling for the product that only someone who uses it can. I’ve cycled for a long time. I’m a keen amateur road cyclist and I’ve recently taken up track cycling. As passion is what we sell, it’s good to be able to share it. 

What have been the key milestones in the brand’s history? 

Despite its English-sounding name, Look is a 100% French company, founded in Burgundy in the 1950s. The brand’s initial success came in 1956 with the invention of the first ski bindings. Then it entered the world of cycling in the 1980s with the clipless pedal, and champions like Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond achieved victories with it. 

Following that, there was the creation, development and manufacture of the first monocoque carbon frame, whose rigidity and aerodynamics made it the world benchmark for track cycling. The unprecedented level of quality it delivered on the track, and then on the road, made it a game changer in the ’80s.

What do you feel are the brand’s pillars of success?

Look is a brand that has always invested a great deal in design and technology to create distinctive products based on engineering, research and development, technological innovation and carbon knowledge. 

At a time when almost all carbon bikes are made in China, we have kept our genuine manufacturing plant in France. With our specific know-how, we develop the bikes in our workshops and the wheels with Corima [the carbon wheel specialist and part of the Look group]. And we have always worked with athletes to develop our high-performance products, while keeping amateur users in mind. 

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Is Look to bicycles what Hermès is to handbags? 

Yes and no. Skilled craftsmanship and quality are obviously things we have in common, but cycling is for everyone. We don’t seek luxury clients, but those passionate cyclists hungry for powerful experiences. Although the bikes we sell are quite expensive, our range includes accessibly priced models. Our least expensive model is priced at 2,500 euros.

The bikes ridden by professional cyclists in the Tour de France or the UCI Track Cycling World Championships – which were held in Hong Kong in April and for which we equipped nine national teams, including the Chinese team – cost between 7,000 and 10,000 euros. We are in control of the whole process from A to Z – including engineering and industrialising the product, and making the carbon.

Even if you’re able to afford a custom-made suit, you have to know how to wear it. Can anyone ride a Look bicycle? 

Yes, because it’s still a bicycle – a frame and two wheels. But as with all beautiful things, you start to appreciate the quality when the passion for cycling becomes part of your life. 

You’re the only company that doesn’t manufacture your bikes in China, yet you equip the Chinese track cycling team. How do you position yourself in this market? 

China has become a very important market for us. There are more and more cycling enthusiasts in China, and we have very good visibility there because of our Tour de France team and, above all, the performances of the national track cycling team since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. For several years, we’ve been working very successfully with a distributor in Beijing at getting the Look and Corima brands into premium retail stores. We have a Look store in Beijing. The pedals are available almost everywhere, but the bicycles are sold only at premium retailers. 

How many bicycles do you produce each year? Are they all manufactured in France? 

The top-of-the-range products are made in Nevers and for the lower 40% of the range, we work with manufacturers in Taiwan. We produce almost 13,000 bicycles each year. 90% of those sold in China are manufactured at our French factory. 

Is testing prototypes one of the perks of being the CEO? 

Yes, that’s the beauty of this job. There will be quite a few models in each family of the range coming out in 2018.

How would you define Look in just three words?

Performance, thrills, passion. 

How would you define Look in just three words?

Performance, thrills, passion. 

Image: JP. Ehrmann – Pressesports – F.Machabert – T.Sourbier


Art is My Domain

Elena Chinyaeva is the chief adviser to .art – which oversees the new internet domain extension – on business development and communications. She explains the impetus behind the launch of .art and the growing presence of art-focused websites

Art is My Domain

Elena Chinyaeva is the chief adviser to .art – which oversees the new internet domain extension – on business development and communications. She explains the impetus behind the launch of .art and the growing presence of art-focused websites

People > Business Insider


Art is My Domain

May 26, 2017 / by Natacha Riva

What exactly is .art?

It’s the art world’s exclusive web domain. In addition to .com, .org, .gov and about 20 other older domain zones, the internet of today has many more new generic top-level domain zones [gTLDs] and .art is one of them. Since the onset, the vision of .art has been to create an online ecosystem for art, where everyone from established art organisations to emerging artists can identify themselves as members of the art community, and connect with like-minded individuals and organisations from the art world. .Art was not designed to serve an elite community but everyone, from institutions and artists to companies and individuals from fields as broad as art, design, luxury, tech, education, health, sports and entertainment.

So why start .art now?

.Art launched in early December last year, but the preparations started five years ago. Back in early 2012, ICANN [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] – the controlling body of the internet – announced its new gTLDs programme, which was an initiative to expand the existing system of web extensions to give users more choice in acquiring their internet identities. There were 10 applications for .art – which makes it one of the most contested domain zones ever, as the name is both short and clear in meaning. When it comes to domain name systems [DNS], the shorter and clearer, the more valuable. The popularity of .art has also reflected the fast growth of a relatively new segment of the art market – art online. A few years ago, it was a novelty for a gallery or an artist to have an
online presence, but now it’s a must. 

Where does .art stop and .biz or .com start?

As the founder of .art, venture investor Ulvi Kasimov likes to say: “In the digital era, we have a digital dress code.” Different digital identities serve different purposes – anyone can have several. If you’re commercial, you might try to secure a presence on .com or .biz; if you’re creative, you may opt for .art. 

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How did you acquire the right to administer the .art domain?

The new gTLDs programme in 2012 allowed anyone to apply for any number of domain names, provided they complied with certain rules and paid the necessary fees. We applied for one name only – .art – and found ourselves in the company of nine other powerful competitors. The contention was then resolved through a private auction in July 2015, which we won. Then there was a compliance procedure; finally in 2016, we signed a contract with ICANN for operating an .art registry. Since then, some of our former competitors have become our partners, like the New York-based media platform e-Flux, which has helped .art attract art professionals from around the world by using its strong database of contacts.

How can you determine what gets .art status and what doesn’t? For example, watchmaker Rolex and fashion house Chanel both have art credentials, but neither is specifically recognised as an art-world player.

Registrants are buying .art names for different purposes. At the very least, one can protect its brand or personal name, so that others can’t claim it for speculation or abuse. Google, Apple, WhatsApp, AXA, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and other high-tech and financial giants mostly bought their .art names for protection purposes – often several, for each of their branded products as well. 

Other well-established commercial entities – luxury brands among them – are aiming to use their .art sites in parallel with their existing platforms to show their creative personalities or to host special projects. For instance, the Fondation Cartier plans to display a new collection, Absolut [Vodka] is looking to present its long-term history of art engagements and the Bolshoi Theatre plans to upload its video archive.

How did you determine the pricing for .art domain names, given that they’re considerably more expensive – about 10 times more – than pre-existing domain names?

The names sold on .art fall into two categories: personal identities (the names of individuals or organisations) and generic words and word forms. The first-category names are standard and will remain so. During the initial preferred access period from February 7 to May 10, they were sold at US$299 – the price that allowed .art to drive away name speculators while attracting the core, well-established art-related actors. 

From then on, when the general access period started, the price for standard personal-identity names went down to the retail price of US$15 to $20, allowing everyone to acquire their personal identities on .art. So, personal identities – what the majority of registrants purchase at .art – have become even more affordable than before.

What’s your favourite art? 

The type of art that resonates with me has certain symbolic, conceptualist ways of dealing with form and colour. But I also find the seemingly flat paintings of the early Renaissance and the abstractions of early-20th-century modernism equally appealing and mesmerising, as well as Russian avant-garde. Of the later periods, the work of Jackson Pollock is highly fascinating to me.

Images: Leandro Justen/BFA.com, Rhizome and .Art

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Time for Change

Montblanc Asia Pacific president Julien Renard has just been appointed the executive vice-president for sales at Montblanc Brand Management. He’ll work closely with new CEO Nicolas Baretzki to continue building on the brand’s success by offering its customers new product experiences and a growing digital range – all the while maintaining Montblanc’s image of traditionally crafted luxury

Time for Change

Montblanc Asia Pacific president Julien Renard has just been appointed the executive vice-president for sales at Montblanc Brand Management. He’ll work closely with new CEO Nicolas Baretzki to continue building on the brand’s success by offering its customers new product experiences and a growing digital range – all the while maintaining Montblanc’s image of traditionally crafted luxury

People > Business Insider


Time for Change

April 28, 2017 / by Philippe Dova / Photo: Parker Zheng

Montblanc has just launched the Summit smartwatch. It’s quite a major shift for the brand, wouldn’t you say?

It’s Montblanc’s first smartwatch, with some quite innovative features for a luxury watch – for example, all the messaging applications – and a microphone for voice. We’re developing this line in parallel with our traditional watches, as we can’t ignore the world we’re living in today and we believe it’s important to have an offering for our customers who are looking for more tech-oriented products. In writing instruments, it was in this same spirit that we launched Augmented Paper last year. This is a Montblanc smartpen that links handwriting to digital technology. With its customisable display, Summit is a true Montblanc watch with a price positioning to attract younger customers to the brand. 

In which countries do you think this watch will have the greatest potential? 

In all countries, generally, but Asian countries like South Korea and China will probably generate a lot of demand. As some of the applications aren’t available in China, we’ll be bringing out a model specifically for the Chinese market in July. Sales of the smartwatch will probably be highest in China due to the size of the market. 

What does the Asian market represent for Montblanc? 

Montblanc is experiencing strong growth across Asia and the biggest market for us is China, where we have 120 shops out of a total of 230 shops for the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. Our brand is very present and our new shop concept – which keeps the black colour that is part of the brand’s DNA, but with the addition of different materials like wood for a warmer, more luxurious feel – is very positively perceived by our customers, particularly women. 

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That’s quite interesting, because up to now, Montblanc has tended to be perceived as a men’s brand…

Indeed, the brand is perceived as a men’s brand, but 40% of our customers are women. The Bohème watch line has been hugely successful since it was launched three years ago. In writing instruments, we have also developed a specific offering for women. 

Is it difficult for an iconic pen brand to move into fine watches, leather goods and jewellery, which are highly competitive markets?

While it’s true that there’s less competition in luxury writing instruments, Montblanc remains the definitive leader in that market. We started developing leather 30 years ago, so by then we had a writing instruments offering and a leather offering. Then we developed watches, buying the Minerva factory – one of the most beautiful Swiss watchmaking workshops, where we continue to make our watches by hand in the way it was done before the industrial watchmaking era – and the Le Locle factory.

The two production units have worked together to develop an offering that is very positively perceived by our retailers and our clients. Women’s jewellery, launched at the beginning of the 21st century, was the last stage in our development of the women’s segment. Montblanc’s diversification has been in stages, and has always been done in a strategic, pragmatic, thorough and well-paced manner. 

How did Meisterstück become one of the brand’s top writing instruments?

Montblanc’s history with writing began 110 years ago and we have always been about innovation. We have total A-to-Z control over the production of our writing instruments in Hamburg, while the very limited series pieces that we put out each year, as well as the custom-made pieces, are crafted in our artisanal workshop. Research and innovation are what all of these products have in common. We put an enormous amount of work into the materials, technical aspects and the nib. 

Which means?

We custom-make the nibs in accordance with the way the person writes, using a unique handwriting analysis system that we invented. For each limited series theme, we create a new ink. For example, Golden Elixir ink contains 24-karat gold. When the ink dries, the gold appears. Our Asian customers really like this unique ink. 

What pen do you write with? 

A Meisterstück fountain pen. Actually, I have several pens: one to sign with – because we have special nibs for signing – a rollerball for writing quickly and a beautiful fountain pen that I write with from time to time. 

What three things would you take to a deserted island? 

I’d take my smartwatch to play with, a Montblanc writing instrument and a notebook, so I’d be able to write and pass the time. 

How would you define luxury in three words? 

Timeless, exclusive, handcrafted – that works for Montblanc. On a personal level, it would be time – because for me, time is a luxury.

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Smoke Signals

Through 20 years of experience, Eric Piras has become an expert in every facet of the tobacco industry – from growing and production to marketing and sales. Today, he’s a key player in the global cigar segment with his distribution company, Cigraal

Smoke Signals

Through 20 years of experience, Eric Piras has become an expert in every facet of the tobacco industry – from growing and production to marketing and sales. Today, he’s a key player in the global cigar segment with his distribution company, Cigraal

People > Business Insider


Smoke Signals

March 31, 2017 / by Philippe Dova / Photo: Parker Zheng

Tell us briefly about the market for handmade cigars. 

