What's good enough for queen is good enough for Chinese too
Consumers in China looking for quality have embraced brands with a Royal Warrant - the British monarch's seal of approval - and that's been good for stores in Hong Kong
It's been widely reported that demand for luxury goods is in China is suffering as anti-corruption laws affect sales related to gift-giving. But while Chinese shoppers may be experiencing "logo fatigue," they are not suffering from spending fatigue, turning instead to Royal Warrant products and services.
With the attitude, "if it's good enough for Queen Elizabeth, it's good enough for me", Chinese customers, including those from Hong Kong, are stocking up on royalty-endorsed goods and services, including confectionery from Charbonnel et Walker, men's perfume from Floris, rare books from Heywood Hill, and lingerie from Rigby & Peller, the queen's official corsetiere since 1960.
The 75-year-old lingerie maker arrived in Hong Kong three years ago and now has four boutiques - at Landmark, Festival Walk, Gateway and a standalone on Hysan Avenue.
General manager Tong Lui says customers appreciate the the brand's service, setting it apart from general suppliers.
"Asians like to indulge. They will save their money and buy one piece," she says.
Tong says most women know what they want, though our bodies change more than we think. That's why she says customers should come more regularly - around twice a year - to get the most suitable bras for their bodies and lifestyles. Boutique staff, who are called "lingerie stylists", help customers find the best sizes and styles. Tong says Hong Kong clients are much more conservative than their mainland counterparts, who have been catching up since the 1990s.
"The mainland Chinese didn't get past cotton underwear until about 15 years ago," she says. "When they come in, they tell us what they wear and then say, 'Tell us what is famous in your shop'. They are more willing to try brands they have never heard of, and colours they don't normally wear. They are willing to try high quality material and believe the more lace the better, because they think it is high-end."
While regular customers, aged between 25 and 45 years old, will bring their friends, mothers and daughters to the boutique, men also visit to buy for spouses or girlfriends.
Of the four locations in Hong Kong, Gateway in Tsim Sha Tsui has on average the most Chinese customers - 70 per cent - many of whom are from Shenzhen and Guangzhou, with some coming as often as once a month, others every three to six months. They spend from HK$4,000 to HK$20,000 per transaction, Tong says.
The shop is popular with Chinese women who have trouble finding large cup sizes in China. Rigby & Peller stocks bras in A to I cups, and carries more than 20 brands including Marie Jo, PrimaDonna, and Chantelle.
The made-to-measure lingerie service is available at the newly refurbished Knightsbridge flagship store in London, where pieces can take six to eight weeks to create and involve at least two appointments. However, Tong says few Chinese customers take advantage of this service, mainly due to the language barrier.
Nevertheless, two years ago Rigby & Peller opened four stores in China: two in Shanghai, one in Suzhou and one in Hangzhou. There are plans to open a fifth next year.
Another brand that is making its presence known in Hong Kong is bookseller Heywood Hill, the official book supplier to the queen since 2011. While it will not have a physical presence in the city, its representative, bookseller-at-large Charlotte Merritt, can help customers with orders and inquiries.
Heywood Hill chairman Nicky Dunne says the 79-year-old bookshop has an international clientele of 5,000 customers in more than 60 countries, including China. The shop not only sells books in print, but also rare books, literary objects such as manuscripts and items connected to authors. It can also help clients set up libraries in their homes, and sends books to customers once a month depending on their tastes.
Dunne says the company most recently helped a couple in Hong Kong create a library of books on 20th-century art, fashion and design, some 600 books that included monographs and biographies and books that were in and out of print.
"There's a revival in desire to have a room full of books that are appealing objects in the digital age," he says. "A sanctuary from the screen."
Dunne worked in the shipping industry in Hong Kong in the 1990s and on a visit to a house on The Peak he wandered into the library and found that every book had come from Heywood Hill.
Dunne says Heywood Hill also has customers in Shanghai and Beijing, who are interested in English literature and writing. "Many of them are students, or lovers of English life, who have either holidayed in the UK or studied there, or perhaps got recommendations from an English friend," he says.