By Divia Harilela
BEIJING, China — For the past few years, all eyes have been on China.
Captivated by the country’s rapidly expanding economy, large population and seemingly insatiable appetite for luxury goods, global fashion brands have focused their efforts on the Middle Kingdom, opening glittering stores in megacities like Beijing and Shanghai, as well as fast growing middleweight cities like Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Tianjin, and hosting high-profile public relations events, from exclusive VIP dinners to famously large-scale productions like Fendi’s runway spectacular on The Great Wall. And judging from recent figures, the results have been strong. According to the Boston Consulting Group, sales of luxury fashion goods in China increased by 33 percent to $40 billion last year, while experts estimate that the country will surpass the US to become the world’s largest luxury market by 2020.
Naturally, China’s emergence as a powerhouse market for fashion has given rise to a number of key figures who have been highly instrumental in driving and harnessing the spectacular momentum. Here, we present, in no particular order, The Business of Fashion’s Top 20 movers, shakers and decision makers in China fashion. They are entrepreneurs, luxury executives, PR mavens, retail experts, editors, media moguls, models, bloggers and others who each have tremendous expertise and insight in their chosen domain and, collectively, form the backbone of the country’s fast growing fashion ecosystem.
SILAS CHOU, the elder statesman who has helped create billions in financial value
Hong Kong tycoon Silas Chou hails from a renowned family of textile and apparel manufacturers, but it was only when he acquired Tommy Hilfiger in 1989 with associate Lawrence Stroll that he became a big player in the global fashion industry. Over the years he has invested in brands including Karl Lagerfeld and Pepe Jeans, and opened Iconix China Group, run by his daughter Veronica, which distributes fashion brands in the country. The jewel in his crown, though, is Michael Kors, which went public last year and is currently valued at over $9 billion. But his influence goes beyond acquiring and growing fashion brands. It was recently announced that he would provide financial support for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s China Exchange programme, underscoring Mr Chou’s emergence as something of an elder statesman in China fashion.
MELVIN CHUA, the PR and events guru
Almost all major fashion events in China are organized through Melvin Chua and his company Ink Pak Communication Group. This ex-advertising executive has a Rolodex full of names like Giambattista Valli, Kate Moss and Alber Elbaz (the latter with whom he is hosting a 10th anniversary celebration in Beijing this month). But Chua does more than just PR. He also manages the country’s top talent, including clients like actress Maggie Cheung and supermodel Du Juan. In fact, Chua is the force behind most luxury brand-celebrity partnerships in China, making him quite the man to know.
HUNG HUANG, the media mogul who can make or break a young designer
Sometimes called “the Oprah of China,” outspoken media mogul Hung Huang wears many hats, from television host and blogger to publisher and retailer. Although she spent her formative years in New York, she returned to Beijing in 1998 and took the helm at _Look_ magazine (now iLook), which has since become one of the most popular lifestyle titles in China. Huang also pens a weekly column for trade newspaper WWD called ChinaFile, providing insight into the workings of China’s fashion industry. But most importantly, Huang is a tireless promoter of emerging Chinese designers who she supports through Brand New China (BNC), her multi-label boutique in Beijing. She also offers an iLook/BNCscholarship for young designers in partnership with ESMOD Beijing. Indeed, if you’re a young designer in China, Ms. Huang can make you – or break you.
ANGELICA CHEUNG, the leading voice of fashion in China
Like her US counterpart Anna Wintour, Angelica Cheung, editorial director of Vogue China, is the country’s most influential editorial authority and educator. The Beijing University graduate and former Elle and Marie Claire editor has been in the top job at Vogue China since 2005 and if numbers are anything to go by, her power is only set to grow. Vogue China is the country’s fastest growing fashion magazine with a circulation that’s jumped from 300,000 to 700,000 since launch. Her endorsement and support is critical for any international fashion brand looking to gain visibility in the burgeoning Chinese market.
JENNIFER WOO, the heiress who oversees the country’s most powerful luxury retail group
As the daughter of property tycoon Peter Woo, Jennifer Woo is one of the youngest and most powerful retailers in Asian fashion. But Ms Woo’s influence goes beyond the privilege of her birth. This is a woman who has made a name as force to be reckoned with in her own right. Previously the president of Lane Crawford, Woo now oversees the operations of multi-brand designer fashion retailers Lane Crawford and Joyce, accessories specialist The Pedder Group, and brand management and distribution arm, the ImagineX Group, giving her a virtual monopoly on fashion in the region. With stores and points of sales across 50 cities in Greater China and South East Asia, all four companies achieved historic, record-breaking sales in 2011. As the Chinese luxury market continues to grow in leaps and bounds, Ms. Woo is a woman who will undoubtedly continue to shape China’s luxury retail revolution.
