SHANGHAI TANG: THE FIRST GLOBAL CHINESE LUXURY BRAND?
When he created Shanghai Tang in 1994, Hong Kong businessman David Tang intended to launch Chinaís first bona-fide luxury brand. The idea was ìto create the first global Chinese lifestyle brand by revitalising Chinese designsóinterweaving traditional Chinese culture with the dynamism of the 21st centuryî.1 In the first few years, Tangís flamboyant, cross-cultural style and ties to international celebrities fuelled the buzz surrounding the label. But the company was unable to establish its core customer outside its home market, Hong Kong,2 and it struggled to find a niche among successful, established global brands [see the Appendix for descriptions of a selection of successful global luxury brands]. In 2005, under new leadership and revised creative direction, Shanghai Tang expanded into several regional markets, with a particular focus on Asia. But was the company on track to become the first global Chinese luxury brand? Would David Tangís vision be realised? The Story
I just thought to myself, that if you agree that China will eventually be the largest economy in the world, it was time to start a brand that was quintessentially Chinese.3 - David Tang, founder of Shanghai Tang
David Tangís vision was to create a lifestyle brand that reintroduced traditional Chinese aesthetics to a new consumer audience. A self-described ìbroker between East and Westî, Tang said that he constantly reconciled the various cultural influences he absorbed throughout his life.4 Born into privileged Hong Kong society, Tangís grandfather made his fortune from the Kowloon Motor Bus Company. Tangís father owned racehorses, and his mother was a Hong Kong socialite. At the age of 14, Tang was sent to England to attend boarding school. Initially unable to speak English, Tang quickly adapted to the habits of well-bred British society and spent weekends visiting friendsí families at their country houses while attending the Pure School in Cambridge.5 He studied law and philosophy at Kingís College in London and then returned to China as a lecturer in philosophy at Peking University.6 Tired of academia, Tang ventured into business, beginning with a job at Cluff Oil. He also became the exclusive importer of Cuban cigars to Asia and Canada and managed ìa family investment fund, an oil-drilling business and a gold mine in Africaî.7 While he enjoyed success in these ventures, Tang felt a wave of opportunity flowing from China and set his sights on the creation of a lifestyle brand that was quintessentially Chinese. He was determined to create a brand that embodied everything he loved about the beauty and mystery of China from days past. The idea was to reintroduce this aesthetic and the impeccable Chinese sartorial tradition to an entirely new audience in a way that was relevant to modern tastes. Tangís aesthetic was inspired by the Art Deco Shanghai of the 1930s, when the city was considered ìthe pearl of the Orientî8. In August 1994, his vision was realised. The Shanghai Tang flagship, a 12,000-square-foot store on Hong Kongís Pedder Street, opened its doors to the public. Tang created Shanghai Tang as a lifestyle emporium where shoppers could purchase photo albums, watches, bedding, a sweater or a tailor-made qipao (a traditional Chinese dress) in one shop [see Exhibit 1 for product categories and price ranges]. He also sold communist era kitsch at upscale prices, like Mao Tse Tung watches and goods emblazoned with a red communist star, like the items sold in small side street shops in Hong Kong long popular with Western tourists. To elevate their country-of-origin status and mitigate Chinaís reputation for making cheap, low-quality products, the items carried the label ìMade by Chineseî. Wealthy tourists visiting Hong Kong, Shanghai Tangís core customer, often stopped at Shanghai Tangís flagship store to buy the signature Tang Jacket, a tunic with a mandarin collar in shockingly bright colours, or a...
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