Premium handmade cigars represent only 5% of total cigar production worldwide, meaning that they accounted for 500 million of the 25 billion cigars produced in 2015. From the tobacco seed to the finished cigar in its wood humidor, there are nearly 400 processes. It’s a true craft. Although there was a time when cigars were reserved for a certain elite, they have been democratised so that it’s now possible to buy an excellent quality handmade cigar for HK$60. 

Do cigars have specific designated origins, the way wines do? And does the place where the tobacco is grown affect the taste?

Only Cuban cigars have a designated origin and are made from 100% Cuban tobacco. The main growing areas after that are Nicaragua, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, followed by Indonesia and the Philippines. 

Why did your company, Cigraal, ultimately decide to specialise in the distribution of non-Cuban cigars? 

We distribute handmade cigar brands from Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic because, while 20 years ago cigar lovers only smoked well-known brands, today they are much more attentive to price and taste. It’s the same as with wine – people don’t just smoke a label anymore and the lesser-known, more affordable non-Cuban cigars offer excellent quality for these consumers. 

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Many people still consider cigars to be a guy thing… 

More and more women are smoking cigars. The best example is Maya Selva, the owner and creator of the Honduran Flor de Selva brand.

How should you properly smoke a cigar? 

First, you need to cut it with a cigar cutter. Then, take the time to light it with a butane lighter or good matches. A few other tips: Never inhale the smoke. Let the cigar go out by itself – never stub it out. And choose a cigar size that goes with your personality, just like you choose the right size for clothes. 

What sort of flavours do you get from smoking a cigar? 

First, a cigar consists of three parts: the wrapper, the binder and the filler, which is a blend of tobacco leaves from these various countries. Each brand has its own signature cocktail and its own taste. This taste varies depending on the size, but Nicaraguan cigars generally have a stronger flavour, whereas those from Honduras are much more delicate.

There are three stages. With the opening taste, you get the wood, coffee and chocolate. In the second stage, the flavours can be more powerful. The third stage is when you finish smoking the cigar – normally, when you reach the band. There are handmade cigars for all tastes: light, medium and very powerful. The cigar you smoke depends on your state of mind, your surroundings and the weather. 

What foods and drinks pair well with cigars? 

Chocolate, coffee and spirits such as rum that come from the same countries where cigars are made. Malt whiskies, ports and sweet Bordeaux wines go very well with cigars. And a fine, robust Pu-erh tea with a medium-strong cigar is an absolutely magnificent pairing. 

Are there a lot of cigar collectors? 

Yes, especially in Asia. Every year, limited editions sell for sky-high prices. Collectors’ humidors [a cabinet containing 300 cigars] have gone for a million euros at auction. Around the world, they fight over pre-Castro brands like Davidoff that used to be manufactured in Cuba. As with wines, there’s a growing collectors’ market. For some people, it’s an investment. Personally, I’d rather smoke them and enjoy them. Sharing a cigar with a friend is a very special moment that you can’t put a price on. 

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Flour Power

Gérard Dubois opened his first boulangerie-pâtisserie in Hong Kong in 1991. A quarter of a century on, La Rose Noire is one of Asia’s most renowned bread and pastry brands, and employs more than 1,300 people. Its factories, which use six tonnes of flour a day and 80 tonnes of butter a month, deliver to businesses in more than 45 countries. Passion by Gérard Dubois shops are popping up all over Asia – and the Swiss artisan baker has built an empire by staying creative and respecting the traditional values of his profession.

Flour Power

Gérard Dubois opened his first boulangerie-pâtisserie in Hong Kong in 1991. A quarter of a century on, La Rose Noire is one of Asia’s most renowned bread and pastry brands, and employs more than 1,300 people. Its factories, which use six tonnes of flour a day and 80 tonnes of butter a month, deliver to businesses in more than 45 countries. Passion by Gérard Dubois shops are popping up all over Asia – and the Swiss artisan baker has built an empire by staying creative and respecting the traditional values of his profession.

People > Business Insider


Flour Power

February 24, 2017 / by Philippe Dova / Photo: Roy Liu

How did your Hong Kong adventure get started? 

After five years learning to be a baker, pastry maker and confectioner, I was hungry to discover the world. I left my native Switzerland at age 22 and spent ten years working for the Hilton International Group in Europe and then in Asia. I came to Hong Kong in 1988 as the regional pastry chef for Asia. I was earning a very good salary, but I quickly realised that there wouldn’t be much opportunity for further advancement. I didn’t want to coast along in this job until I reached retirement, so I partnered with a friend and on August 26, 1991, we opened La Rose Noire in Pacific Place. 

There weren’t many bakeries in Hong Kong at that time…

There was Délifrance and there were a few local bakeries, but not that many customers for bakeries. Fortunately, we didn’t just do bread – the concept was quite close to that of my Passion shops today. We very quickly had lots of hotel managers wanting to buy bread for their establishments. In 1994, I opened my first manufacturing unit in Kowloon to enable sufficient quantities to meet the demand from hotels and airlines. Two years later, we expanded and moved to Kowloon Bay, where we still are. Today, around 100 bakers and pastry-makers work there day and night to supply breads and pastries to most of the hotels. 

Is that only for the Hong Kong market? 

Our Hong Kong production site only supplies the Hong Kong market. When China entered the WTO 15 years ago, we opened a factory in China, then a second one, and we made all of our export products there. Last year we employed more than 1,100 people there. A few years ago, when our Western clients no longer wanted to buy foods made in China, we opened an export factory in the Philippines – keeping the factories in China solely for the Chinese market. This market is developing very nicely and I sold the Chinese part of the business last year. 

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Why did you choose the Philippines?

It’s a country where it’s easy to work. Filipinos speak English, so language isn’t a problem. We’ve set up the La Rose Noire Foundation there to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, too – we fund a primary school, a middle school and a training centre where young people learn the baking trade so that they can find work afterwards. 

How many countries do you export to today and how extensive is your product range? 

We export to 45 countries and we offer 500 high-quality frozen products: an extensive range of breads, macarons, pastries and so on. For example, each day we export 100,000 mini-macarons and 500,000 tart shells from the Philippines. 

Who are your clients? 

We sell to most of the big-name hotels, restaurants and pastry businesses in Europe, Canada, the United States, Dubai, Australia, Japan and Korea – countries where labour has become too expensive to make these products in the traditional way. That’s why we make them in the Philippines with French flour, yeast, butter and fruit purées, and then dispatch them. La Rose Noire macarons are found in some of the world’s most luxurious places. 

How do you market these products? 

We’re very creative and we devote considerable resources to research and development. Every three months, we launch a new line of innovative products. We have 30 people around the world working with our distributors. They come back and visit the factories every six months to learn about these new products. They then return to Dubai, New York, Sydney and Paris and market these products to our distributors.

How can you be sure these products will be a success? 

We test them with the customers at our Passion shops. If the test is successful, we launch the product globally. 

Are the Passion shops a return to your roots? 

I’ve always been obsessed with producing quality goods. The idea behind the Passion shops was to go back to being a true boulangerie-pâtisserie, making the products on-site. I had opened almost 20 La Rose Noire outlets in Hong Kong supermarkets. I was producing bread of the quality I wanted, but over the years managers always wanted me to do it cheaper and faster by no longer making the bread on the premises. If this is the case, then there’s no way we can guarantee the quality. As La Rose Noire was identified as a mass retail brand, I started Passion four years ago. Today, we have ten shops including one in Macau and one in Manila. 

What’s next for La Rose Noire?

Developing the Passion franchise in Asia, creating new product lines and increasing our presence in South America, where we opened up last year. I’m thinking of opening a third factory in the Philippines this year because we’re starting to make our own couverture chocolate. I thought of developing chocolate in the Philippines because we have a very strong presence there with our factories and our foundation. I want to have my own 69% cocoa content organic chocolate, made entirely from Philippine cocoa beans that are produced by Philippine farmers. We buy all of our cocoa from them for the development of our La Rose Noire 69% cocoa content AOC chocolate. Besides making all our own breads, pastries and ice creams, we’ll have our chocolate line, made with our own chocolate.

What’s the secret of your success? 

Work, innovation, creativity, quality, good logistics management – and above all, the team. My key associates have been with me for 25 years and we’re like a family. I could never have made it without them. 

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Scents of Direction

Laurent Boillot, the chairman and CEO of renowned fragrance house Guerlain and skincare brand Cha Ling, on the sweet smell of success

Scents of Direction

Laurent Boillot, the chairman and CEO of renowned fragrance house Guerlain and skincare brand Cha Ling, on the sweet smell of success

People > Business Insider


Scents of Direction

February 3, 2017 / by Philippe Dova

Is February a big month for Guerlain in China because of Valentine’s Day? 

You don’t get the same spike in fragrance sales as in France for Valentine’s Day, although it’s beginning to exist as a holiday. We are very clear about the fact that our fame as a brand in Asia is limited to an elite group of people who have knowledge of fragrances, of French culture and of luxury culture, and who know Guerlain from their travels to France. China is the most promising Asian country in terms of growth and we have just initiated a project to fast-track the development of our fragrance business internationally, with China being one of the target markets.

What will this development consist of? 

Two projects are under way. The first is a 15-year deployment of a network of stores dedicated exclusively to fragrances, like the one we opened on the rue Saint Honoré in Paris. They will showcase the 110 Guerlain fragrances and will offer an entirely new type of customised consultation. This concept will be deployed worldwide – and specifically in China, where we are currently looking for locations. 

And the second project?

In the shorter term, in March we have the international launch of a fragrance aimed at a more general audience – it’s similar to what we did in 2012 with La Petite Robe Noire: a new name, a new juice, new advertising. We’ve modernised one of our heritage bottles, used fine materials made by some of the [LVMH] group’s subsidiaries and we’ve partnered with a well-known personality in order to achieve awareness very quickly. Basically, we want to see the Guerlain flag flying in as many places as possible worldwide. 

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Does the international clientele demand new products on a fairly regular basis? 

We were fortunate with the success of La Petite Robe Noire, which is why we waited five years to launch this new fragrance instead of three years, which is the usual time between launches. 

What is the secret of a fragrance’s global success? 

Fortunately, there is no secret. The fragrance industry is comparable to the movie business; you can bring together the best director and the best actors, and you still can’t be sure of a big hit at the box office. 

How is Guerlain positioned in the cosmetics market? 

Guerlain’s reputation has been built around fragrances, but in 1828, the company’s original expertise was in skincare products. Today, our revenue breakdown is one-third fragrance, skincare and make-up. The latter two shares are the fruits of the last 15 years, with a very strong expansion in Asia driven by the cosmetics markets. We have two cosmetics lines: Orchidée Impériale, which tops fragrance as the biggest revenue earner, and Abeille Royale, which is experiencing very robust growth in China. 

The market is extremely competitive and we are achieving differentiation with quality products developed through continuous research. Beauty products represent a very substantial market – and it’s one that is growing every year in Asia. For example, for every 100 euros of products sold through select channels, skincare products account for 75 euros, make-up accounts for 20 euros and fragrances account for only five euros. 

How many years of research go into a new make-up product or a new skin cream? 

For Orchidée Impériale, launched in 2006, it took us four years of research to find the right anti-ageing molecules in LVMH’s laboratory. This laboratory is our strength – a real blend of synergies and diversities, bringing together the best of the group’s cosmetics brands. It allows us to pool our expertise and have a dedicated, integrated centre on a miniature scale. All of the technology around Orchidée Impériale and Abeille Royale is a bit like LVMH’s Fort Knox. 

Where are all of these products manufactured? 

In France – specifically, in Chartres, where we opened our new, ultra-modern pharmaceutical standard production centre in 2015. This is also where we manufacture the products for Cha Ling’s Esprit du Thé line. 

Tell us about Cha Ling.

It’s a Franco-Chinese start-up, part of the LVMH group. Guerlain is the incubator. It’s a very high-quality detoxifying and anti-pollution skincare line containing molecules from forest pu’er tea. After five years of research conducted at the LVMH laboratories, Cha Ling was launched in Paris at the Bon Marché department store in 2016 and in Hong Kong, where we opened two stores in January and September. In May, we’ll open a store in Shanghai – our first in Mainland China. 

