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Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Fashion brand Joseph expands into China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 1:57pm

For decades Joseph was the place every cool urban girl in London would visit to find a great pair of pants, fabulous knitwear and, during the chillier months, luxurious shearling. It was the label that offered understated, slightly androgynous clothes to work in, play in, or to wear to simply chill out.

Now, Joseph is at last arriving in Beijing, opening this month in Shin Kong Place. Over the next five years more boutiques will be rolled out across China - in Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen next year.

Joseph Ettedgui, known by his first name, was a pioneer of modern retail in the 1980s and '90s. "He could see what people wanted before they had it and he created this concept of lifestyle which didn't exist before," says Louise Trotter, the current creative director, who for the past six years has ensured the brand remains at the heart of the urban wardrobe.

Joseph arrived in London in the '60s from his native Morocco and got swept up in the fashion scene. "He had an incredible eye as a curator," says Trotter. He introduced Kenzo Takada, Yohji Yamamoto and later Prada and Azzedine Alaia to the metropolis through his multi-brand stores, and he had a knack for creating a seductive retail atmosphere. He was the first to bring in architects of the stature of Norman Foster to design his shops, and merged restaurant and fashion with his Joe's Café concept.

Under his own label, Joseph revolutionised knitwear, investing it with an understated chic and, in the '90s, came up with the first narrow-legged stretch pant which was an instant hit with fashionable women

Under his own label, Joseph revolutionised knitwear, investing it with an understated chic and, in the '90s, came up with the first narrow-legged stretch pant which was an instant hit with fashionable women. The pant remains the hero piece of the brand and Trotter says she starts every season thinking about what she will do with the pant.

"It really educates the entire collection," she says. "From that comes the coat, the jacket, everything." This season the style debuting in Beijing is much looser than those early stretch pants. "It's more relaxed, a bit more masculine and with a lot of ease. It has a real boy's attitude."

This explains something of the Joseph aesthetic and Trotter's own (her CV includes Calvin Klein, Gap and Tommy Hilfiger): it is a play of masculine and feminine. The collection, she says,"would have a masculine silhouette or construction, but often it's contrasted with something more feminine, softer, or with drape."

So the lovely, feminine white broderie anglaise pieces in the catwalk collection are cut like men's shirts or a cropped pant. Catwalk (presented at London Fashion Week) is more conceptual and where Trotter, whose studio and team are based in Paris, can explore the brand's DNA. Catwalk and pre-collection - which is described as the "luxury essentials" - will be sold in China.

"Like all our stores globally, our Beijing store will offer the foundations of a sophisticated wardrobe with our luxury essentials along with our catwalk pieces," says Takehiro Shiraishi, the managing director of Joseph, which became part of the Onward Kashiyama group in 2005, when Joseph Ettedgui sold the business. Ettedgui died of cancer in 2010.

Shiraishi predicts a strong appetite for what Joseph has to offer. "After having seen a period of luxury market growth in China, we feel there is an expansion of sophisticated highly fashion-conscious consumers," says Shiraishi. "We feel the market is maturing and needs affordable products."

Trotter believes the Joseph woman exists everywhere, from New York and Paris to Beijing: "Our customer has a certain attitude, Joseph is not overtly branded, it is quite discreet and it takes a certain type of woman to appreciate our product."