LONDON — While the business was hit with lockdowns in Europe and the U.S., Self-Portrait managed to open its first stand-alone flagship in Beijing’s retail hotspot Sanlitun amid the coronavirus pandemic, as part of its China joint venture deal with Ellassay Group.
The store carries the brand’s ready-to-wear and accessories collections as well as styles designed exclusively for the Chinese market.
Han Chong, founder of Self-Portrait, collaborated with New York-based architect Andreas Kostopoulos to reinterpret the brand’s aesthetic for local sensibilities. The store design focuses on surface detail and tactility, comprising a terrazzo floor with pink and white marble insets, an open grid ceiling that creates a continuous horizon, and walls coated with gray Cornish mineral clay.
The new store also features a curved glass corner aperture, providing a space for the brand to showcase up-and-coming artistic talents from China.
Chong said the brand, which is known for pretty dresses at an affordable price point, plans to open a total of six stores across China by the end of 2020, in high-end shopping districts in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Wuhan. The company aims to have 30 stores in China in the next two years, covering provincial capitals in the country.
On top of steady physical expansion, Self-Portrait launched its e-commerce channel with Alibaba’s Tmall back in March when China began to emerge from the pandemic.
“The sales have been positive, double to what we originally forecast,” Chong said, adding that “online business now represents 35 percent of the business, but as we open more retail stores, we expect e-commerce to make up 20 percent of the total revenue.”
The brand is hitting the sweet spot of Chinese fashion lovers’ demand beyond designer bags and shoes. Pieces that transition from day to evening, fashion-forward styles, and any pieces that have been worn by local key opinion leaders and celebrities have been selling well. Wedding occasion dresses have also been performing strongly in China compared to the other markets since the pandemic subsided.
Chong said he is constantly communicating with his local partner to adjust the fit to cater to the customers. “We’re educating them on the brand and also taking in information on what works for the market. This understanding is fundamental to how we make sure we are getting things right for China.
“Chinese consumers are savvy and intelligent shoppers. With so much readily available through so many platforms, you have to come to the table with more than just the use of the product. There has to be a lifestyle that comes with the brand that inspires them,” he added.
He believes that there is a big opportunity for contemporary brands in China, but it is harder for an international brand to penetrate the market.
“You can’t assume that the methods from your local market will result in success in China. It’s not a one-size-fits-all methodology even within the territory. The culture, habit and lifestyle of the consumer vary. So having a local partner that can provide that insight is vital for an international brand. You need a solid team to support the business and growth,” he said.
Outside China, Self-Portrait is stocked in over 350 retailers, including Selfridges, Net-a-porter, Matchesfashion.com, Harrods, Mytheresa, Harvey Nichols, Galeries Lafayette, and Lane Crawford, as well as its own flagships in London and Bangkok.