What fragrances do you wear? 

I kind of skip around the various Guerlain fragrances, but I tend to come back to Guerlain Homme Boisée. I’m also terribly lucky right now to be testing a men’s fragrance that Guerlain might be launching two or three years from now… but that’s a secret.

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Getting to know Yoox

Luca Martines, the president off-season of global internet fashion retailer Yoox, which sells overstock items from top luxury brands at discounted outlet prices, discusses Chinese market trends as well as consumers’ attraction to black and purple

Getting to know Yoox

Luca Martines, the president off-season of global internet fashion retailer Yoox, which sells overstock items from top luxury brands at discounted outlet prices, discusses Chinese market trends as well as consumers’ attraction to black and purple

People > Business Insider


Getting to Know YOOX

December 9, 2016 / by Charles Oliver

Your title at Yoox Net-a-Porter is “president off-season”. What does that mean? 

As president off-season, I oversee the operations of both Yoox and The Outnet, the two off-season multi-brand stores of the group. 

What has been the largest single transaction on Yoox to date? 

The most expensive item ever sold on Yoox was to a Chinese customer, a female: a Dolce & Gabbana leather jacket purchased for €17,400.

Can you share how Yoox’s market penetration has improved in China, and how it has been taking market share from Tmall and Xiu.com?

China plays an important strategic role for the group as one of our fastest-growing markets. Since Yoox.cn was launched in 2012, we have tried to gain increasing market share in China’s incredibly competitive landscape through a balanced mix with an international touch and a local approach. 

Our current strategy goes into the direction of diversifying our offering in comparison to our main local and international competitors. Our success is built on providing our customers with the best possible shopping experience – through strong attention to service and a focus on mobile, as well as by entertaining them with unexpected synergies and collaborations with global and local designers and influencers. I have no doubt that the recently launched Yoox website and native app will positively contribute to consolidating our market share in China, meeting the sophisticated demands of Chinese customers. 

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What can we expect from Yoox.cn going forward?

The next five years will witness major evolutions for Yoox, both in terms of creativity and technical innovations. The new release and native app, launched in mid-September, are just the first steps of an exciting new era for us. In terms of technology, our focus will be developing a mobile-only approach. Content-wise, our aim is to surprise our audience with unexpected collaborations, limited editions and special projects, together with a curated editorial style and compelling graphics. Both assets aim to satisfy the needs and expectations of a demanding and constantly connected generation, who are used to purchasing quickly and instinctively in an overly stimulated environment.

One odd paradox in China is that it’s been a tough market for most Western luxury and fashion brands to crack digital, yet the Chinese
consumers are the most advanced in terms of mobile e-commerce. Has it been hard to crack?

What you say is absolutely true, but we have turned a challenge into an opportunity – and then into a competitive advantage. Amongst our founding values are “people” and “technology”. In fact, the male and female chromosomes Y and X in our name embrace the two zeroes of binary code, representing technology. With this in mind, the Chinese customers represent our perfect audience because they are the most connected and tech-savvy. From its debut in China, Yoox.cn has placed the customer at the centre of its strategy, offering a fully localised shopping experience featuring, for example, local payment systems and dedicated customer care, connected via email, mobile and WeChat.

What are the biggest surprises about how China uses Yoox versus the rest of the world? 

Well, quite interestingly in terms of demographics, Yoox’s Chinese customers set two records globally. On the one side, Yoox.cn has the highest rate of active male customers; on the other, it attracts the largest portion of customers under 35 years of age, making the average age of Chinese customers our youngest worldwide. This trend obviously results in increased mobile orders, with younger generations more inclined to navigate and purchase on Yoox through mobile phones and tablets. Speaking of buying preferences, there’s no big surprise. Chinese customers’ preferences are similar to the rest of the world – shoes are the best-sold items for both men and women.

Chinese consumers are moving or have moved away from luxury brands into niche, lesser-known labels. Are you experiencing that shift and how has Yoox responded? 

From our big data, we have observed the same trend. Chinese customers are becoming more sophisticated and willing to experiment by exploring emerging fashion brands, rather than just seeking the most established ones. This shift started in the first-tier cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, and then has spread rapidly to the second- and third-tier cities.

What is the next natural step for Yoox? What aren’t you doing now that we can expect to see soon? 

In the near future, our focus will be on providing an increasingly customised shopping experience, tailor-made to the tastes of each specific customer and by means of personalised mobile propositions. 

What made you decide toredesign the Yoox site? What logic, analytics or insights revealed the necessity to do that? 

Always placing customers at the centre of our initiatives, our wish was that of promptly satisfying the requirements and desires of those who visit our store, searching for their seasonless style favourites. Our goal was to provide customers with a unique, impeccable shopping experience in which they can effortlessly access all they are looking for – through a simplified navigation with style suggestions reflecting tastes and interests, efficient service and customer care – and entertaining them while they are at it with a compelling new layout and editorial content. 

What has been a trend you never anticipated in terms of China’s e-commerce shoppers? 

Chinese customers move in a very similar direction to that of all other customers; what is different is the speed at which they move. Our great challenge will be that of travelling with the same rapidity, more than facing a trend that we had not anticipated. Desires and behaviours are in constant evolution and so is the digital media attitude. I have also been very impressed by how WeChat has revolutionised social media, creating a gateway to so many different services.

What trends or micro-trends are emerging right now among Chinese users?

Chinese customers are definitely the most tech-savvy and mobile-connected. Just to give you an idea, Chinese users enjoy surfing Yoox.cn on their mobile devices while going to work on public transport, from 7am to 8am, but they also shop via tablets later in the night, around 2am. In terms of preferred purchased categories on Yoox.cn, on the contrary, a clear trend sees female customers in China buying shoes, dresses and tops, while men opt for shoes, tops and trousers. Their preferred colour: black; their passion: purple.

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Exception to the Rule: Ma Ke

Fashion designer Ma Ke, who runs her own brand Wu Yong and creates bespoke garments for Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan, shares her approach to fashion and the overwhelming power of Chinese design

Exception to the Rule: Ma Ke

Fashion designer Ma Ke, who runs her own brand Wu Yong and creates bespoke garments for Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan, shares her approach to fashion and the overwhelming power of Chinese design

People > Business Insider


Exception to the Rule

October 28, 2016 / by Zhang Mengyi

How did you decide to start your own brand?

I studied fashion design and acting in university, and learned that although China was the largest clothing manufacturer in the world, there were no recognised designer brands. I thought I should try to create China’s own designer brand – that was my dream.

I went abroad early in my career and the comment I heard most was that “Chinese don’t know about creation – they only copy.” I felt humiliated and angry. I knew that we had exquisite craftsmanship and wisdom, and that we could be as good as other countries. I worked for three different garment companies before starting my own brand – Exception – in 1996 with
my partner.

What did you have in mind when you started designing? 

I only wanted to follow my heart. As for the style – it emerged gradually. It was a process of getting to know myself; I am what I design. I left
Exception in 2006 and started my second brand, Wu Yong [which translates as “useless”].

In fact, 2006 was an important year for you. You started Wu Yong and were invited to do a show at Paris Fashion Week.

In June 2006, the then-president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, Didier Grumbach, came to my office in Zhuhai and invited me to be the first Chinese designer to present at Paris Fashion Week. I went to Paris Fashion Week in 2007 and showed 27 garments inspired by the lives of Chinese farmers and artisans. I was aware that what I had designed had nothing to do with fashion. But Paris has the biggest appreciation and acceptance for any kind of art and creation. 

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After the show, you were invited to be part of another big show. 

The week after, I received an invitation from Paris Haute Couture Week. I did agree to do it, but made it clear that it would be my only time. So I presented Wu Yong’s Luxury of Austerity line and became the first Chinese designer to show work there.

Wu Yong was described as “anti-fashion” and you said you wanted to be an artist. 

My show at Paris Fashion Week attracted attention from museums around the world; they invited me to do exhibitions. I had the chance to be a real artist so I could get away from the commercial world forever. But I didn’t, because there were other things I cared about. When I did research and toured rural areas in China, I was moved by the lives and stories of farmers and artisans. I wanted to help them preserve their traditions of craftsmanship.

You opened a “life-experience” space in Beijing named Wu Yong. What was the inspiration? 

After Paris Haute Couture Week, I came back to Zhuhai and wanted to give myself some time to concentrate on the things I was passionate about. In 2012, I had accumulated enough original designs to share with the public. That’s when I decided to transform Wu Yong from a NGO into a social enterprise and look for a space to present our work. 

You worked in Zhuhai for many years, so why did you choose Beijing as the brand’s home base?

It was just my instinct – I think Wu Yong is more suitable for Beijing. It has deep-rooted Chinese cultural heritage.

After 2013, you became known as the designer for Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan. How did this influence your work and daily life?

I am who I used to be – I haven’t changed. The First Lady came to me when I was looking for Wu Yong’s space in Beijing in 2013. We had known each other for many years; she wore my designs in the late ’90s and loved them. Then she invited me to do the designs for her first official visit abroad. 

Are you still doing designs for her?

Yes, and also working on Wu Yong. I design most of the clothes the First Lady wears during her official visits abroad, but not all of them.

You provide people with a kind of lifestyle that focuses on the most commonly used material, skills and textures from the past. 

I think we Chinese haven’t put on our own clothes for a long time. I was born in the 1970s during the Cultural Revolution. Clothes were very simple at that time. I remember a Chinese lady looking at my Chinese-style garments, asking me whether she was suitable for that style. I was shocked, because she had no confidence in Chinese style. The power of fashion is enormous. I always say that what Wu Yong is doing is like helping a man with amnesia find his memory. 

Besides nature and traditional craftsmanship, what other sorts of things inspire you?

My biggest inspiration is Chinese culture. Also, you must have a free soul to create. My inspiration comes from the inside, not the outside. 

How would you describe yourself in three words?

I can’t – it’s like blowing your own trumpet. Instead, I would like to say what kind of person I want to be. First, a warm person who can bring warmth to those around me. Second, a simple person who doesn’t have so much confrontation or hesitation. Third, an innocent person who isn’t influenced by the outside world.

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Touch of Grace: Grace Chen

For many years, Chinese couturier Grace Chen kept a low profile as the most in-demand designer for China’s business and political elite. But she’s stepping out of the shadows with the recent launch of her Shanghai-based headquarters, and plans to expand her house into a full-fledged global brand

Touch of Grace: Grace Chen

For many years, Chinese couturier Grace Chen kept a low profile as the most in-demand designer for China’s business and political elite. But she’s stepping out of the shadows with the recent launch of her Shanghai-based headquarters, and plans to expand her house into a full-fledged global brand

People > Business Insider


Touch of Grace

September 30, 2016 / by Natacha Riva

We hear you’re planning to open a space in Hong Kong. How soon and where in the city might that happen?

We haven’t decided on the exact location yet, but we are looking for a certain type of space that will work for the brand. We are aiming to open the store in 2018. 

Your business in China is one that’s completely private. Why choose to set up a bricks-and-mortar space in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong will not only be the window for us to open to local customers in the city, but also a convenient location for our clients in southern China and the Southeast Asia market. Southeast Asia is very important for us. Our style is perfect for the high-society customers in this region. 

How would you compare the style of Mainland Chinese women with that of Hong Kong women?

I have to say there’s a big difference. When I talk about Mainland Chinese, I’m more referring to Beijing or Shanghai. I think Mainland women are more sophisticated, while Hong Kong women are more trendy.


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You’re Chinese-American and spent a lot of time in America. What surprised you most with the general US conceptions – or misconceptions – of Chinese women and their fashion?

The general US misconceptions of Chinese women can be described in two different ways. First, they’re viewed as overly sexy; Chinese women to them are like sex slaves. All they can see is how exotic and sexy Chinese women are. The second is that they’re completely unattractive, nerdy, plain, hard-working, with no idea of how to be interesting and fun.

You’re renowned as a dresser of the top power players in China. How did that come to be? Who was the first such person you dressed?

