SHANGHAI TANG: China’s First Great Luxury Brand
One rainy October night in 2002 in a 1,300 year-old Confucian temple in Shanghai, journalists from three continents, local bigwigs, style-conscious Chinese yuppies (chuppies), and three Chinese soccer stars gathered to watch a fashion show. Raphael le Masne de Chermont, CEO of the Chinese lifestyle brand Shanghai Tang, is unconcerned about the weather and its possibly detrimental effects on 46 expensive garments which were about to make their way down a slippery red lacquered catwalk. The lights go up, the beat of “Tainted life” fills the temple, and the parade of Chinese model begins. On display is an array of sumptuous clothing: Brocaded parkas with fur trimmed hoods, S49,000 chinchilla-lined silk coat, silk jackets topstitched in cloud patterns, tweed skirts festooned with crystals in a dragon-scale design, and cardigans embellished with jade. When the final outfit, a full-length shearling coat encrusted with Swarovski crystals, is shown, the crowd applauds de Chermont and his creative director Joanne Ooi. The glitzy event was a gamble for Shanghai Tang, which has had a rocky history since its launch.
Birth of a Brand
Shanghai Tang was founded in 1994 by British-educated David Tang in Hong Kong. It was a positioned originally as a custom-tailoring business leveraging on the talents of Shanghainese tailors. In 1996, anticipating a robust market selling Chinese souvenirs to well-heeled tourists attracted by the handover of the city of China, Tang expanded into ready-to-wear. At precisely 6.18pm on November 1997, a time chosen into by a feng shui (geomancy) master, Shanghai Tang opened a palatial outlet on Madison Avenue in New York just opposite Barneys, welcoming the city’s glitterati for a bash that featured roast suckling pig, lion dancers, and Fergie, the Duchess of York. It was such a hot ticket that many party goers couldn’t get in, as the NYPD, citing New York’s tough fire codes,...