On the very sound principle that a change is as good as a rest – and the fact that I’m traveling – this month I will write about China-related things that jumped out at me while wandering around Europe recently.
Back in China I’d been in multiple discussions about how the IKEA model was finally coming good in China, with sales volumes growing and more branches sure to come. Here in Europe, of course, IKEA is a staple part of life along with wine, baguettes and euros. So what excites European home furnishing imaginations? Well, one company doing very well is a Hong Kong luxury furniture firm called Forbidden City. It has launched in Europe with exhibitions in Chelsea and Mayfair showrooms displaying traditionally inspired, contemporary-feel furniture. Word is that the great, the good and the wealthy of London snapped it all up rather sharpish, relieved to finally find an alternative to the ubiquitous IKEA.
London is full of mainland Chinese tour groups coming over to enjoy the weak pound and in the process sweetly boosting West End sales, as well as those of popular day trip destinations such as the Bicester Village designer outlet center near Oxford. Chinese brands are jumping on the London bandwagon, too – estate agents are buzzing with rumors that Li Ning (2331.HK) is looking for an Oxford Street store. Not that Li Ning expects thousands of Cockney customers, you understand – rather those Chinese tourists who need convincing Li Ning really is global (when of course it isn’t).
Indeed, London is abuzz with gossip regarding Chinese brands in Oxford Street and Regent Street, and all along up-market New Bond Street. And while they want the luxury and the high-end, they are also likely to find the more familiar. Chinese jewelry brand Qeelin – created in 2004 by Hong Kong designer Dennis Chan in partnership with Guillame Brochard of France – now has a boutique in Selfridges to go alongside its outlets in Hong Kong, Paris and Beijing. It’s a nice spot in the department store’s "Wonder Room" of cool brands. When I visited, the counter was crowded with mainland Chinese shoppers looking for low-tax bargains. For up-market Chinese tourists, London is indeed the new Paris.
But let’s not write off the Parisians just yet. A day trip on the Eurostar reveals that the swank boutiques of Avenue George V are full of Chinese spenders, while Louis Vuitton’s Champs – elysees flagship store appears to have become the official meeting point for all Chinese visitors to the French capital. I was partly in Paris to see some of the prêt-à-porter shows where all the old Gallic regulars remarked on the number of Chinese buyers in attendance this year. J’adore Paris, Cool Britannia – who really cares? It seems the Chinese retail-vacationer loves them both these days.
And finally… I found time to visit the Paris Motor Show, where Porsche (PAH3.FWB) was talking up its strategy of converting rich Chinese males from their love of being chauffeured to becoming sports car drivers. Not so sure about this. Chinese urban roads are clogged, usually slow and often beset by potholes and bad driving – not great territory for sports car driving, though challenging. Still, having only sold 2,000 911s in a decade, Porsche clearly needs to shift attitudes – time for more prime time dubbed episodes of Jeremy Clarkson and his BBC Top Gear show, I reckon.