I was the first Mainland Chinese student to attend the world-famous fashion school FIT [in New York]. I then worked in New York and Hollywood for 15 years, where I built up a good reputation for understanding Chinese fashion. I have a circle of friends in the industry, as well as the fashion media and the high-end business world. So when I returned to China and started my own brand, they were all eager to help introduce me to new customers. My first power-player client, a congresswoman, was introduced to me by Du Yuzhou, the former head of China’s ministry of the textile and apparel industry. 

My mentor is Professor Li Keyu, who taught me throughout my master’s degree. She is the most decorative and most respected custom designer in China. I was also the first fashion designer to hold a personal exhibition in the prestigious China National Gallery in Beijing – that was in 1995, right before I went to New York. So, it’s fair to say that all my exceptional academic and professional experience has prepared me for success today.  

How would you describe your brand in three words, ideas or concepts to someone who doesn’t know it?

Power dresser for the world’s elite women; modern Chinese glamour; and 靜,深,富 – which is our aesthetic philosophy: “serenity, profound, glamour”.

You once said China’s designers should lead, not follow – “that China has a DNA; it has meta-luxury in its history.” Is that a blessing or curse for today’s Chinese designers?

It’s definitely a blessing – it gives us confidence and a backbone. Fashion and luxury have to be enriched by history and culture. Fashion design only in technical terms is shallow and meaningless.

What is power-dressing today in China and how does that compare with several years ago, when you returned from the US?

China has entered into an era where people are eager to upgrade everything in their lives – and fashion is one of the most important aspects of this upgrade. For me, power-dressing is much more accepted and important in 2016 than it was in 2009. Our brand is at the forefront of the most significant revolution in modern Chinese history. This is what Chinese say: 天時, 地利,人和。

Who are your favourite designers and why?

Alexander McQueen for his out-of-this-world creativity, and Oscar De La Renta for his understanding of elegance and sophistication.

What’s the best business advice anyone has ever given you?

My friend, who is the boss of a very successful Chinese sportswear brand, once told me: “Grace, you know, you can only make your business successful when you don’t have money – as you have more of a drive to succeed and be the best.”

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Changing Tastes: Jean-Guillaume Prats

The president of Moët Hennessy’s Estates & Wines, Jean-Guillaume Prats, on bringing new sparkle to China’s wine consumers and the company’s much-anticipated first vintage from Shangri-La

Changing Tastes: Jean-Guillaume Prats

The president of Moët Hennessy’s Estates & Wines, Jean-Guillaume Prats, on bringing new sparkle to China’s wine consumers and the company’s much-anticipated first vintage from Shangri-La

People > Business Insider


Changing Tastes

August 26, 2016 / by Timothy  Chui

You have a global remit, spanning wineries in Spain, France, the US, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia and China. How much time do you spend in China? 

I go every four months – in total, four weeks in China every year. It’s impossible to be everywhere at once. Our wines are fantastic because they’re made by the local team – they’re made by the guy who turns the lights on in the morning and off in the evening. It would be a big mistake to tell them what to do. My job is to provide them with the equations, the vision, the strategy, the financial means and the distribution to take our great vineyards to market. 

What is Moët Hennessy’s big focus for the China market in 2016?

We’re out to build the category of sparkling wine consumption in China. As of now, it doesn’t exist. We have big priorities with Chandon China and our sparkling wine grown and bottled in Ningxia. We’re looking to promote everyday drinking of sparkling wines, focusing on young millennials and the upper middle class.

Seems like you have a tough sell ahead of you – Western spirits and wines have been embraced by Chinese consumers, but growth in champagne and sparkling wine consumption has been muted. 

We want to help consumers understand a new ritual of consumption: how to drink the wine, how to celebrate life, how to use it in mixology in cocktails, should you have it with food, should you have it in the evening. Red wines are already popular as a great complement to food and we want to position sparkling wine as a means of celebrating a special moment, as an aperitif, after dinner or by the pool. 

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How does Moët Hennessy plan to bring about this shift in attitudes?

It’s all about innovation – like talking to a young graduate from university and asking them, instead of having a glass of beer, why not have a glass of sparkling wine? We want to tap into the pride of drinking well-made Chinese products that are recognised around the world. We want to encourage consumers to use our sparkling wines in mixology: blend it with something else as a cocktail, add an ice cube, in a plastic cup, by the pool, with your friends at a BBQ. We want to create a new ritual of consumption, and demystify the perception that it’s pompous and difficult to understand and by that, encourage an evolution of the product so it’s more appealing.

Research suggests champagne and sparkling wines are too tart for consumer tastes in China. How do you overcome this barrier?

Chinese consumers find sparkling wines may be too acidic, or lacking concentration and sugar, but you can create blends with new products that we have in mind. What’s coming will mirror our strategy in Argentina and California, where we have blended our sparkling wines with late-harvest grapes, with oranges and cocktails to create a new ritual of consumption. We will also engage the market through social media,
ads, platforms and brand ambassadors while educating celebrities, trendsetters, and culinary and hospitality schools. Education is all about talking to people and giving them the tools to understand the difference between a cabernet and a merlot.

Can you tell us about Moët Hennessy’s first vintages of Ao Yun, grown in the oft-thought mythical but very real Shangri-La region? 

Every country in the world consuming fine wine is also producing great wine, with one exception: the UK. So where can you produce fine wine in China? We looked at weather, rainfall, hours of sunshine, temperature variance between day and night, and irrigation access. We found the very northern part of Yunnan, along the Mekong River, was suitable. We’re developing extraordinary wine in a place only 10km away from Tibet and 20km from Burma, in a region very remote and 15 years ago accessible only by horse. Since then, the Chinese authorities opened the road, with the first vineyards planted in 2002. There had been vineyards there since the 1850s, but they were all razed between the World Wars. The area is much smaller than Burgundy, but the wines have already received very high ratings and praise from critics.

Most of China’s locally produced wines never leave the country. Will this be the same for Ao Yun?

Our first vintage will only be 24,000 bottles, with 36,000 planned for a second run. Production will remain small, with 60% destined for export and 40% for domestic consumption. It’s been available in the US, with the UK, Switzerland and France receiving their first shipments in June, while the official launch was held at the French Consulate in Beijing on June 6.

What is your outlook for wine consumption as a whole in China for the rest of the year?

I don’t see the market immediately returning to what it used to be five or six years ago, with high rollers and spending on very expensive red wines. You see the same consequences in watches and cars. That being said, red wine consumption will still go up with new consumers. That’s why we’re on a mission to create a category for bubbles and sparkling wine, and talking to the Chinese so they’re proud of a locally made Chinese wine. China has a long history of culture and arts, and all these assets usually go well with the consumption of fine products. It’s a question of providing the Chinese consumer the access to an extraordinary product – and then making sure they understand it.

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Fun in the Sun: Roland Herlory

Roland Herlory, the CEO of French swimwear brand Vilebrequin, explains the appeal of upscale trunks and the brand’s recent successes in womenswear

Fun in the Sun: Roland Herlory

Roland Herlory, the CEO of French swimwear brand Vilebrequin, explains the appeal of upscale trunks and the brand’s recent successes in womenswear

People > Business Insider


Fun in the Sun

June 24, 2016 / by Kitty Go / Photo: Edmond Tang

In Vilebrequin’s 45 years of business, why did the brand only enter the womenswear market in 2013? 

There is a saying: “Life begins at 40.” It’s about humans, but probably applies to the brand because one matures at this age and that’s part of the answer. For me, it was time to expand the territory; new shareholders invested in 2012 and gave us new resources. I wanted to build on two development programmes: one for Asian business, and one for territorial expansions in the EU and the US. I also wanted to extend the product line and women’s was a natural progression. Now we have accessories including shoes, sunglasses and watches.

What did you bring to Vilebrequin after more than 20 years at Hermès? 

I joined Hermès at age 25 and learned everything in the 23 years I was there. What I bring to Vilebrequin from Hermès is a respect for products and craftsmanship. Hermès is based on quality and I have a great belief in that, together with bringing modernity to tradition. Being traditional is great, but you have to take it into the modern world.

How do you plan on expanding beyond womenswear and product extensions?

We do everything around the pool, from swimming to cocktails – we even have tuxedo swimming trunks. To complement the Rolling Stones tour, we made items printed with their album covers. We started an après-ski collection last winter using three different prints and we will continue that, as it sells very well as a capsule line. Skiing is as colourful as the beach – our world is a family on vacation that goes to Saint Tropez in the summer and Megève in the winter. 

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Many people, including customers, ask, “Why is it so expensive?”

My dream is to make Vilebrequin a reference point for excellence in men’s swimwear. For about 200 euros, you get a product that is created by an institution based on values and history. Pierre-Alexis Dumas [the artistic director of Hermès] often quotes his grandfather by saying, “Luxury is a product you can repair.” In the end, quality isn’t that expensive. We have a service to repair the net lining of our swim trunks. Most men are very loyal and they love wearing the same clothes. They look for comfort, then quality – in that order. 

What does a customer get in a pair of 200-euro swimming trunks?

First, the yarn is polyamide from Italy, which gets woven in Spain using a secret mercerised method to break down fibres so it feels like cotton.
Polyamide is strong, holds dyes, washes well and doesn’t have the static of natural fibres. There are 32 steps from printing to finishing, and we only use two printers that can work with this type of fabric. Second, all the patterns and pockets are matched by hand and cut in one direction. This is the most expensive part of production, with a generous use of fabric to maintain the integrity of the prints. Third, what look like design elements are really functions to make you look good in and out of the water – the eyelets in the pockets and the back are for water to escape, to stop the trunks from ballooning. The elastic is strong but not too tight, and there is double-needle stitching all around for a clean finish and reinforcement in high-tension areas. The linings are seamless 100% cotton for comfort and fit. Above all, everything has to stand up to the damage done by sun, salt, chlorine and dampness. 

Do you have further expansion plans aside from the current ones in Asia? 

We have been very strong in Asia with Hong Kong since we opened, but until two years ago it was virgin territory for us. Right now the biggest developments are in Japan and China. Per country by value, Hong Kong is still the best-performing, followed by Singapore, then the US, especially New York and Miami. But in terms of contribution, our European business is twice our American one. We are looking for a distributor in China because I think there is no one better than a local who knows the market. I would like to open in Beijing, Shanghai and Sanya. We want someone with a long-term vision so we can take our time to do things well. 

Being so established in the men’s market, how did you crack the women’s market so quickly? 

Women, mostly in developed Western markets, have been asking for their own collection for years. Our women’s line is doing better with the Chinese than any other nationality. They buy a lot of cover-ups and shorts. We don’t just sell a beach look, but a beach lifestyle for different occasions at different times of the year. I’m impressed by the popularity of our women’s collection, but I’m not surprised because this brand is new for Chinese clients. Unlike in developed markets where we are known as a men’s brand, we captured the Asian market by entering into parts of Asia outside Hong Kong with menswear and womenswear on equal footing. Singapore has the same limited floor space for women as we do in Europe, yet it makes up one-third of sales. 

What are your best-sellers in the women’s line and who do you see as your competitors in this sector?

The Moorea shorts are our best-seller for both men and women. Eres is our direct competitor, because we each brought our products to a quality level that is the best in the world. I look at what Eres does, and they really know the women’s market the way we know the men’s. They are inspiring in quality and approach, but we are more fun.

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The Moncler Mogul: Remo Ruffini

Remo Ruffini famously rescued French winter jacket maker Moncler from near-bankruptcy, completely turning the heritage brand’s fortunes around. He discusses the brand’s return to glory, its core tenets and his first Moncler jacket as a teenager

The Moncler Mogul: Remo Ruffini

Remo Ruffini famously rescued French winter jacket maker Moncler from near-bankruptcy, completely turning the heritage brand’s fortunes around. He discusses the brand’s return to glory, its core tenets and his first Moncler jacket as a teenager

People > Business Insider


The Moncler Mogul

May 27, 2016 / by Zhang Mengyi

You took over Moncler in 2003 when it had only one jacket. Now it’s an international fashion statement. How has Moncler evolved since you awakened this sleeping brand?

We’ve done a lot in the last 13 years, but we still have a lot to do. I want to make the jackets even lighter, keeping the perfect balance between performance and style. I really do not like the term fashion, where everything is related to trends and is so seasonal. Fashion, for me, is first of all creativity and consistency in creating long-lasting, quality products. 

