Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Jimmy Choo ready to answer the siren call of China's mall owners

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 May, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 July, 2015, 1:47pm

The origin is unknown, but the quote rings true, "Cinderella is proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life."

Fans are familiar with the legend of Jimmy Choo. He began as bespoke shoemaker in the East End of London in the early 1990s catering to celebrities, including Princess Diana.

Choo opened his first shop in 1996 with Vogue's accessories editor Tamara Mellon. Soon after, his niece Sandra Choi came on board as creative director (a position she still holds). Choo left the company in 2001, and Mellon in 2011, but the company grew selling handbags, small leather goods, scarves, sunglasses, belts, fragrances and men's shoes from 167 stores in 35 countries. Jimmy Choo PLC listed on the London Stock Exchange in October 2014, and is now valued at about £546 million (HK$6.6 billion).

"It is interesting to have an accessory brand recognised and respected in the stock market," says CEO Pierre Denis, who joined in 2012. "It's a recognition of a great British brand, it's a recognition of our success."

But how does the company going public affect the brand? "In basic terms, with an IPO, you need to comply with a lot of rules and regulations, which is good because it forces a company to improve structuring. Our IPO provides us with the capacity to invest more in our brand, and finance our expansion with new stores in China."

Drawing on his seven years working and living in Asia, Denis is focused on building the brand in China. During the past year alone, five stores have opened there, with plans to open 25 more in the next five years.

I felt that Chinese customers needed brands that are a bit more specific, more interesting
Pierre Denis, CEO Jimmy Choo

"When I joined Jimmy Choo, the business had been focusing on the development of the brand in the US and Europe. It would be fair to say that Asia was kept on hold - the thinking was that Asia was complicated, that China was too big, too complex. When I joined the company, it was my intention to develop business in Asia to compliment the strength of Jimmy Choo in the US and in Europe. That has really been one of my priorities.

"We will open 10 to 15 new stores per year, no more than that. But half of them will be in China. When I worked for LVMH here, we could see that China had been really developed with the big brands; it was all about Dior, Chanel, Vuitton. But I felt that Chinese customers needed brands which are a bit more specific, more interesting."

Denis believes what Chinese customers want is diversity in brands; malls can no longer be cookie-cutter models housing the same brands in a market saturated with monogrammed luxury goods. "I've been discussing with landlords in China - they are talking to Jimmy Choo saying, 'I want something different for my client.' This is a good time for us to come in."

"Other brands have been around for centuries. Jimmy Choo's still a young brand, relatively speaking, so we have to inform the new market of our significance," says Denis. "It is most important for me to be consistent with our DNA."

There are several strategies at play: product development, retail, marketing, and expansion into different tiers and zones in the mainland. There is another method that works wonders: a relationship with celebrities.

"In some countries Hollywood celebrities are the biggest stars, while in others the local stars are more important. Asia falls into the second category; they love Chinese film stars and Korean soap and television personalities. These people are far more popular in Asia than Western celebrities. I was at a red carpet event and a Korean TV star was wearing Jimmy Choo shoes and carrying one of our bags. The shoes and that bag have been flying off the shelves ever since. In fact, we had trouble keeping up with the demand."