We've always struggled with the language of high fashion. When we read of a Giorgio Armani executive saying that couture was more about "authenticity and heritage as key values when considering a purchase", rather than as "expensive trend-driven clothing", it brings out the cynic in Lai See. But we could well be wrong and there has to be something in it since these are multimillion-dollar businesses. It also seemed churlish to persevere with this line of thought in the company of Ralph Toledano, the 60-year-old president of fashion brand Nina Ricci and also president of the fashion division of Puig, the Barcelona-based fragrance and fashion group that owns brands such as Nina Ricci, Prada, and Jean Paul Gaultier. Indeed, Toledano is credited with masterminding the emergence of Chloé International, of which he is former chairman and CEO.
He joined Puig just over a year ago. "In the last 10-15 years the house has been a little bit dormant," he says, adding the group has progressed over the last few years. It's now the seventh-largest fashion house in terms of revenue, though this may change when its results come out later this month.
Toledano says building a fashion brand means "knowing who you are, what your brand values are and how you differentiate yourself from the competition". To achieve this you need to have good products, brand awareness and the talent that can bring something that the competition doesn't have.
Toledano can't give figures but says the US accounts for about a third of Nina Ricci's sales, followed by Europe. The business in Asia is "meaningful". Business here is interestingly poised since the wealthy on the mainland have grown jaded with the popular high-end luxury brands, and are "looking for something more special - which is exactly what we are", he says modestly. So he is looking for a smart way to make an impact on the market. "Clearly there is an opportunity which did not exist 18 months ago. So timing is right and we have to move quickly to take advantage of that situation."
At the moment, Nina Ricci has in-store operations in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. It is looking at other big cities such as Guangzhou and Chengdu. He is looking at introducing accessories such as handbags and jewellery to complement its women's clothing.
He sees polarisation developing across the industry. Houses will either be "big marketing machines" or "a very creative niche artisan company". As for his own fashion taste, Toledano was nattily dressed entirely in Dior, including a dark suit worn over a long-sleeved grey T-shirt.
We see that Barclays, the bank that sponsors Premier League soccer in Britain, has taken the next logical step to "leverage its brand". From this month Barclays' messaging around grounds in Britain will be shown in both English and Chinese. "Barclays is dedicated to communicating with Chinese audiences in Asia directly through their local language. This further strengthens the association between Barclays and the Barclays Premier League and helps to support the brand in Asia," the bank said. "The Chinese language perimeter boards mean that Chinese fans in Asia can instantly identify with the Barclays brand while watching the games." You get the sense that Barclays thinks it is doing Chinese viewers a favour when in fact it's obviously Barclays seeking to promote its name in China. Its announcement concludes by observing that the Chinese-language boards mirror the firm's global footprint and "allow China to stay connected to the … world's most popular and exciting domestic football league". A billion viewers on the mainland will no doubt be hugely thankful for this enhancement to their viewing experience.
A bigger iPhone?
According to Topeka Capital analyst Brian White, Apple needs to make a bigger iPhone if it wants to compete in Asia with Samsung. The Business Insider website reports White has been visiting suppliers in Asia, and says Samsung's larger screen is gaining in popularity. "Essentially, we are being told that the minimum size needed by Apple is a 4.5-inch display on the iPhone; however, a 5-inch to 5.5-inch would be optimal," White says. While the new iPhone 5 is four inches, the earlier iPhones are 3.5 inches.