You started your own label, New England, before you bought Moncler. From that experience, what helped you most when you came on board?

I have always been very curious and very attracted by what surrounds me. When I founded New England, I not only worked on the creative side, but I also approached all the aspects related to the business, too. I’ve learned a lot since then – and experience gave me the chance to do exactly what I aimed to do.

The brand delved deeper into fashion territory with the launch of Moncler Gamme Rouge in 2006, Moncler Gamme Bleu in 2009 and Moncler Grenoble in 2010. You’ve presented your collections at various fashion weeks. But you keep saying that Moncler is not keen to be in the fashion system. 

It’s true – I always say, “We have to survive fashion.” I want to create value starting with the product; that, to me, is the most important topic. The future of a company, in my opinion, is linked to the knowledge and the perception of the brand. It could happen that you have a rise, in terms of a turnaround, but it’s more important to have the growth of knowledge. People only knew Moncler as a puffy jacket – until they came to the point where they found the brand’s real value, recognisable as a quality choice. That’s the kind of investment that assures a strong base for tangible growth.

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Did you have an overall plan to make Moncler a globally recognised brand when you first took over?

The great heritage and history of Moncler is absolutely unique. It’s rare to find a brand with deep roots in tradition. The goal was to bring it into the future, starting from its origins. Our aim was to roll out a “global down-jacket strategy” all over the world. It was very important to communicate that Moncler is a jacket for all occasions. The brand’s evolution has become urban, never renouncing the sporty spirit that is always present in Moncler’s soul. This is what we really wanted from the beginning of this fantastic adventure, starting with a great product and an outstanding history.

You’ve chosen avant-garde designers, including Giambattista Valli and Thom Browne, to interpret the Moncler brand. What was your vision when you decided to work with them?

In all these collaborations, creativity can shine through different interpretations of the Moncler DNA. Everyone I work with – whether a designer, an artist or a photographer – brings his vision or personal touch. But everybody has to work with one central idea in mind and use one mutual language: the Moncler world. With Moncler Gamme Rouge and Moncler Gamme Bleu, I wanted to combine the Moncler universe and its sport origins with the sensibilities of different designers. I wanted to complete the practicality of the classic Moncler down jacket with the sophisticated eclecticism of more precious elements. I think Giambattista Valli and Thom Browne are incredibly talented designers, able to combine a sensibility to couture and tailoring with a good business response; that is exactly what I was looking to create. I believe one of the key reasons for Moncler’s success is the brand’s openness to diverse interpretations.

Moncler is rapidly expanding, with more than 180 stores worldwide. Where are you headed in 2016?

Moncler opened 27 new points of sale during 2015 in some of the most famous international luxury retail locations, including the flagship Tokyo store in Ginza as well as the first stores in two new markets: Macau and Singapore. Our eyes are now on the consolidation of the retail presence in North America, where in the second part of the year, we will be reinforcing our New York presence by opening a second boutique.

Where do you see Moncler developing in Asia over the next five years?

We have done a lot, but as always we want to do more and do it even better. With my team, we are working on important long-term projects all over the world. We strongly believe the Chinese market will continue to be important for us, also with a specific focus on the e-commerce segment. We want to make sure our online presence will even meet the needs of the most demanding clients. 

When we launched our Chinese e-commerce platform, it represented a further phase of expansion in the market. Moncler has maintained a presence there since 2009, when the first Shanghai boutique was inaugurated. Today, our e-boutique must offer a first-rate shopping experience to all customers. And to do so, we are constantly very attentive to the web environment and working with professional teams that help us make sure our customers perceive it to be appropriately secure. In the next year, we also plan to rethink and restructure the entire product offering,
and propose ad hoc content to our Chinese customers, designed to answer specific local needs.

You got your first Moncler jacket when you were 14. What was that like?

I was born in Como, very close to the border with Switzerland. In the winter, when you woke up at seven o’clock in the morning, it was freezing cold and slightly icy outside, and you had to ride a bike to get to school – well, the only thing you dreamed of was something that could keep you warm! So I got a Moncler jacket, at that time very popular among youngsters, and I still remember that first morning I wore it. I felt so comfortable, since I could fight the cold. Since then, Moncler has been close to my heart.

What’s your favourite Moncler item?

I love all the jackets – among them is a lightweight matte-blue down jacket, part of the Moncler Longue Saison collection. It is a model we launched in 2008 and has since become our iconic piece, wearable even in warm weather.

As the CEO and creative director of Moncler, you must be very busy. What’s a typical year for Remo Ruffini?

Over the last ten years, I have worked to build up a strong brand with Moncler. Today, I work in the same way. This is my attitude. I am passionate and I try to do everything the best I can. I like my job, but I enjoy my spare time as well when I am with my family. Through the year, whether I am spending time with them at the sea or up in the mountains, I always try to make sure to dedicate that same energy.

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Treasure Hunter: Christian Deydier

In this exclusive interview over lunch at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, one of the world’s leading Chinese art dealers and gallery owners in Paris, Christian Deydier, talks openly about the industry, its limitations and the sometime debacle of the auction business. He also shares his vast knowledge of ancient Chinese art and his tips on buying. Spirited, direct, audacious and compelling, this exceptional exchange celebrates a grand Chinese art dealer. Deydier is a cultural phenomenon and an art world rarity – but unlike the treasures in his gallery, Monsieur Deydier is not for sale.

Treasure Hunter: Christian Deydier

In this exclusive interview over lunch at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, one of the world’s leading Chinese art dealers and gallery owners in Paris, Christian Deydier, talks openly about the industry, its limitations and the sometime debacle of the auction business. He also shares his vast knowledge of ancient Chinese art and his tips on buying. Spirited, direct, audacious and compelling, this exceptional exchange celebrates a grand Chinese art dealer. Deydier is a cultural phenomenon and an art world rarity – but unlike the treasures in his gallery, Monsieur Deydier is not for sale.

People > Business Insider


Treasure Hunter

April 1, 2016 / by Natacha Riva & Emily Zhang

We heard that you’ve brought Tang sancai [lead-glazed earthenware pottery from the Tang dynasty] to the International Antiques Fair in Hong Kong this time around.

Yes, but Tang sancai is bread and butter; it’s mostly decoration for us in Europe. If you bring some 14th-century porcelain from the Yuan dynasty, or 18th-century porcelain, it’s a different story.

Do you face obstacles as a Westerner in the Chinese art market?

The Chinese think because it’s Chinese art they can understand it better than a foreigner like me. But when you look into the Tang dynasty, there were three million foreigners living in Changsha. And when you look at the sancai pieces today, all those figures are foreigners; look at the clothes they are wearing and compare it to the Chinese at that time. Also, the make-up they were using in Changsha came from Kushan, which was not Chinese at that time; it was a mixture of foreigners.

How do you appraise a piece?

When I see a piece, I touch it and feel it. You can feel the weight, the material, the pattern. When I saw some fake pieces in Hong Kong, people asked: how did I know? I said that the piece burned my fingers, because its patina was made with acid – I felt the burning acid on my finger and I had to wash my hands right away. Also, I can tell if the piece is too heavy or too light, or the material is artificial.

I remember an art dealer invited me to his house to show me an important piece. I said, “It’s fake.” He said, “You haven’t touched it; how do you know?” I said I didn’t know, but I felt right away that something was wrong. And it was a piece the guy studied for three months. Then I took it in my hand and explained why the decoration was wrong. 

When you touch a piece, you can feel its energy. The person who creates something puts all their passion into it, their power and their knowledge, so the piece is alive. When you have a fake, that person just makes a copy. They make sure it looks perfect, but you don’t feel anything. We say “the piece is dead”. Very few dealers are aware of this.

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So what sets you apart?

It’s only a question of knowledge. It’s a good challenge to buy from a top auction house. According to French law, if I buy from a dealer or from an auction house, I don’t have to say what I buy. But if I go to a private collection and I buy something, I have to inform the collector what the piece is and how much it’s worth. In China, it’s different; they can cheat the guys. There are very few real collectors in Mainland China. They don’t know exactly what they are buying; they like to buy in auctions to show off. They buy at crazy prices. And they will lose a lot of money the day they sell.

You must meet different kinds of dealers in this industry.

Yes! Some of them will claim, “I am the best, I am a big deal” – they are so proud of themselves. And then you buy something and they make a big mistake, but they don’t know any better. As soon as a dealer starts to get a little well-known, they think they are a god, that they know everything…

What aspect of an item matters most? Is it exquisite craftsmanship? Rarity? 

It’s all of these things: the quality of the piece made; its rareness of colour, casting and design; how it has been conserved; sometimes also its provenance. But people often buy pieces with a provenance that was faked, even in the 1920s – a collector may not know at that time he bought a fake. In Chinese art, you have lots of fakes; they’ve made fakes since the Song dynasty. In the beginning, they were making reproductions for souvenirs to show off the quality of their ancestors. But by the 1920s, they were making fakes to cheat people. 

What about the auction houses – do they sell fakes?

Yes that can happen! Recently they sold a piece that two or three of us knew was fake, because the guy who made these fakes in 1930s Japan was making two pieces every time. He sold one and kept one, changed something about one design – it was his signature. Every time you see these things in the design, you know it’s this one Japanese dealer who made the fakes. You need to know Chinese art from the Neolithic to the 19th century. You need to know bronze, pottery, sculpture, furniture. Auction houses don’t have deep knowledge, that’s the problem.

You mean even the very famous auction houses?

Yes, of course! In London in the old days, I saw a bronze from the 12th century BC, according to the catalogue. Everything looked perfect, but inside, there was an inscription cast in the bronze – meaning it was made at the same time. But the inscription was in the Mongolian language, which first appeared between the 12th and 14th centuries AD. So how can you explain the writing, supposedly from 2,000 years before that? Maybe it was cast in the 14th, 18th or 19th century AD. One poor collector trusted the auction house and bought the piece; he had just bought a fake.

Describe the collectors in the region.

Most of them are investors. Very few are buying for pleasure in China. In Hong Kong, the first question is always: “How much is it worth? How much can it be worth?”

What’s your relationship with your clients and collectors like?

I’d rather sell to someone who will enjoy it. I don’t want to sell to a guy who says, “I bought this; I paid two million, three million.” After a while, he will put it in a corner and sell out. Some pieces are very rare and important; we have to transfer them to the next generation. When a collector comes to see me, I know if I will sell to him or not. If I don’t like him, I won’t sell to him.

What are your thoughts on the current reality of the Chinese antiques market?

You have two kinds of buyers. The ones who are making investments, because that’s what most of the auction houses are telling them to do – and every time you are in Asia they tell you what is a good investment. But I say art is not for investment. You just have to enjoy it. Art is a pleasure; when you buy, you should not be thinking about how much you will sell it for. You should buy because you like it.

The problem is the auction houses go big on marketing, telling everyone it’s a good investment, when in fact they will lose a lot of money. In the press around Europe, people who bought contemporary art, they said 80% or 90% of the pieces will be worth nothing in 20 years – which is normal. 

Chinese collectors resell pieces after one to three years, so they keep them for a short time. And they don’t put them at home, but in storage. When you look at European antique collectors, they generally keep the pieces from 15 to 25 years, so it’s real collecting. And this, after 15 to 20 years, might be a good investment. 

How about realised gain?

Auction houses are very proud to point to the Mark Rothko painting from [David] Rockefeller. He bought it for US$10,000 [in 1960] and sold it for US$70 million [in 2007]. People forget that was 40-some years ago, when US$10,000 was a huge amount of money – you could buy a building in New York! With US$70 million, you can’t buy that same building today. So it was a huge amount of money, and you have to have taste to buy these pieces and keep them for 40 years. 

It’s why I say that with art, you have buy for passion, for pleasure. If you really want to invest, you have to buy the best quality – because you don’t know if your piece will be worth ten times the price tomorrow or only one-tenth.

What advice would you give to people who are curious and want to collect, but don’t have much money. Where should they start?

Every kind of art and piece can be good. You don’t need US$20 million to collect. I know a top collector who buys impressionist paintings; he recently showed me a small Han figure from the 2nd century, for which he paid US$500, but the quality was exceptional.