ADRIENNE MA, the fashion e-commerce expert
Adrienne Ma hails from Asian fashion royalty – she is daughter of legendary fashion retailer Joyce Ma, who founded concept boutique Joyce. For years, Adrienne worked alongside her mother as president of Joyce before becoming a consultant in 2008. She emerged as one of China’s first digital pioneers when she launched flash sale website Shouke.com, which was acquired by The Net-A-Porter Group in 2011 as a platform from which to build its Asia-Pacific business. Ma is now one of three key leaders at Net-a-Porter Asia Pacific and will be spearheading the retailer’s digital launch in China, building a name for herself as the country’s leading fashion e-commerce expert.
ADRIAN CHENG, the visionary heir who is reshaping retail
Grandson of New World Development billionaire founder Cheng Yu-tung, Harvard-educated Adrian Cheng is the third-generation heir of one of China’s most influential business families and the mastermind behind Chow Tai Fook, one of the world’s most successful jewellery brands, boasting 1,500 outlets in Greater China and a market capitalisation double that of Tiffany & Co. The 32-year-old is on his way to becoming a billionaire himself after listing 10 percent of the family’s stock on the local market last year, raising around $2 billion. And while jewellery constitutes the bulk of Cheng’s business, he has also set about boldly reimagining the future of retail, introducing avant-garde experiential concepts to the region, including art- and eco-malls.
DR. VICTOR FUNG, the man building China’s first luxury group
Dr. Victor Fung (along with his brother William) is known for his leadership of Li & Fung Group, which includes Li & Fung Limited, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer goods, and Trinity Limited, a luxury menswear retailer managing brands such as Cerruti 1881, Gieves & Hawkes and Kent & Curwen in China. Most recently the Fungs have made headlines with Fung Brands Ltd (Victor is a private investor), which has taken majority shareholdings in brands including Belgian leather specialists Delvaux, French accessories brand Robert Clergerie and, most recently, Sonia Rykiel. Industry insiders speculate that, together, the Fungs are developing the first Chinese-owned international luxury goods conglomerate.
ANDREW WU, Mr. Arnault’s man in China
Born and raised in Shanghai, Andrew Wu worked for the Ontario Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs and Maple Leaf Foods in Canada before returning to China in 1993 to join LVMH, starting as general manager and managing director of Parfums Christian Dior where he pioneered a direct subsidiary allowing the brand to develop their own retail distribution network across the country. In 2005, after leaving to work for Sony, Wu returned to LVMH as group head for China, reporting directly to the conglomerate’s chief executive, Bernard Arnault, perhaps the most powerful man in the global luxury goods sector. Since then Wu has managed the group’s interests in the Chinese marketplace including growing and developing their 60-plus brands. If anyone knows the ins and outs of how the luxury sector works in China, it’s Wu.
SHAM KAR WAI, the retail revolutionary who knows what’s next
Hong Kong-born Sham Kar Wai started I.T in 1988 as a small boutique featuring funky, street wear labels that were unavailable elsewhere. Primarily by appealing to a new generation looking to express their individuality, he has managed to build a veritable fashion empire with an annual turnover of HK$4 billion (2011) and 500 points of sales worldwide, half of them in China. Championing new and underground talents, I.T has brought many experimental brands to Asia, including Comme des Garçons, Maison Martin Margiela, Gareth Pugh and Ann Demeulemeester. The company also boasts several in-house brands and retail concepts including Izzue, I.T and Double Park. A true innovator and pioneer, Wai still has the one of China’s keenest eyes for what the next generation wants.
BALBINA WONG, the old hand with a knack for charting new frontiers
The sometimes imposing, always bejewelled Balbina Wong is an old hand when it comes to luxury brand experience in China and Hong Kong. Born in Singapore, Wong became sole distributor for Salvatore Ferragamo in Greater China, engineering the brand’s early and highly successful entry into the market. Today, Wong is the deputy chairman and CEO of luxury management and distribution group ImagineX — which now represents 18 international brands, including Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan, with 450 points of sales across Asia — as well as retail management sister company, the Walton Brown Group, both part of the Lane Crawford Joyce Group. Wong’s combination of vision, business acumen and talent for quanxi have paid off handsomely for the brands she has brought to China. Always the pioneer, Wong was the force behind a luxury retail development at one of fashion’s newest frontiers, Urumqi, an oil-rich desert town near the Kazakhstan border.
UMA WANG, China’s hottest emerging designer
Fashion designer Uma Wang is the first of a new generation of cutting-edge Chinese designers to receive global acclaim. Wang studied at China Textile University and London’s Central Saint Martins, launching her own label in 2005. Since then she has won several fashion awards, caught the eye of influential magazines such as Italian Vogue and become a regular at Shanghai Fashion Week. This season, she debuted her work at Paris Fashion Week and is taking part in the CFDA’s inaugural China Exchange programme. Thanks to her breakthrough success, Wang has become both an inspiration and a symbol for a new generation of young designers across China.
