Style Check: one in the aisle for bridal fee

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 April, 2013, 10:13am

We hear about China's luxury market all the time, as all eyes are looking East. But things don't always run smooth when doing business on the mainland.

One of the biggest headaches is counterfeiting. Shoemaker Christian Louboutin is so quickly copied that it has banned editors from taking photos at its Paris showrooms. Since this month, showrooms have been displaying samples of products coming out in September - lots of time to produce and sell knock-offs just as, and even before, the real shoes hit stores.

Counterfeiters scour the internet, blogs and even editors' Instagram accounts for the latest styles. So this might be a smart move for Louboutin to make. I have seen some good copies of Louboutin shoes in small Sanlitun boutiques (for 20 per cent of the cost of the real thing).

No doubt this also happens in other countries. The trick for brands is to protect themselves from mass counterfeiting without causing massive offence with heavy handed measures. Bad press can equal poor profits.

The latest brand to take measures against copying in China is Vera Wang. But it seems to have made a pig's ear of it. The bridal powerhouse caused outrage by imposing a 3,000 yuan (HK$3,700) fee just to try on a dress in the Shanghai flagship boutique.

There are people who try on outfits with the intent to get them copied for a fraction of the price

The fee would be deducted from the final amount, if the customer bought the dress. This fee was only imposed in that store (the only one in the mainland). The fee was dropped after criticism from Chinese and global press accusing the label of discrimination.

A company spokesperson wrote via e-mail: "Please kindly be informed that Vera Wang has abolished appointment fees at her bridal salons worldwide starting from March 27, 2013."

Evidently, a debate on a Chinese microblogging service forced the label to backtrack on the fee. A statement was issued that read: "We wish for all Vera Wang customers to enjoy the same standard of excellence worldwide. Treating our customers in a fair and equitable way remains a priority."

It seems that the priority of treating customers equally - or if you are a cynic, the priority of good PR - seems to have won over that of short-term profit and loss.

In a way, this policy might seem understandable since there are lots of people who try on outfits with the intent to get them copied for a fraction of the price.

In China, this is easy to do. But if a brand imposes fees that are country-specific, it is a slippery slope to discrimination. In terms of profits, the offence caused to potential future and current Chinese customers could seriously hurt Vera Wang.

Once again, people power has flexed its muscles. No doubt the label has learned its lesson.