What I usually do with new collectors who want to start is take them to a museum. We go and look at bronzes, sculptures, porcelain. Then we go to other exhibitions. Then we discuss all the things they saw and find out what they liked. With this approach, you have a starting point.

Sometimes I like something in the museum, but I don’t know if I will like it at home. One day I bought a piece, took it home and put it on the wall. After a while it was not on the wall but in my office – and six months later, the piece was in the safe. So I made a mistake; I don’t like it. I like to see those paintings in the museum, but it’s not something I want to have in my home. Six months later, I sold it back. 

Through all the years, what’s been your best purchase?

It’s the one I will buy tomorrow, perhaps! I bought a very rare piece one day. I spoke to the guy on the phone and he said he had nothing. When I arrived in this guy’s shop, he opened a box and it was exactly what I wanted. You don’t know why that happens; I have a feeling that those pieces know they have to come to you. Sometimes you miss a piece; people can have regrets. But it also means the piece was not meant for you. 

As a collector, I once bought a bronze from a flea market in Paris. I saw this very rare bronze from the 5th century BC in a shop. I asked, “What is it?” And the guy said, “Oh, it’s a pre-Columbian bronze.” It was cheap and I bought it. It now belongs to a very important collection. I also buy very good pieces in auctions. I bought a piece that they were claiming was broken and very bad quality. Now it’s a national treasure in a Shanghai museum. And that was fun for me!

Images: Christian Deydier

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Perfectly Provocative: Garry Hogarth of Agent Provocateur

Lace lovers rejoice – slinky lingerie brand Agent Provocateur has launched its first stand-alone boutique in Hong Kong. Garry Hogarth, CEO of the London-based company, discusses his plans for making the city even sexier

Perfectly Provocative: Garry Hogarth of Agent Provocateur

Lace lovers rejoice – slinky lingerie brand Agent Provocateur has launched its first stand-alone boutique in Hong Kong. Garry Hogarth, CEO of the London-based company, discusses his plans for making the city even sexier

People > Business Insider

Perfectly Provocative

December 22, 2015 / by Kitty Go / Photo: Edmond Tang

Agent Provocateur has been in Hong Kong for nearly 10 years, yet only just opened its first free-standing store on Central’s On Lan Street. Was this a strategic decision or something more spur of the moment?

For the last five years, we’d been looking for a place on Canton Road – but the rent was unaffordable, so we had to look elsewhere. When we open a shop, we don’t make it a flagship and consider it a marketing cost. We have to find the right place: discreet, fashionable and with lots of cool brands. Now, we have found the right place.

When the brand first opened here, it was located at the back of Lane Crawford in IFC Mall. I was told this was because the market was shy about going into a storefront with a lot of foot traffic. Has this attitude changed in recent years?

It was a great location because it was at the end of the fashion corridor; it was a destination. People are much more open now, but having said that, we still aim to be discreet. Women still don’t like to be seen looking at lingerie. There is more of an acceptance of buying luxury lingerie now, though some countries are different – the Middle East and parts of America, like Texas, for example. We’re looking to open 20 Agent Provocateur shops in the next three years, and 40 of our secondary L’Agent shops over the next five years, in China. We’d wanted to get into China since 2008, but had encountered difficulties with registration.
Finally we got in and, since opening, our business has exceeded expectations. But we’re still cautious about finding the right shops and locations.

How does L’Agent by AP distinguish itself from Agent Provocateur?

L’Agent’s price point is about half that of Agent Provocateur, but it carries the same colours and mood, in different fabrics and with a younger but equally racy style. I was thinking of launching a diffusion line while I was considering the brand’s growth potential. I didn’t want to take Agent Provocateur wholesale because the experience and the ambience were part of the brand. I wondered what would happen if we ran out of stores to open. L’Agent by Penélope and Mónica Cruz came about by coincidence. We’d done ads with Mónica, and she and Penélope wanted to work with us. They’re hard-working, have good taste, bring in vintage pieces, were involved in hangers and tags, did the videos and so on. This is more a collaboration than an endorsement; we have a 10-year deal. We make pieces for celebrities, but we don’t normally associate with them. 

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How does the Agent Provocateur customer in Hong Kong generally compare with your clientele in the rest of the world? 

Our regular customers in Hong Kong shop two or three times a year, but we have regular monthly shoppers all over the world. The majority buy lingerie sets – a bra and panties – then maybe a slip or a robe. Our first London shop opened in 1994 on Broadwick Street in Soho – London’s red-light district. If that didn’t already exist, we would never consider opening there. 

Many people perceive us as something for a special occasion, but we also have many repeat customers who know us and buy our lingerie for everyday use. However, our classics wouldn’t be considered classics for other brands. In reality, we sell to all ages – to a mix of career and aspirational women.

What has changed is that Agent Provocateur has become accepted as a luxury brand. Our peak times are during lunch and after work. It’s a tiny shop and closes at the weekend. Sales are high value and fast, not like Selfridges, which caters to ladies of leisure. Many women, including our lawyer, tell me that wearing Agent Provocateur underneath a suit makes them feel great.

In terms of fabrics, what are your bestsellers? 

Ninety percent of our fabrics come from France. Lace is our bestseller, then satin and silk. Those who wear our pieces understand the quality. It’s like the difference between acrylic and cashmere. After you wear it, it’s impossible to wear anything else. 

How do you decide when and where to open new shops? 

Our plan is to open 20 shops a year worldwide, but we do a lot of research. We’re aware of retail adjacencies, and talk to other retailers like Jimmy Choo and Alexander McQueen. They let us know what’s available and tell us they want us around because we have the same customers. We work well in an area where there are shoe retailers, especially in Russia and Los Angeles.

If I know a shoe store’s profits, I can estimate that our profits will be about 80% of theirs. We look at luxury malls worldwide. They provide information like composites, sales per square metre and so on. Then we do feasibility studies, factoring in wages and the payback. 

It’s quite scientific, but we’re still very careful. We won’t pay for a location with crazy key money. We are cautious, yet happy to be around the corner – like in Paris, where we’re on Rue Cambon rather than on Rue Saint Honoré.

What plans do you have for further expansion – or, thinking of your five fragrances, for any future brand extensions?

In 2009, we launched Soirée, a demi-couture line that’s our most expensive collection to date. For us, any brand extensions will always have to be lingerie-inspired. 

We’re launching sunglasses, and five pink and five red lipsticks – because an Agent Provocateur girl always wears lipstick. We also have a collaboration with shoe designer Charlotte Olympia, featuring bras incorporating her iconic spider’s web.

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On My Watch: Jean-Marc Pontroué of Roger Dubuis

Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO of Geneva watchmaker Roger Dubuis, discusses the importance of Asia to the world of haute horlogerie, the growing ladies’ watch sector and his favourite timepiece

On My Watch: Jean-Marc Pontroué of Roger Dubuis

Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO of Geneva watchmaker Roger Dubuis, discusses the importance of Asia to the world of haute horlogerie, the growing ladies’ watch sector and his favourite timepiece

People > Business Insider


On My Watch

November 20, 2015 / by Leona Galluci

Could you describe the spirit of the Roger Dubuis brand?

This year, we set out to establish that we are the pioneers of contemporary skeleton movements. For many years, these were rather traditional and we really are the first to demonstrate that they don’t have to be conservative – they can be contemporary. We’re the first in this new territory. 

What image do you want Roger Dubuis to present in the market?

In the watch business, it’s crucial to be where it’s all happening – and Hong Kong is the shopping destination for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of tourists. It’s a window, and you can build the best windows in cities where you see both local people and tourists. It’s Asia’s hub. Paris, London and Milan are the hubs in Europe, and Dubai is the hub for the Middle East. Those are the world cities where you build your distribution network. Roger Dubuis is firmly in the high-end segment. When we have a stage, it cannot be a small counter in the middle of nowhere. 

When you say high-end, how much are the most expensive models?

The Excalibur Quatuor, with four balance wheels, is quite an aggressive contemporary design and is priced at about 500,000 euros. The Minute Repeater is at a similar price point, but is more of a classical design.

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Give us an overview of the brand’s China strategy.

We work in China for the local market and for the millions of tourists travelling around the world. For us, China is the number one market – when we’re talking about the Chinese population, we include those who travel to Switzerland, Paris and Hong Kong. Our Chinese headquarters is in Shanghai, including our after-sales service for customers who return from overseas and need assistance with their watches. 

Chinese people often don’t realise that purchasing products from brands without China-based service centres can lead to problems. If they need to return their watches to Switzerland, they won’t really want to entrust their high-value timepieces to the care of a local dealer. 

As China’s anti-corruption campaign continues, how do you see it affecting the high-end sector?

We sell emotions and dreams rather than watches. If you consider contemporary art, it’s expensive, but there hasn’t been a slowdown. There’s been no drop in luxury car sales, either. 

If we were to lose business in Hong Kong, we would gain some in Singapore and Tokyo. Roger Dubuis is a globally distributed brand, not focused in any one country, and the majority of our sales are to people who are travelling.

It’s always good to put things in perspective. Yes, there might be a slight decline in Hong Kong sales, but it’s important to remember where Hong Kong watch sales were 10 years ago – there have been huge increases. 

Anti-corruption drives, slowing business – these are all part of a cycle in our industry. Consider the luxury industry as a whole; it has its difficulties. Instead of looking back over the past 12 to 18 months, assessing the last five years presents a far more accurate picture.    

How have you seen Chinese clients evolve over the years?

The high-end segment of the Chinese population is now very much looking for niche brands. They don’t want to be seen with the mass-market, global brands that everybody else has. Any customer can request a visit, and we tell them the Roger Dubuis story and show them what
we do.  

The reason our pieces are the prices they are is not because we are a luxury brand – that doesn’t mean anything. We are a Geneva-made brand; in our industry, that means we develop, prototype and produce our own movements. We don’t buy an item from somewhere else and claim to have manufactured it. The value and authenticity of the mark “Made in Geneva” is far greater than that of “Swiss Made”.

What have been the biggest shifts in the world of haute horlogerie? 

It’s what you do on a daily basis, reinventing dreams; it’s how you develop stories with depth. The biggest issue today is that mass-market brands are also highly creative and innovative. 

This means how you develop your organisation is important, because the competition is also making rapid progress. These days, it’s not good enough to think that because we’re using diamonds we can charge ten times more. We have to bring additional value in terms of concept, spirit and authenticity; this is what brings pleasure to people who invest in exclusive complications.

What traits do the world’s leading fine watchmakers share? 

Differentiation. There are 700 watch brands in Switzerland. When we are developing products, marketing and so on, we always look at what others are doing. If anyone else is doing something similar, we won’t do it. Our work must be original.

Where do you see Roger Dubuis growing in the next few years?  

We believe the ladies’ watch sector is highly promising. For many years, haute horlogerie has mainly targeted men. Now women are becoming increasingly interested in watches, and their interest goes deeper than merely diamonds and mechanical watches. At SIHH 2016, our entire presence will be dedicated to ladies’ watches.

Do you have a personal favourite Roger Dubuis model? 

My favorite timepiece is the Excalibur Star of Infinity. I’m privileged to see all the watches at the factory, but I always come back to this one. I feel I’m missing something if I’m without it. There’s no dial, so the watchmakers have to make movements of beauty. It’s like a car engine. Usually it’s covered by the bonnet, but here we create a movement in such a way that it looks balanced and has a defined shape – it’s a star. That’s crucial to the movement, otherwise the components would fall apart.

In fact, the brand’s most iconic model worldwide is the Excalibur. Is it equally as popular in Asia?

Yes; what is iconic always remains iconic.

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Mille’s Ahead: Richard Mille

Horological innovator Richard Mille on Chinese tastes, watch-industry conservatism, and why he really loves what he does

Mille’s Ahead: Richard Mille

Horological innovator Richard Mille on Chinese tastes, watch-industry conservatism, and why he really loves what he does

People > Business Insider

Mille’s Ahead 

September 25, 2015 / by Natacha Riva

You opened in Macau last year. What perception do you have of the place now?

