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Shiatzy International CEO Harry Wang's store strategy in China is to run with the big international brands.
Shiatzy Chen CEO Harry Wang
Taking Eastern Fashion Global

Harry Wang has led a team of Taiwanese designers, Chinese artisans, and French stylists to build Shiatzy Chen's brand image in China and the world. It has been anything but easy.

Photos: cw

Shanghai's famous Bund has been a curse to international fashion brands trying to enter China's market.

After Giorgio Armani led the foreign invasion by moving into No. 3 (the old Union Building) on the Bund in 2004, followed by Cartier setting up shop at No. 18 (the old Chartered Bank Building), all top international luxury brands aspired to locate their flagship store on Shanghai's historic waterfront, determined to declare their pre-eminent status in the world's second largest luxury goods market behind only the United States.

But exorbitant rents and crowds of shoppers who tend to browse rather than buy have continuously reshuffled the brands' relative influence, much like during the era of foreign concessions in Shanghai when countries saw their power come and go.

The first and fourth floors at No. 4 on the Bund (the old Mercantile Bank of India, London, and China Building) are currently up for rent and the No. 5 building (the old Nissin Shipping Building) is being remodeled. But Taiwanese fashion brand Shiatzy Chen has withstood the constant upheaval, having occupied No. 9 on the Bund, the neo-renaissance three-story red brick China Merchants Banks Building, since 2005.

Shiatzy International Co., Ltd. signed a 20-year lease with the owners of this historic building, which was originally planned and built by prominent late Qing Dynasty statesman Li Hung-chang. Opening the flagship store's massive bronze door etched with the year "1901" reveals a world of the latest embroidered coats and jade-handle bags.

At night, the lights may burn brightly along the Bund on the bank of the Huangpu River, but the store's salespeople generally outnumber customers, a scene that also plays out a few doors to the south at the Giorgio Armani shop. The adjacent Armani Casa store closes its doors much earlier in the day.

Staying open at night despite the paucity of customers represents just one of the small prices Shiatzy Chen has paid to project itself as one the world's leading fashion brands. Another is holding runway shows at major international fashion events.

Most recently, Shiatzy Chen put on a runway show at Paris Fashion Week on Oct. 2. The company has showcased its brand at both the spring and fall versions of the prestigious fashion fest four years in a row and nine times in all.

The brand's show in Paris has exploded in scale, from the 100 to 200 buyers and international media workers it attracted in its first year to the 400 to 500 that attended in 2012. The caliber of the models, the showmanship, the runway atmosphere, have all improved dramatically.

Yet putting on an international fashion show at this level costs at least NT$20 million.

"And it really didn't generate any increase in overseas orders," says Shiatzy International CEO Harry Wang bluntly at the company's headquarters in Shanghai's Minhang district a few kilometers southwest of the Bund.

Wang, the son of Shiatzy Chen chairman Wang Yuan-hong, moved to Shanghai eight years ago along with design director Wang Chen Tsai-hsia, the creative force behind the company, to shoulder the responsibility of expanding the family business overseas.

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