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Diane von Furstenberg on Fashion’s China Invasion

Every luxury brand in the world has their sights set on fashion’s new frontier-China. The country’s class of financial elites is growing and expanding at a record pace which means China’s “new rich” are seeking and establishing status symbols through the consumption of luxury fashion goods. Recently, Wall Street Journal’s Deborah Kan sat down to talk to famed designer Diane von Furstenberg about fashion’s expansion into the East and the industry’s dubbing of the “Chinese Decade,” which accordingly to Ms. Furstenberg, may very well turn into the Chinese Century. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation:

 

Diane von Furstenberg at the Red Ball in Shanghai
photo credits: Getty Images
The Wall Street Journal: Five years ago, you were just firing up your engine inside China. Since then, it seems like every major fashion label is going full speed ahead inside China. Do you think this next decade is the China decade?
Ms. von Furstenberg: I think it will be more than a decade. It will probably be the China century. It’s amazing. I always was fascinated with China, because I was born in Europe, and for us, China had this fascination and mystery. The first time I came here was in 1989. They were on bicycles, and the speed of the growth has been incredible.
WSJ: You’ve opened stores in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. What’s your vision for your business in China?
DVF: We are here to stay and grow. I didn’t want to come as the colonizer—I wanted to come and understand the culture and make friends, which is what I did. Last year we had an exhibition in Beijing where I incorporated Chinese artists, so I hope to think I do that a little bit differently. But I love being here, and really truly, if I were younger, I would live here.
WSJ: Who is the Chinese consumer today?
DVF: The Chinese consumer is everybody. It’s very simple. When I was a little girl, and I didn’t eat my dinner, my mother would say “Think of all the Chinese who have nothing to eat.” My children’s generation is the Chinese making everything, and now my grandchildren’s generation is the Chinese buying everything.
WSJ: Are you designing specifically for the Chinese market?
DVF: You would be surprised: Whether she is Russian or Brazilian or French or American, my consumer is the same. But it is great to design for Chinese women, because they have great bodies. They are slim and have tiny waists, so it’s nice.
WSJ: What does the Chinese woman symbolize to you?
DVF: What I like about women is always strength, but Chinese women are even stronger. It’s like strong women on steroids. I also realize they are fragile. All women are the same really: They are strong, but they are afraid of their own strength.
WSJ: You are expanding in China. Is that the focal point for expansion world-wide?
DVF: The focal point for expansion right now is to focus on accessories. That is really the big part of it. I always joke that I have three careers. In my early 20s, it was the American dream. Then I started again 12 years ago, and it was “comeback kid,” and now it is big business. I want my clothes, my handbags and my shoes to be women’s best friends. My mission is really to empower women—it is also my mission in mentoring and philanthropy.
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