The response of both the public who didn’t know us and existing Richard Mille clients has been exceptionally enthusiastic. The boutique embodies our commitment to Macau and shows our dedication to customer support. Since my watches are in a world of their own, I am also happy to be able to create a real Richard Mille experience with an environment for everyone to participate in, especially in such a top location.

How would you describe the Richard Mille brand?

One of the best: extremely comfortable to wear, sexy design, 21st-century, cutting-edge and yet steeped in Swiss watchmaking tradition.

What’s the greatest challenge for Richard Mille over the next year? And what is your major goal?

There is no one single challenge for me in a given year, actually; the ever-present challenge at the heart of the matter is to keep producing watches at the level I do. It all looks so easy to the outside world, but if you knew the hours and patience it takes to create innovation regularly, you would be dumbfounded. Walking on the edge of the future all the time never gets easier, only more and more difficult with each passing year.

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You attended Watches&Wonders 2014. How important was the event to you? 

Watches & Wonders started only three years ago, but in a short time frame it has become an extremely important venue for us. We do everything we can to make it a fantastic event, not only presenting all our novelties but also new worldwide releases specifically produced to premiere in Hong Kong. It is the perfect opportunity to keep our RM family in Asia in close contact with us every year.  

Do Chinese consumers react differently to your watches from clients in the west? Has anything surprised you about the differences?

It is hard to generalise, but perhaps one can say that Chinese tastes are more broad, more varied than elsewhere. For instance, you see men in China wearing watches with diamonds, or flower-inspired pieces like the RM 19-02 Tourbillon Fleur. Tastes like these are shaped by millennia of history and culture, and cannot be transposed to other locations in the world.

What’s the most obstructive or limiting factor of working in the watch world?

I have a philosophical answer: fear. Sometimes, among customers, or even suppliers and partners, people can be scared by a cutting-edge approach. It takes guts to give your all to expand a horizon, and we all have a human tendency to stick to what we know. My brand is based on Swiss traditions, but is constantly busy defining and exploring the future. For that reason, some people get it right away and become fans of my timepieces, while some wait and meditate on it, and perhaps later become part of the RM experience when they are ready for it. It is all based on human emotions. Personally, in everything I do, including my watches, I never consider being safe; my only interest is to go forward and never look back.

Apple Watch – what impact has it had and would you ever wear one? 

It is too early to place these new products in a segment, as their nature and use remain very undefined. I think for some people, the Apple Watch might be a good and useful thing, and for others not at all. Do you really want to be connected all the time: when drinking a fantastic wine in a restaurant, or when you are in a museum or enjoying the company of good friends? Comparing an Apple Watch to haute horlogerie timepieces is not relevant. However, without a doubt in the lower price segments these kinds of digital watches will certainly break the back of many brands. That being said, the lack of good battery power and the limited differentiation compared to a regular mobile phone severely limit digital smartwatches at this time. I personally had one on my wrist for a certain period of time, but I found in the end that it was not practical at all.

Richard Mille seems a very masculine brand. Do you support any female sporting icons? 

We began by being the major partner in golf's Lacoste Ladies Open tournament and a supporter of golf champion Diana Luna, who was the brand’s first female sports partner. Now we also work with the presenter and journalist Sarah Stirk and the golf star Cristie Kerr. There will be more female sports stars in the future, too. It complements and balances our connections with female stars from the worlds of film and fashion such as Natalie Portman and Michelle Yeoh. 

Would you sponsor the Macau Grand Prix, or step up your involvement in Macau in a similar way?

There are many possibilities for us, and one can never know what the future might bring, but in any case we will have some special events for Macau and very likely some new timepieces to celebrate this event – but let’s talk about that in Macau.

How do you assess the nascent progress of Formula E, which uses electric cars, and which you sponsor? 

I think it is going extremely well. Awareness has been raised of this new branch of motorsport. None of us can say goodbye to our wonderful fossil fuel-driven cars just yet, but we must all accept that the future is going to be quite different 50 or 100 years from now. So it is exciting for me to be a part of these early 21st century developments. Maybe in 100 years, people will smile at our efforts, just as we smile when we look at old races from 1910, but for me it is important to be a supporting pioneer in these new developments.

How many watches does your company make each year? 

We increase production slowly, in an organic manner; right now it is about 3,000. This means we are really creating very low production numbers compared to the grand houses that produce 40,000 or 50,000 timepieces each year. I have no plans to increase production to high levels because I want to preserve quality and ensure the exclusivity my customers expect.

What’s the best single piece of business advice anyone ever gave you?

Stop thinking about it and go and do it. Be driven by your passion.

What’s left for Richard Mille to achieve? What drives your ambition?

It's simple: I love the life I lead, I love my work, I love my racing cars – I enjoy it all, every minute of every day. I even enjoy the things that will happen tomorrow or next year, before I even know what they might be. What more can anyone ask for in this life?

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Let’s Dance: Jean-Marc Gaucher of Repetto

Jean-Marc Gaucher has repositioned historic, glamorous Parisian ballet-shoe maker Repetto as a vibrant global footwear brand

Let’s Dance: Jean-Marc Gaucher of Repetto

Jean-Marc Gaucher has repositioned historic, glamorous Parisian ballet-shoe maker Repetto as a vibrant global footwear brand

People > Business Insider

Lets Dance

August 28, 2015 / by Natacha Riva

Describe the Repetto brand in a sentence.

A brand that wants to make women feel good.

What has surprised you most since you entered the Hong Kong market? How has your perception of the place and its people changed?

The growing impact of digital media has changed the way people approach brands. Our brand and our products can be known worldwide before we even open a store. To women, this brings the same type of magic as a tutu in the front window of a store.

The number of foreigners in Hong Kong means there are fewer differences in our brand perception [from in the West] compared to, for example, China.

Tell us about China. You’ve been biding your time, but now you’re on a push there. What can we expect to see happen over the next couple of years?

China, as with the US, is a huge market. Firstly, if you make a mistake in a large country it is difficult to recover. Secondly, we had to link up with the best possible partner; we’re partnering with Swire. Thirdly, our products are made in France; we aren’t in a position to grow faster than our production capacity. Don’t forget we’ve seen our revenues multiply 12-fold in 10 years. As an independent company we are not in a position to rush. We will grow if we do things well, but it’s not my vision to see growth for growth’s sake. In the next two years, I want to see people in China falling in love with our brand.

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You were with a multinational sports-shoe company before Repetto. How did that help or hinder you when you arrived at Repetto?

The sports industry had a limited focus on sports only until the early ’80s. Starting from this narrow platform it became a global industry in which the consumer market now accounts for 95% of revenue. Repetto started as a dance brand in 1947; now we offer flats, heels, trainers, leather bags, ready-to-wear and perfume. My sports-industry experience gave me a wider approach, an understanding of the possibilities of a strong brand, which is what we are. Reebok was the first company to achieve $1 billion of revenue in one year; Nike reached $7 billion this last fiscal quarter. Nothing is impossible; this is the way I think – not in terms of size but of possibilities.

Why did you wait so long before entering the US? 

We source our products in France, so we had to open a school and train new employees as craftsmen, and this is not an overnight job. Quality and French manufacturing, the “Made in France” epithet, are important for us; we had to make some choices and we chose to first penetrate the Asian market. I think our brand philosophy is closer to Asia than to the US, though we are now ready to enter the US and are opening our first store, in New York, in September.

What’s your definition of luxury?

For a long time luxury was unique expertise, quality, and brands that had pedigree in a specialist area: travel, for example, for Louis Vuitton. Since the early 2000s, creation and communication have become important elements for luxury brands.

Repetto was struggling when you took over. How many people does the company employ now compared to when you arrived?

We now have over 350 employees in France and about 800 around the world. In 2000, there were only 53 staff.

Repetto has established a foundation: what does it do and how can people get involved? 

For any company to survive it has to make a profit, but for me it’s not enough to merely make a profit for the sake of it. We have to do something with it: to give something back.

So on our 60th anniversary in 2007 we established the foundation Danse Pour la Vie (Dance for Life), to support dance schools around the world, to give them dance equipment and help young dancers who can’t afford such products to live their passion. Any school can benefit from the foundation as long as they have been established for a few years, are managed by dance professionals and provide scholarships for children. The foundation not only helps young dancers but also helps Repetto feel good about itself.

You’ve started a school for training craftsmen in the art of leather and shoe making in France, from which Hermès, JM Weston and others can source craftsmen. What prompted this initiative?

Primarily, the need to support the growth of our own company, but also many manufacturers of luxury products come from France, so why not take this opportunity? It’s an excellent way for me to take responsibility for educating Repetto’s craftsmen of the future. For anyone looking for a real profession it is a beautiful opportunity to learn and practise an outstanding job as a craftsman. I suggested some other brands might like to join us in this venture, and this is the result.

Who designs Repetto ballerinas? 

Our long-time designer, Olivier Jault, but he now works alongside other designers: Eugène Riconneaus is a name to remember.

You’ve branched out into bags and perfume. What’s the next step for Repetto? 

To make all of this work worldwide. To be seen as a unique brand, with a unique positioning and heritage in dance.

Russia is steeped in ballet culture. Have any of the legendary Russian dancers such as Rudolph Nureyev or Sergei Polunin ever worn Repetto ballet shoes?

All of them. Madame Repetto was the mother of Roland Petit, the famous choreographer, and he invited all his friends to experience his mother’s products. We are particularly proud of having had such incredible people around at the birth of our brand.

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Crystal Clear: Nadja Swarovski

On her company’s 120th anniversary, Nadja Swarovski discusses the brand’s glittering designer past and its ever-evolving future

Crystal Clear: Nadja Swarovski

On her company’s 120th anniversary, Nadja Swarovski discusses the brand’s glittering designer past and its ever-evolving future

People > Business Insider

Crystal Clear

July 10, 2015 / by Natacha Riva

How important is it for you to find and collaborate with the next big Chinese designer and what have you done to accomplish that? 

The Asia Pacific market is very important to Swarovski so seeking out, supporting and collaborating with the region’s most exciting creative talents is a priority.

Fashion has been experiencing an eastward tilt, and we are proud to have collaborated with Chinese-born designers like Masha Ma, Yiqing Yin, and Huishan Zhang as part of our fashion initiative the Swarovski Collective. Masha Ma and Huishan Zhang also created catwalk jewellery pieces for our Runway Rocks show in Shanghai in 2013. In jewellery, we collaborated with Wang Peiyi, who created his first collection for Atelier Swarovski last year. 

We find many of our emerging design talents through our support programmes with global design schools like Central Saint Martins in London, Parsons School of Design in New York, and Donghua and Tsinghua Universities in China. In 2012 we opened an office in Singapore specifically to work closely with the Asian design community. Our aim is to support them in building a sustainable business and providing them with an opportunity to fulfil their creative potential.

In retrospect, can you isolate one thing you did, which changed how Swarovski was perceived? What was it, and how and when did it happen? 

The brand is constantly evolving, when we started working with Alexander McQueen we immediately knew that something revolutionary was going to happen. I was first introduced to him in the late ’90s by Isabella Blow, and we started collaborating on his collections and shows straight away. He brought this incredible curiosity and energy to every project he touched, and really challenged us with our own innovations. Upon discovering our crystal mesh product he had a flash of inspiration and saw how it could be draped around the body and worn as a garment. Suddenly everybody else wanted to use it as a material. That sense of adventure and innovation with crystals was something we then channelled into the Swarovski Collective, which has now been supporting emerging fashion talent for over 15 years. We wouldn’t be collaborating with that next generation of designers like Mary Katrantzou, Rodarte and Iris Van Herpen today if it were not for Alexander McQueen.

Do you have any philanthropic causes? 

Philanthropy lies at the heart of our mission at Swarovski. Our founder, my great-great-grandfather Daniel Swarovski, had strong humanitarian instincts and believed passionately in supporting the community, promoting culture and protecting the environment. This philosophy has been part of our DNA ever since and one was of the reasons we founded the Swarovski Foundation in 2012. The Foundation supports culture and creativity, health and wellbeing, as well as protecting the environment.

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Do you approach designers or do they approach you? 

Creativity is essential in terms of the evolution of our product and its use in design; therefore we collaborate with artistic talents who have a genuine love for our product and the ability to push the boundaries of creativity, design and innovation. Our relationships are organic. It might happen through a recommendation, being approached directly, or I may read about a designer and think, we have to work together. 

