Size the limit
Diana Chan is your average luxury shopper - she's in her mid-30s, has a steady income and is happy to spend it on clothing and accessories from her favourite luxury brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy. Although price is not a problem for her, availability is - only a handful of boutiques in the city cater to her curvy French size 44 figure.
'I am willing to spend but the majority of boutiques and department stores in Hong Kong don't carry larger sizes,' says Chan. 'Most of the time I do my shopping when I am in Europe or in the US, since their designer boutiques carry a full range of sizes.'
The demand for larger-size clothing appears to be growing in countries such as the US, where the plus-size market increased 1.4 per cent in the 12 months to April 2010 compared with the same period the previous year, according to market research firm NPD Group.
In Hong Kong, however, the same market - which by definition caters for women around a US size 12 and up (Italian 48 or French 44) - is virtually non-existent.
'I'm generalising, but it seems that many women who wear larger sizes are expats thus there is less demand for their sizes,' says Kathleen Sweeney, owner of Tiare boutique in SoHo. 'It also seems that many stores are concentrating on the mainland market and their sizes, which are much smaller.'
A quick survey of luxury department stores reveals that smaller sizes predominate. Audrey Sun, chief operating officer of Harvey Nichols, says fewer than 10 per cent of her customers buy above a French size 40, while only 15 to 20 per cent of seasonal purchasing at Joyce boutique and I.T caters to a French size 40 or above.
At Lane Crawford, customers can find French sizes 42 and 44 in some of the designer ranges, although 'the top-selling sizes are still 36 and extra small. We even get asked for size 34,' fashion director Sarah Rutson says.
At single-brand designer boutiques sizing options are also limited. Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior carry only up to a French size 40, while Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel go up to a French size 44 but in limited quantities. Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana carry up to an Italian 44, while Bottega Veneta offers a few items in an Italian 46. Miu Miu's largest size is an Italian 44, although it carries plenty of size 48s in other cities around the world.
Buyers say the reason for this is lack of demand from their clientele. 'It is mainly because most of our customers are Asians who wear mostly small and medium sizes,' Sun says.
'In general, Hong Kong girls are small in build so large sizes are not popular. As women become more conscious we've noticed sizes getting even smaller,' says the head buyer for I.T. 'Also keep in mind that we cater to locals mostly - tourists don't contribute to a high percentage of our business.'
Admittedly, most of the customers who require larger sizes are from the West or from other parts of Asia where women's builds are larger than those in Hong Kong. At Love It boutique, sizes range from a French 34 to 50, since most of their customers hail from Europe and the US. Owner Catherine Martsch says she is happy to stock larger sizes because her clientele is specific, whereas local retailers have to cater to the majority.
'The Caucasian expat community represents less than 10 per cent of the Hong Kong population, so even though many Caucasian women are, relatively speaking, 'big spenders', most stores cater primarily for local women and women of other Asian nationalities because they represent the majority of their customer base,' she says.
In addition, ordering larger sizes can pose potential problems for retailers in the long run since many say their large-sized items are the slowest to move off the sales floor.
'I think the lack of large sizes in Hong Kong is a very sensitive issue. I've heard so many women say that they would shop in Hong Kong if [boutiques] had their size, but unfortunately the clothes that are left after a sale are always large sizes. It is a puzzling situation for me as a buyer,' Sweeney says.
'I don't think there are disadvantages for retailers in carrying larger sizes, but there is a disadvantage when they have stock left over that they can't sell, especially in this economy where we are having a hard time with cash flow because of merchandise that isn't moving. Retailers are managing their risk and only buying things they know will sell for sure, or those that they know they can move at a discount,' she says.
'As soon as we start to carry larger sizes across the board and skew the balance we are left with too much stock,' Rutson agrees.
However, fuller-figured women need not despair. Larger sizes can be ordered in by special request even though they may not be available in Hong Kong. Chanel, Hermes, Christian Dior and many other brands and stores are happy to order larger sizes upon request.
'We have, of course, larger-sized customers whom we know through our personal styling team and we keep in contact with them. They let us know what sizes and brands they are interested in and we look for the styles that suit their taste,' Rutson says.
'If a shop doesn't carry your size, send an e-mail to the manager or buyer and tell them how you feel or what sizes you would like them to stock. Buyers travel to shows all over the world so they may not see who's shopping in the store from day to day. They see sales figures, but if the store doesn't carry larger sizes they won't know they can sell them,' Sweeney advises.
It's also worth looking into speciality stores such as Love It and Italian brand Marina Rinaldi (part of the MaxMara Group), which goes up to an Italian size 52. Local brand Rosarini, designed by owner and founder Karen Scheinecker, stocks simple yet flattering styles such as loose tops and wrap dresses made from matt jersey up to a British size 22 or 24.
Finally, keep an open mind and try things on despite the size on the label.
'Some brands may not traditionally be known for making larger sizes, but depending on the style they may allow for a curvier figure. It just takes a little longer to find what works, but most importantly don't just buy something because it fits. It needs to work for you and what you already have in your wardrobe,' Scheinecker says.