Galeries Lafayette returns to China after 15 years

French department store operator opens a new outlet in Beijing 15 years after leaving the market

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 2:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 1:46am

After shutting down its first mainland store 15 years ago, French upmarket department store operator Galeries Lafayette returned with a bang with a new store in Beijing yesterday to cash in on China's growing army of the wealthy.

The European retailing giant has formed a 50-50 joint venture with Hong Kong fashion brand management company I.T to run the Beijing store, which cost €42 million (HK$443 million) and three years to build.

The fashion market has been evolving very fast for the past five to six years

"Beijing is a totally different place compared with 15 years ago," said Laurent Chemla, chief executive of Galeries Lafayette (Beijing). "The fashion market has been evolving very fast for the past five to six years and people here [in Beijing] have become more trendy and fashionable."

Located in Xidan, a popular shopping zone, the six-storey Lafayette store spans about 47,000 square metres, about half the size of its Paris store.

Unlike its Paris store, which accommodates top luxury brands, the retailer is introducing in China mainly high-end niche brands such as Delvaux, Maje and The Kooples to cater for mainland shoppers' increasingly sophisticated taste and demand for high-end products.

"We have luxury brands, but not only luxury brands. We'd like to call ourselves a fashion store." he said. "Our aim is to bring more new and different fashion choices to Chinese consumers."

Chemla said more than 200 of the 500-plus brands sold in the store were being made available in China for the first time. Aside from fashion, cosmetics, accessories and leather goods, there are also French and Asian restaurants including the renowned Café Angelina and a Bordeaux wine cellar.

Lafayette met its Waterloo in China when it first opened a store in Beijing's Wangfujing in 1996. The store was closed a year later owing to poor performance. This time, it returns way more confident of making it in the world's fastest-growing major market.

"We are now exploring the opportunity of opening more stores in other mainland cities," said Chemla.

Despite slowing economic growth and a recent austerity campaign initiated by the central government, China remains the most attractive place for foreign high-end retailers to roll out new stores.

Multibrand chain store operator Lane Crawford re-entered the Shanghai market last month and opened a flagship store in the heart of the city. Six years ago, the company withdrew from the city after closing its only store there.

Founded by Theophile Bader and his cousin Alphonse Kahn in Paris in 1895, Galeries Lafayette has become one of the world's largest upmarket department store operators over the past 120 years. Its 10-storey store on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris is a major attraction for shoppers and tourists from all over the world.

The company runs 65 stores worldwide and posted sales revenue of €3.7 billion last year.