Last Saturday, at dusk, amid the hot courtyards and lanterns and refurbished splendour of the China Club in Beijing, Chiara Boni launched her menswear collection in China. The question you will now ask yourself is: who is Chiara Boni? Even her press release feels obliged to address that teaser in its first line. The answer - 'a precocious Florentine fashion designer who started her career as a boutique-workshop owner selling clothes designed herself in the 1970s' - does not quite give the whole story. The essential point about Chiara Boni is that she is backed by Gruppo GFT. You probably will not have heard of that name either, but you will certainly know about Giorgio Armani, Emanuel Ungaro, Valentino and Cerruti, whose clothes are made by Gruppo GFT: seven million garments pour out of its nine factories every year. But the geographical fact which is relevant to the launch is that one of those factories is in Tianjin in the mainland, a two-hour drive away from Beijing. The nurturing of the mainland market has been a GFT priority for the past decade. The Tianjin factory was launched as a joint venture with Tianjin Jin Tak Garments in 1988, and the group keeps eight Italian engineers there permanently to keep tabs on quality and to ensure the (Italian) technology ticks over nicely. Until now, the factory has produced menswear under two labels, Jin Tak and Pierre Cardin. Jin Tak, as its name suggests, is a domestic label for the domestic market and Pierre Cardin, no matter how desirable he may appear in markets beyond Europe, is considered a joke by international fashion connoisseurs. So it makes good economic sense for GFT to introduce an Italian label which can be both made and sold in the mainland. This is where Boni comes in. She is well enough respected in Italy to bring genuine ability and interest to the label but, at the same time, she is not one of those huge, global names for whom being associated with a new venture in China could be a commercial risk. Her connection with GFT goes back to 1985, when she signed an agreement with the company which would give her a more international platform. Before that, as she freely admits, she had been a defiantly off-beat, rather than business-like, designer. As a child, she used to dream about the clothes she would wear when she would meet the man of her dreams. 'So I wanted to do womenswear. When you are born in Florence, you have a taste for this job - it's something that you have in your DNA.' She opened a shop in Florence called, in a reversal of the usual phrase, 'You Tarzan, Me Jane'. 'A very funny place,' remembers Boni. 'It was a big tent, like a circus. When I started, I had nothing so I said the way to do things is to have people talk about you.' That taste for the theatrical, which is much more common among, say, British fashion designers than Italian, has sustained her for 20 years. When the press perked up, she decided to broaden the venture. 'This was 1978, maybe, and we started producing something with a group of young fashion designers, about 20 or 30, called Moda Nostra which means 'Our Fashion'.' Boni pauses. 'It became a big mess. Some of us were a little disorganised, we couldn't understand why people got so angry if things weren't delivered.' At this auspicious juncture, Marco Rivetti, whose family founded GFT in 1930, happened upon the scene. His arrival must have felt like divine intervention because if anyone knew about the delicate relationship between design and industry - in other words, how to make desirable consumer goods instead of chaos - it was Rivetti. And Boni, who is tall, blonde, blue-eyed and memorable, knew how to create waves. 'We had to invent different ways of getting publicity,' she says. She co-wrote a book called Dress Up to Go Out which was the result of many brainstorming sessions with friends, had a chapter entitled 'How To Make A Conquest', and was a big hit in Italy. Once, when she had a fashion show, she asked journalists to prance down the catwalk. Last year, for her first menswear collection, she again dispensed with models and used 'nice Englishmen' as actors in a movie which was filmed in London and shown in Milan. Boni also presents a television programme called Dilemma which looks at relationships within families. (She has a 26-year-old son.) 'People ask me why I do that, but I think that fashion is nearer to real people than it was before, and doing the series brings me real life.' But the real dilemma may be how closely she can tap into mainland expectations of menswear, given that she had never visited the country until three months ago. She is emphatic that will not be a problem. 'I think the development of fashion taste is now very quick because of the media, especially television.' And GFT has evidently briefed her on what to give the high end - suits will retail at about 4,500 yuan (HK$4,200) - of the market. Her clothes will not be available until stores bearing her name open in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong next spring but, judging by the preview at the China Club, Chinese men can expect a sporty, lean and relaxed look, in keeping with what was shown at the European and American men's collections earlier this summer. Whether that is what they want remains to be seen, but if Gruppo GFT's market research is correct then the hitherto-unknown name of Chiara Boni could be on a lot of hips by this time next year.