PPR’s announcement that it had bought a majority stake in Chinese jewellery brand Qeelin – it was launched in 2004 by Dennis Chan and Guillaume Brochard – marks the third move on the part of “French group with an Asian dimension”.
First there was last year’s purchase of Italian menswear brand Brioni, driven in part, said PPR’s chief exective François-Henri Pinault, by the desire to tap into the booming Chinese menswear market. Then there was last week’s appointment of Asian-American designer Alexander Wang as creative director of Balenciaga; and now this. You know what that means: I smell a trend!
Or a strategy, at least, anyway.
PPR has been looking to bulk up the hard luxury part (it owns Boucheron and Girard Perragaux) of its luxury portfolio for a while – Mr Pinault first started discussing it back at a Gucci store opening I attended in Ginza in 2006 – and recently, rumours were floated that it would snap up Harry Winston. Instead, however, it decided to go east. (And, perhaps, risk less investment; Qeelin, whose price was undisclosed, but is relatively small – only 14 stores – was probably cheaper than Winston would have been.)
This strikes me, however, as a pretty strong public statement that PPR thinks all the breast-beating about the Chinese consumer slowdown is, perhaps, exaggerating the matter.
And it’s also a bit of a hedge against the time when Made In Italy/France may not have quite the pulling power in the east it currently enjoys, and the Asian luxury consumer starts to turn to their own, home-grown brands. After all, like PPR’s joint venture with Yoox last August, which offered a shortcut to instant global etail know-how, buying a Chinese brand instead of building one à la Hermes and Shang Xia, is a much faster way to get into the game.
Meanwhile, I guess some real estate agents will be sussing out space on Place Vendome.