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China's Rising Luxury Brands

Feb. 10, 2013 | By The Luxurist

Last year the Chinese surpassed Europeans and Americans to become the largest group of luxury consumers in the world.

Chinese shoppers now comprise a bit more than 20% of the worldwide luxury market. They buy an average of $14,940 on luxury goods when they travel to Europe, Hong Kong, and Singapore. They also spend heavily on pricey brands at home.

Qeelin diamond-encrusted panda necklace and ruby and diamond goldfish ring

Despite the current global economic slowdown, the country's mammoth economic potential and vast population mean that China's upper classes will continue to swell and outstrip Western luxury consumers for years to come.

The Chinese seek out Vuitton, Cartier, Armani, Prada, Rolex, Gucci, Hermes, and a few dozen other traditional European brands. Those are what the Chinese (and other international shoppers) have preferred – at least until now.

The rise of several luxury brands created by Chinese designers for the local market and other recent indicators may point to forthcoming changes in the shopping habits of Chinese consumers.

"They hope to launch their brands into the rarefied luxury space, attracting big spenders not merely in China, but in the West, as well."

Several manufacturers have created high-end brands and are targeting Chinese buyers by incoporating design elements intended to appeal to local tastes.

They hope to launch their brands into the rarefied luxury space, attracting big spenders not merely in China, but in the West, as well.

At least two companies appear to be poised to succeed.

PPR – the French group that owns Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, Balenciega, Alexander McQueen, and Brioni – recently invested in Qeelin, a small but chi-chi chain of jewelers launched in China in 2004.

Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung, star of Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood for Love," models Qeelin's longevity necklace

The brand incorporates traditional Chinese elements into its luxurious, intricately detailed designs. One of its signature pieces is a fully articulated rose or white gold panda, encrusted with diamonds or other precious stones and typically worn as a necklace.

Other designs are derived from the shape of Tang and Qing era vases or from the Chinese longevity lock, an ancient symbol often depicted in traditional arts and crafts.

The jeweler has has just 11 stores in China and Hong Kong and one in Paris. Westerners also can pick up pieces in London at Qeelin boutiques in Selfridge's and Harrod's.

Not to be outdone by rivals, Hermès recently announced plans to invest tens of millions of euros over the next five years to develop Chinese boutique label Shang Xia – selling traditionally inspired apparel, jewelry and furniture – in which it bought a majority stake in 2008.

Shang Xia's Twilight wooden boxes made of Zitan wood and carved bamboo for jewelry or small objects

Among Shang Xia's offerings are $45,000 gold-woven porcelain teapots, red sandalwood tables, and cashmere dresses inspired by the traditional Chinese qipao. Everything is sourced locally and made by Chinese craftsmen.

Jiang Qiong Er, Shang Xia CEO told that he views his stores as "platform(s) where we show the Chinese art of living with beautiful, quality, luxury objects.

"This is a cultural project with a business aspect" he went on to say. "What we are doing is quite unique."

The firm has two locations, one in Shaghai, the other in Beijing. A third boutique will open this spring in Paris on the rue de Sèvres, near le Bon Marché, The Luxurist and Luxurista's favorite grand magasin.

It remains to be seen whether Qeelin, Shang Xia, or other emerging Chinese luxury brands will be called up to the big leagues.

If they are, will they make the championships or will they strike out and get taken out of the game?

Watch this space.

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