Taking Taiwanese Fashion Labels to Europe
Eliana Kuo, one of only a handful of Taiwanese who have built careers in the fashion mecca of Milan, has gained valuable insights into the inner workings of the European fashion industry. Now she hopes to help Asian fashion designers bring their labels to Europe.
Taking Taiwanese Fashion Labels to EuropeBy Yueh-lin Ma
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 584 )
In the evening of the fourth day of the Milan Fashion Week, three young female fashion designers from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan presented their new collections at a venue near the Pinacoteca di Brera, the city’s most important fine arts museum.
Italian fashion magazine editors and fashion bloggers had come to view the designers' first collections of women’s wear, men’s wear and handmade accessories at their joint catwalk show with live accompaniment from a small band. Amid the boisterous atmosphere the three Asian designers readily answered questions from interested buyers.
The Milan launch of the debut fashion collections was possible thanks to 29-year-old Eliana Kuo.
In the daytime, Kuo works for Italian brand Giorgio Armani. She is in charge of merchandising for directly managed Armani women’s wear boutiques in the Asia-Pacific region, which means sales, sourcing, management and product line development for women’s wear and accessories for the brands Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani, EA7, Armani Jeans and Armani Exchange in the region.
After work, Kuo looks after I'm Somewhere, an integrated marketing studio she founded together with three Italian friends. Two of them run model agencies, while the other owns a music management company. The quartet helps a dozen up-and-coming designers from Asia and Italy communicate and shape the image of their fashion labels.
Who Wears Whom
“When a new designer label wants to come out in European fashion circles, the key is 'who wears whom'," notes Kuo. Celebrities, models, fashion editors and bloggers are important influencers. If the creations of new designers are not worn by such people, they will hardly be noticed by the media and consumers.
“The public needs to know how these ‘creations’ can be combined into an outfit. Designers need intermediaries to show off their inspirations,” observes Kuo.
Another challenge that budding Asian designers face is catching up with the European pace of business, Kuo says. It is no easy feat to design two collections per year and bring them to market on time while maintaining stable quality. “Also, if you want to sweep the entire European market, then fitting is very important - shoulders, waistline, pant length. Why do you think Zara is selling so well? It’s because their fitting is strong; they are able to grasp the body types of people in different regions. But for young designer brands this often poses a huge challenge," remarks Kuo.
After earning a dual degree in the Italian language and advertising from Fu-jen Catholic University in Taipei, Kuo worked for the Italian representative office, the unofficial embassy, in Taiwan for two years. There, she was in charge of introducing Taiwanese brands to the European market. Subsequently, she studied for an MBA degree in fashion and design at the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan.
In the past, Italian fashion brands liked to entrust veteran store managers with sourcing because they knew very well what customers wanted. However, in recent years, they have come to hire people with a background in commerce and economics to respond to the dramatically changing market. Kuo joined Armani for exactly that reason. To date she is the only foreign national in the retail product department of Giorgio Armani.
Kuo, who once also aspired to become a fashion designer, opted for a business management position instead given that the fashion industry badly needs such talent. In the future, she wants to apply what she learned at Armani, "the fashion empire that understands business best,” to marry esthetic taste and marketing strategy in order to pave the way for Asian designer brands' entry into Europe.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz