Armani Dazzles Hong Kong, Heads to Shanghai
By Godfrey Deeny
Fashion Wire Daily - Hong Kong - Once all roads led to Rome, now, at least in fashion, they all seem to head to China.Last week, Chanel staged an extravagant fashion show in Hong Kong, and this week Armani held no less than three haute couture shows in the former British colony.Armanis growth in Greater China has been decidedly spectacular. In just three years, the designer has expanded to a 35-boutique chain that last year posted 113 million Euros in sales. The designer now is projecting 35% growth in the current year.On Thursday night in Hong Kong, Armani presented his Prive couture collection in a custom-built black box show space underneath the Norman Foster-designed HSBC headquarters. The first show was reserved exclusively for the banks incredibly well-heeled private clients, the last for local celebrities led by Jackie Chan and Mrs. Donald Tsang, whose husband is Hong Kongs chief executive.Theres a new type of woman in emerging markets like China. Shes kind of like the aristocrat of old, a woman rich enough to order something thats unique, just made for her, Armani told FWD at a post-show party.Hong Kong already boasts the second largest Armani store complex in the world outside of Giorgios own department store, in Milan. Hundreds of trendy locals crowd into a new Armani restaurant in his complex in Hong Kongs priciest Central district. It boasts a signature store, Le Collezioni boutique, an Armani Casa shop, the worlds first Emporio Armani accessories boutique and even separate spaces for Armani Fiori (flowers) and Armani Dolci (sweets).Hong Kong is a fascinating, energetic city. You can see from the young women waling around that they get the modern international casual style, but on their own terms. My clothes were not created with China in mind, but they work very well on Chinese women. I dont create local fashion for Italy but an international mode, the designer stressed.Later this week in Shanghai, Armani will open his first fragrance and cosmetics counter in a department store and host a reception for the Giorgio Armani: Retrospective exhibition in the Shanghai Art Museum. He also will stage another Prive runway show in the local Grand Theatre and throw a VIP cocktail party for 1,000 with Vogue China.On the morning of his Hong Kong show, the local press quizzed Armani about his views on EU restrictions on Chinese shoe imports.Im an open market thinker. I think its justified that China wants to sell their shoes in Europe. Lets remember that we Italians did the same thing in the United States and the Americans made us very welcome, said the designer, who already produces part of his own Armani Jeans collection in China.But pressed further, he is careful to sidestep any direct criticism of EU restrictions, beloved by the Italian footwear industry and introduced by Brussels trade tsar Peter Mandelson. Giorgio knows Peter well, the trade boss sat front row at his most mens wear runway show in Milan in January.Born into relative poverty in provincial Piacenza, the 72-year-old Armani today employs 4,800 people, owns 13 factories and some 300 stores. His latest projects are Armani Casa, which in the space of three years has grown to a chain of 30 stores, and now a chain of hotels. The first of these will open in Dubai, part of the worlds tallest building in spring 2008.His global commercial director, John Hooks, who recently visited 13 Chinese cities in six days in search of new locations and local partners, is spearheading Armanis merchandising drive into China.We have to be very selective. The Chinese department stores often have very good ground floors, but each level you go up, the presentation and quality tends to nose dive, Hooks stressed to FWD.Over lunch with Hooks and Armani in David Tangs Cirpriani restaurant in the former Bank of China building, the designer enthused about all things Chinese.China has excited me for a long time, so even though I never lived here and visited for the first time tow years ago, China has influenced my collections a lot.Thats pretty obvious from a newly published book, Armani in China, which chronicles his first visit to China in 2004, when the Mayor of Shanghai gave him like the sort of reception accorded the president of important allied country.Photos of iconic Chinese buildings show architectural details that are uncannily like the fabric patterns and embroidery seen in Armani collection dating back many years.