HONG KONG, China — Most people are shocked to learn that the executive chairman of Shanghai Tang, the Hong Kong-based luxury lifestyle brand, is a Frenchman by the name of Raphael le Masne de Chermont. While the brand is still closely associated with its original founder Sir David Tang, since 2002, le Masne de Chermont, while not Chinese by blood, has played a pivotal role in establishing Shanghai Tang as China’s first internationally recognised luxury label.
Shanghai Tang began with a small fashion boutique in the Pedder Building in Hong Kong’s Central district. The brainchild of entrepreneur David Tang, it offered custom and ready-made garments inspired by Chinese fashion in the 1920s, including silk scarves, qi paos and, of course, their famous velvet jackets lined with colourful silk. By the late 1990s, the brand was a favourite with the city’s wealthy Western expatriates and elite Brits like Kate Moss.
In 1998, Swiss luxury goods conglomerate Compagnie Financière Richemont SA took a controlling share in the company. Labelling itself the “global curator of modern Chinese aesthetics,” Shanghai Tang expanded their offering to include accessories and homewares, while opening stores around the world. By 2005, global sales had grown 43 percent, according to market sources. And by 2008, Richemont completed their acquisition of the company.
It’s no secret that Shanghai Tang has dedicated the past decade to courting the Chinese market. Of its 45 stores, 30 are in Greater China, including its latest flagship, Cathay Mansion, in Shanghai, the city that inspired the brand’s birth. To celebrate the store’s official opening last week, the brand hosted a glittering event complete with a catwalk show staged by its new designer, Joseph Li, a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martin’s.
Now, efforts are underway for expanding the brand in the West. Earlier this year Shanghai Tang entered into a 12-year worldwide licensing deal with Inter Parfums USA to create, produce and distribute perfumes and related products, with plans to launch its first fragrance in Spring 2014.
BoF spoke with Raphael le Masne de Chermont about Shanghai Tang’s customer base, re-energising the company’s ready-to-wear, global expansion plans, and whether Chinese consumers will ever truly embrace a luxury brand founded in the East.