What further ‘lifestyle’ plans do you have for the Swarovski brand? 

Swarovski has always been a design-driven company, which values innovation and creativity as much as its heritage of craftsmanship and expertise. When I joined the family business in the ’90s, my aim was to position Swarovski at the forefront of design and consumer trends by creating new products with crystal which were relevant to the consumer. We have achieved this by forging close relationships with designers in the fashion, jewellery, architecture, design and entertainment industries who drive our product innovation. We are constantly evolving and diversifying our product range.

We all have mentors or those who inspire us. In business, today, whose actions do you follow most closely, and whose work ethos do you most admire? 

My first mentor was my grandfather, Manfred Swarovski. I grew up hearing stories about his work with Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, and he was really my inspiration when I joined the company. He understood the importance of putting our crystals in the hands of great designers and working collaboratively with them, and I wanted to do the same.

Eleanor Lambert, my first boss in the fashion industry, was also a tremendous inspiration to me. She was already in her nineties when I worked for her, and she had an incredible knowledge of the fashion and luxury goods industry as well as foresight in creating, and being on trend, and a rare ability to connect people.

This April Swarovski partnered with Condé Nast on its first International Luxury Conference in Florence. It was a pleasure to share a platform with so many inspiring leaders from across the worlds of luxury and technology, such as Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Newson, Alber Elbaz and Tory Burch.

Swarovski celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. What would you highlight as the key moments of those years? What are the greatest hits?

It is difficult to pinpoint a single moment within the past 120 years. My great-great-grandfather Daniel Swarovski laid the foundation when he invented his crystal cutting machine and moved from Bohemia to Wattens in 1895. He travelled to Paris in the following years to work with the city’s first haute couture houses. That spirit of innovation and creative collaboration has continued to this day, and was perfectly captured in the famous Aurora Borealis effect created for Christian Dior in the ’50s. Jewellery has been hugely important to our business, so it has been rewarding to watch Atelier Swarovski our luxury fashion, jewellery and accessory collection develop since we first founded the brand in 2007. Finally, the expansion and reopening of Kristallwelten this April was an amazing way to celebrate the company’s history as we look to our future.

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Moving with the Time: Bonnae Gokson

China Daily talks exclusively with Hong Kong lifestyle entrepreneur Bonnae Gokson

Moving with the Time: Bonnae Gokson

China Daily talks exclusively with Hong Kong lifestyle entrepreneur Bonnae Gokson

People > Business Insider

Moving with the Time

May 29, 2015

Why did you establish Sevva?  When did the idea crystallize in your mind and who were you with when it did?

I was raised in a family who loved entertaining, food and all the finer things of life. My grandfather built his luxurious department store in the late 20s - 30s in the grand old days of Shanghai. My sister, Joyce Ma, then built her fashion empire introducing the top, the most sought after designer names in fashion today. I was my sister’s right-hand woman and we started the finest, the trendiest of homeware stores and florists within the flagship store. That’s how I started to get into hospitality when I was asked to create cafe-restaurants in our stores. Joyce Cafes were, again, an instant success. Then, after my many years in fashion, there came the time and opportunity following a sabbatical from my last fashion career as Regional Chief of Image & Communications for Chanel Asia Pacific. 

Somehow, I had to make another decision about what I wanted to do and the idea for Sevva came to me.

Ms B’s Cakery - where did the idea come from?

The cakes and sweets had been very successful at Sevva with many orders each day.  However, our bakery section was too tiny to handle all requests and with much encouragement and our cakes winning endless compliments, I decided it was time to expand into the “cakery”.       

To what extent is your confectionary at Ms B’s Cakery either Asian or French?  

We have been making custom-made cakes for special events and weddings for some time now and our clients simply love them.  Most of their feedback is that not only do the cakes look beautiful but they are really delicious. I suppose our cakes are for those who enjoy food, who appreciate the difference between quality and run-of-the-mill, who appreciate something original.  And who like the finer things in life.  

There are quite a few signature items for sure,… names are chosen for humour and fun... for example: Better Than Sex, Madame Butterfly, Paradise and so on.  

Ms B’s Cakery items are extremely well thought out from their taste and texture, right down to their artistic presentation. They evoke the warmth and comfort of a lovingly created homemade cake.  They are not the usual – “cookie-cutter-mould” type of cake which is very much in vogue in HK.  Their creation reflects a passion for unique flavour and texture combinations... even a work of art at times. Everything is made from scratch with care and with premium quality natural ingredients sourced from all over the world.  Another special thing is that I design my own sugar flowers and sugar art, which is so delicate and totally sets us apart. 

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How did your Beijing collaboration with LV come about?  

Louis Vuitton represents the best in craftsmanship and luxury and their fine reputation for ever evolving fashion and lifestyle creations. Naturally, I am certain those with whom they choose to collaborate must also have stellar reputations.

What a great honour to be teaming up with Louis Vuitton China - the most successful and prominent brand in the world.  It certainly is a wonderful opportunity for my staff and I to take up this challenge in showcasing my products and brand in Beijing!   Definitely a major highlight to start the year!! 

How do you define luxury? 

Luxury is quite a big word these days.  In fashion, I would regard this as having the best and highest quality materials and workmanship in making whatever the item is.  Something luxuriously made - not mass-produced. 

In living, luxury is having fresh clean air to breathe, having good quality produce to eat, clean, high-pH water to drink, having a beautiful living environment and meticulous service staff to care for all the details at home.

Luxury is also having the freedom to go anywhere one chooses and live life in contentment.

For me personally, these daysluxury is also being able to spend quality time with the people I love. Life is short and with a blink of the eye, it very soon flies by.

What about cosmetics. Are you tempted to set up in that industry, with a high-end offering?

I have had the pleasure of choosing anything I wanted to have, or do, in my life so far. Although I use many types of cosmetics and like trying new products, I would not want to attempt to go into a business I don’t know too much about, and I just enjoy using them – that’s fine for me.

What are the key factors to your success?  

I like to keep abreast of the world’s trends and interesting travel destinations; from a young age I’ve been brought up in the luxury fashion business, understanding fine hospitality and different cultures.  At this stage of my life, all the knowledge and exposure I have accumulated through the years has helped me excel in my business – for which I still have a lot of passion.  I may not look it, but I am still very driven and interested in moving with the times. 

I work non-stop, but most of the time, I enjoy the work and creations I do, so I don’t really consider it work.  It’s quite effortless and natural for me to create and delegate to my team. Furthermore, I bring a lot of integrity and responsibility into my business and am very much hands-on.  Perhaps, the reason behind our success is that people notice all these little details that I’ve put in which set us apart. When you’re successful at what you love, I suppose, it’s a great feeling!

If you could change one of your characteristics, what would it be?  

To be more diplomatic and not so outspoken!

Who gave you the best business advice you ever received?  

My family.

Do you collect art, if so, what type?

Yes. I love modern art and antique pieces of sterling silver. I like semi-precious stone platters and bowls. And love Cy Twombly, Vik Muniz, Francis Bacon, and many more...

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Dazzling Secret: Jérôme de Lavergnolle of Saint-Louis

Saint-Louis CEO Jérôme de Lavergnolle tells China Daily Lifestyle Premium how the historic French cristallerie is still blazing a trail after four centuries

Dazzling Secret: Jérôme de Lavergnolle of Saint-Louis

Saint-Louis CEO Jérôme de Lavergnolle tells China Daily Lifestyle Premium how the historic French cristallerie is still blazing a trail after four centuries

People > Business Insider

Dazzling Secret

April 24, 2015

Founded in 1586 in Lorraine, eastern France, Saint-Louis is the oldest cristallerie (glass and crystal maker) in Europe. Purveyors to 18th century French kings, Saint-Louis vases, pots, table and glassware were keenly sought and its trademark paperweights collected by Empress Eugenie, Queen Victoria, and Napoleon III. The cristallerie made its first crystal chandeliers in 1836, and by 1893, the King of Nepal ordered several four-metre-high candelabras, each comprising almost two thousand parts and weighing 800kg. Today, its wine and cocktail glasses adorn tables ranging from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in England, to Prince Albert in Monaco. And from Paris, London and Moscow, to Beijing, Macau and New York, Saint-Louis’ newly customizable crystal chandeliers grace restaurants, fashion boutiques, castles and mansions alike.

Saint-Louis is one of the world’s oldest glassmakers, isn’t it?

This year is our 429th anniversary.  We started in 1586, when Henry III still had three more years to live. We got our name from Louis XV.

Saint-Louis is owned by Hermès.

Yes. We’re two different companies, two different brands, but we share the same values, the same commitment to craftsmanship and quality. Several things would surprise you if you visited our factory. First, the average age of our craftsmen is 35. Second, would be the most impressive level of craftsmanship. We still work as we worked in the 19th century. There are no machines.

Do you often collaborate with Hermès?

We are also a subcontractor for Hermès.  All Hermès crystal is made by Saint-Louis. Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director at Hermès has the final sign off on our products. We collaborate with 12 other Hermès departments. We do clocks, for example.

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Like the Atmos?

Correct. Two years ago, Hermès launched an amazing product. It was amazing because of Saint-Louis. Let me explain. The globe is a combination of white enamel and clear crystal, which is very difficult to make. It is mouth-blown, hand-cut and uses double overlay, which is layers of glass coated on top of each other, and then cut away. It is incredibly precise. Called Atmos, it was limited edition and sold out immediately. Likewise, we’ve done limited edition watches with Hermès.

Is the chandelier market subject to trends?

People want more customization, more flexibility, a more hand-made product. For instance, a British lord came to us and wanted a chandelier with 72 lights. He wanted something that would be a talking point with his guests. But you need a certain size room for such a chandelier. So, we’ve started making glass-blown horizontal chandeliers. This is why people come to Saint-Louis. We can listen to an idea for a design and try to create it, but only if we’re proud of the product. If it doesn’t fit our brand, we won’t do it.

Can you tell us about your new Royal collection?

Yes, it was launched in January at the Maison & Objet trade fair. It will be available in boutiques by mid-July. It’s a new version of our classic chandelier. When you buy a classic chandelier, you buy it for life, but these days most people change them. We wanted to offer different options. We vary the number of lights, gems, pendants or hurricanes. Customers can also choose their preferred colours; it doesn’t have to be clear. You can customize, as with couture.

What is the largest chandelier Saint-Louis has ever made?

The biggest was nine-metres high and weighed 2.5 tons, we made it for a private client in Moscow, Russia.

Saint-Louis chandeliers grace MGM Macau, don’t they?

Yes, we’ve done several chandeliers for them. For the bar, we made a 56-light black chandelier.  In the ballroom they have an 82-light version, and they have others.

What percentage of your business is for commercial properties?

We don’t work with developers. We work with their interior designers, or we speak to the end-users, who bring their own interior architects and designers to help. With chandeliers customers are always end-users.

Does Saint-Louis still make perfume bottles?

We used to. We have made some for other brands. It’s always for a limited edition. Customers who buy our bottles buy their own custom-made perfume from Parisian perfumers. However, we do make bespoke bottles for private customers.

Do you collaborate with artists and designers?

Collaboration is in our blood. Internally, we use Patrick Neu. He’s very famous. When the Pompidou Museum opened in Metz, they asked Neu for three of his pieces, which are displayed between works by Chagall and Picasso. We have an in-house designer who was also invited by the Chinese government to be resident at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing.

Jean Sala, one of the most talented glass artists of the Art Deco era, made vases for Saint-Louis and perfume bottles for Lancôme in the 1930s.  Also Jean Luce, a ceramicist and glassmaker. He designed porcelain and glass for the ocean liner SS Normandie in 1935.

Crystal and wine go hand in hand. Do you work with any renowned French wine estates like Château Latour?

That’s a good question, but tricky! Ask me again in September, and you’ll see something you’ve never seen on the market before in terms of wine tasting. On the subject of new products, we’re also launching a table lamp at the Salon Mobile in Milan, called Quartz. It’s different from anything we’ve ever done before.

Saint-Louis, G/F, 3 Yun Ping Road, China Taiping Tower, Causeway Bay (saint-louis.com)