Did flash fashion brand Bulgari really spend HK$10 million on their bash at Hong Kong’s new Maritime Museum the other night? That’s the word on the street, you can just about believe it, having seen the nonsensical extravagance of the erection put up by Cartier a few years back when they wanted to open their new Central flagship with an over- the- top marquee in dull red.
Not that the Maritime Museum, next to the Star Ferry on Central Ferry pier is not a glorious and glamorous location to stage such an event, it is. It must rank as Hong Kong’s coolest new venue and it’s even better for not being a hotel or commercial enterprise. Not officially open til February, it’s already hosted shipping company Wah Kwong’s 60th anniversary party, against a backdrop of spectacular shipping photographs by Cheung Chau’s most famous photographer Basil Pao. Who is also known for taking the still pictures for the books which accompany Michael Palin’s BBC TV travel odysseys. Let’s just hope the maritime museum operators have a flexible charging policy and fine A-list fashion brands heavily for the privilege of using their premises.
Blowing the marketing budget
This raises an interesting point – the willingness of European brands to splash out huge amounts of money on promotional events and flagship stores in Asia, especially Hong Kong.
While the big target market remains China for most of these brands, they haven’t really quite worked out how to crack it. A decade ago they vied to have the biggest store in Canton Road or Central – much to Hongkong Land’s delight. The reason then was the lack of decent television or fashion magazines on the mainland which was true then. But now, surely TV has moved on and local China media, especially for fashion, must surely have caught up by now. So the old excuse for these mega Hong Kong stores being that they fulfilled the role of huge shop windows because there was no marketing outlet in China no longer holds water.
But still we have the opulent Prada, Armani, Cartier, Louis Vuitton et al, paying exorbitant Hong Kong rents. Even thought the mainland travelers have now worked out how to use Hong Kong airport and Hong Kong as an overnight transit lounge on their way to Europe, to stock up on eruo-denominated fashion products bought with beefy RMB. It would seem that no canny Chinese shopper stops here any more, only the first-timers doing their obligatory get out of China to Hong Kong trip. Then they get the package to Paris or New York or London or Milan. Usually via Frankfurt Airport, where a million of them a year – Frankfurt’s biggest passenger group by nationality - find personal shoppers who speak Mandarin. So you have to wonder why Bulgari is not throwing a big party in Germany or France, just for its VIP Chinese customers, instead of bothering to drag out the socialites here. Who probably already have more baubles and handbags than they can wear in a lifetime.