No such thing as affordable luxury

Updated: 2012-11-18 08:00

By Gan Tian(China Daily)

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 No such thing as affordable luxury

Brunello Cucinelli describes his cashmere creations as "sporty chic". Photos Provided to China Daily

Cashmere designer Brunello Cucinelli tells Gan Tian that China's luxury market is growing because its people want exclusive items and service.

Cashmere designer Brunello Cucinelli believes he is reversing the tide of history and introducing Italian lifestyles to the East. The Italian was attending the opening of his label's flagship store in Shanghai, where he recounted the stories of Marco Polo and Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, who he says long ago introduced Asian lifestyles to Italy.

The 58-year-old created a series of brightly colored cashmere sweaters for women in the 1970s, which created a scene at the time. Now his collection includes cardigans, V-neck sweaters and pants - all made from the wool of goats.

He describes his creations as "sporty chic" and they are popular among celebrities such as the United Kingdom's Prince William and singer/songwriter Craig David.

"Chinese people like cashmere. I've never met anyone who doesn't like cashmere here. The question is, sometimes it can be very expensive," Cucinelli says.

"That is what I want to introduce to Chinese consumers: high-quality and high-craftsmanship products."

When he started his label in 1985, Cucinelli bought an old castle in his wife's hometown, Solomeo. He restored the 600-year-old property, converting it into the headquarters of his cashmere company.

Cucinelli believes the world's best cashmere comes from Inner Mongolia autonomous region. But as a ready-to-wear designer, Cucinelli does not deal directly with Chinese raw material producers.

"There are fabric companies in Italy buying raw materials from China. We buy fabrics directly from them, but we also apply our techniques, such as dyeing, knitting and weaving."

He first visited Beijing in 1989, when the country was in the middle of huge changes due to reform and opening-up. However, it was two decades later, in 2009, when he opened his first boutique store in China. The designer says, "It was a new country that I could not even recognize".

When Cucinelli was young, he had a fashionable neighbor who would often fly to Paris to shop and this sort of person became a template for his ideal client.

He believes such people enjoy flying to fashionable places, like Paris, Milan or Miami, because of the lively atmosphere there.

"Large numbers of Russians jet in to buy products in Milan. This is going to happen to China," Cucinelli says.

Currently, 4 percent of Brunello Cucinelli's sales are made in China, but the company estimates about 1.5 percent of the company's products are bought by Chinese tourists in shopping centers like Milan and Paris.

Cucinelli says this number is "quite interesting", because it indicates a dynamic market. He adds that he hopes Chinese tourists will comprise 4 to 6 percent of sales within three to four years.

"We will take really good care of tourists because it is a key business of ours, especially those from China, who are becoming more sophisticated."

His company currently has nine boutiques in China. He has also expanded to second-tier cities like Chengdu and Dalian, but the next store opening will be another outlet in Beijing.

"We want to deal with the Chinese market very carefully, very exclusively, in terms of products," Gucinelli says.

"Luxury is very exclusive. I don't think that you can say accessible or affordable luxury. Otherwise, it is not luxury at all," he adds.

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(China Daily 11/18/2012 page13)