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Asian Fashion Not Just about Knock-offs Anymore


Watch out Gucci, you’ve got competition: designers in Asia are beginning to challenge European fashion powerhouses. Bloomberg reports that Asian brands like Courrone and Woo are growing even as traditional companies like Louis Vuitton are facing slowing growth. This is a dramatic shift for a region that has traditionally been known for low-quality manufacturing and illegal knockoffs of European designers.

Asian designers are receiving a boost from a number of high-profile celebrity endorsements. Paris Hilton and Michelle Obama have both appeared in dresses of Chinese design. Peng Liyuan, the stylish wife of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, made a splash by modeling fashions by domestic Chinese designer Exception in her trip to Russia last month.

European designers are still far ahead of their Asian counterparts, even within Asia:

Almost half of Chinese shoppers think well-known labels offer better quality, versus 16 percent of Americans, according to consultant McKinsey & Co. And Couronne’s name, meaning crown in French, suggests European roots, or at least implying them, helps sell leather goods.

“For the kind of mass luxury that starts to really trouble European brands, in my view you’re still fighting 200 years of history,” said Rahul Sharma, managing director of Neev Capital.

But that’s not to say the French and Italian firms aren’t worried. Indeed, that’s why many think the next stage for them is to buy up Asian brands. They’re already beginning to price their products even higher to shift them even further upmarket, as Bloomberg reports.

But sooner or later, competition is coming. People who now won’t be parted from their Lexus or Infiniti once scoffed at the idea of Asian-made luxury cars. Europe may have 200 years of fashion supremacy in the modern world, but Asian craftspeople have two thousand years of excellence behind them. The rich history of Asian design and Asian textiles offers a new high end Asian design business deep roots and an endless variety of motifs and looks.

Asian leaders know they have no choice but to move up the food chain and get out of the commodity manufacturing trap. That means brands, it means quality, it means design. Asian business, with an assist from Asian governments, will devote serious effort to the task of challenging Vuitton and Gucci. And at the end of the day, it may not be European brands buying up Asian makers; we could well see well funded Asian purchasers stepping up to buy European brands.

[Peng Liyuan courtesy Getty Images]

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  • foobarista

    …and the irony is Chinese will line up in every outlet mall on the US West Coast to buy Chinese premium brands at low prices as they don’t trust anyone except super-expensive dept stores in China to not sell knockoffs. They already do this for other branded items, including items made in China.

  • Douglas Levene

    What it also means is that countries like China that in the past haven’t paid very much attention to intellectual property rights will suddenly discover that it is in their interest to enforces such rights.

  • Jim Luebke

    This is a bad sign. Unless the Chinese are willing to send their new-found spending money to America to reinvigorate our exports, the whole “free trade with China” deal may turn out to be a ghastly mistake.

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