CHEN MAN, the most in-demand fashion photographer in China
Born in 1980 in Beijing, photographer Chen Man was just 23 when she exploded onto the fashion scene with a series of fantastical covers for the Shanghai-based fashion magazine Vision. Soon the graduate of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, who is known for her colour-saturated images, was contributing editorials to key Chinese fashion titles including Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Esquire, and exhibiting her work at international galleries and museums. Most recently, she made headlines with a series of striking covers for i-D magazine’s Pre-Spring 2012 issue and is collaborating with cosmetics giant MAC on a line of makeup. If there is a Chinese fashion photographer that’s set to joins the ranks of fashion industry giants like Mario Testino or Steven Meisel, Chen Man is the one to watch.
HAN HOUHOU, the star blogger who influences millions
Most people know him as China’s uber fashion blogger, but Han Huohuo has some serious fashion pedigree. A former fashion editor at Marie Claire China, he rose to notoriety when he was photographed by The Sartorialist in Milan in 2009. Armed with one of the country’s most popular blogs, which boasts three million followers, Huohuo has been invited to sit front row at Chanel, pen columns in a number of fashion magazines and host TV shows. More recently he designed a collection with fashion retailer I.T and is currently working on his first book, set to launch in September. For brands seeking to forge relationships in the growing world of Chinese fashion blogging, Huohuo is the first and most important name to know.
LIU WEN, the face that redefined Chinese beauty
While Du Juan was China’s first supermodel, Liu Wen is the face of its future. Hailing from a small town in Hunan province in China, Wen was discovered in 2005, at the age of 18, and got her big break when she was cast for a Burberry runway show. Wen has since become the first Asian face to represent Estée Lauder internationally and the first Chinese model to walk in a Victoria’s Secret runway show. Her striking looks have made her the most popular model in Asia and have helped to redefine traditional perceptions of beauty, not only in China, but across the world.
LUCIA LIU, China’s most sought-after stylist
Even though fashion stylists are a relatively new phenomenon in China, Lucia Liu has already cornered the market thanks to her edgy editorial for Glass Magazine and i-D. Based between Beijing and London, she currently holds the position of style director of Harper’s Bazaar China, has worked with high-profile Chinese celebrities and fashion icons including Maggie Cheung, Faye Wong, Fan Bing Bing, Yao Chen, and Ziyi Zhang. She also collaborates with luxury brands on advertising and commercial campaigns, making her one of China’s most sought after stylists.
PAULINE SU, the woman behind China Fashion Week
Pauline Su, a graduate of Xiamen University, has been the driving force behind the China Fashion Association, the country’s national governing body for the fashion industry, since 2000. Overseeing several committees that deal with everything from retail consultancy to fashion schools, Su is also known for championing Chinese designers in China and beyond. Among her influential projects is the twice-yearly China Fashion Week which has raised its profile in the last few years. She has recently signed agreements with similar governing bodies in Italy and France to promote and develop China’s fashion industry abroad.
ALAN FANG, the man behind China’s most influential trade show
Alan Fang is from the third generation of one of Hong Kong’s most important textile families, The Fangs, who own Pringle of Scotland and are founders of Hong Kong’s successful apparel retailer the Toppy Group. Fang is carrying on the family’s legacy with Novo, China’s first multi-brand retailer specialising in street fashion catering to a new generation. He is also the founder of Novo Mania, one of China’s first international trade fairs dedicated to contemporary and urban fashion which could soon rival international counterparts like Bread and Butter. Indeed, for contemporary brands looking to showcase their products in China, Novo Mania is the place to be.
TERRY SIO, the woman who holds the key to Macau
Very much under the radar, fashion entrepreneur Terry Sio thrived in Macau’s gambling boom. She set up Rainbow Group in 1979, which has since grown to become the special administrative region’s largest distributor of luxury brands, establishing names such as Emporio Armani, Escada, Cartier, Versace, Bally and Zegna in shopping malls attached to leading casinos, like Wynn and MGM. Now, she is expanding many of these same brands into China, with a focus on middleweight cities such as Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Harbin and Shenzhen. For brands eyeing expansion in China’s answer to Las Vegas, Terry Sio is the most important woman to know.
JIMIN LEE, the expert in store development
Shanghai-based consultancy Translatio was founded by Korean-born Jimin Lee and partner Angelo Negro in 2003 and helps luxury brands navigate the often murky waters of China retail. With over 20 years experience in the industry, working for stalwarts such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Joyce, Lee’s areas of expertise include retail operations, business development, merchandising, and marketing and communications. Her clients include luxury development Three on the Bund in Shanghai and brands like Marni, Balenciaga, Moncler and Alexander Wang, often making her the first port of call for brands wanting to open stores in China.