German Designer Breathes Life Into Chinese Domestic Luxury Brand

Michael Michalsky Signs Development Deal With China’s Leading Sportswear Brand To Create China-Only Fashion Range

German designer Michael Michalsky sees China as a future fashion hub, rivaling Tokyo, Paris, and Milan

German designer Michael Michalsky sees China as a future fashion hub, rivaling Japan, France, and Italy

German designer Michael Michalsky, one of the country’s rising fashion stars, has recently signed a deal to produce a range of high-end sportswear, paving the way for other western designers to create China-only lines in partnership with China’s quickly-emerging domestic luxury brands. Michalsky has established himself as something of an iconoclast in European fashion, as he has set his sights primarily on the China market, rather than targeting traditional fashion centers like Milan or Paris.

As Michalsky told Deutsche Welle, his decision to focus on China’s fashion and luxury markets came naturally: “China is the most exciting market for fashion right now…The Chinese are really open to fashion, and let’s face it, the future of the world lies in this region.” Deutsche Welle’s profile of Michalsky shows a designer whose interest in the potential of the Chinese market is led as much by personal fascination as new business realities. As China’s position as one of the world’s top markets for luxury goods is heightened by falling consumption in developed countries, it seems likely that Michalsky is the first of many designers to work with Chinese luxury brands in coming years rather than an anomaly:

At the high-end of the industry, [Michalsky]’s one of the first to have woken up to China’s potential as more than a market for established western brands such as Louis Vuitton, Cartier and BMW.

Earlier this year, the New York Times stated the obvious when it reported that China is now the world’s fastest-growing luxury market, with an estimated $7.6 billion in sales in 2008.

Michalsky, in the meantime, had cottoned on to a different, more significant growth – that of the domestic market. Although its love affair with imported luxury is still going strong, China is increasingly fed up being merely a production site for other countries and the home of cheap knock-offs. These days, it’s keen to foster indigenous brands and to meet its consumer needs under its own steam.

“The domestic Chinese market is expanding rapidly,” confirms René Lang, president of the Association of German Fashion and Textile Designers . “Until now, China has been known first and foremost as a supplier, but now it has greater spending power, despite the crisis, and there are some very well trained designers and fashion schools. But they are still in a phase where they tend to rely on foreign help expertise.”

Traditional brands might turn their noses up at China, but where others see only a low-end market, the German designer sees real potential:

“The Dongxiang Group is very successful locally, and the company is now looking to expand internationally,” he says. “To begin with, the line will only be available in China because that’s where they have their own stores, but they’re planning to expand across Asia and I don’t see what’s to stop them ending up in other markets futher afield.”

“China is in a transitional phase right now, it’s moving away from imported goods towards home-grown products,” agrees René Lang. “There’s a burgeoning desire for a more personal cultural identity attached to goods that have been specially produced for the Chinese market.”

In heading east, Michalsky is following in the footsteps of only one other German designer. In March, Jil Sander raised eyebrows from Madison Avenue to Avenue Montaigne when she teamed up with Japanese budget clothing retailer Uniqlo. The company sells $30 jeans and $15 parkas, and is one of the few companies still thriving despite Japan’s recession.

René Lang says [that conditions on the ground in China are changing]. “We need to get way from the idea of cheap China,” he stresses. “Standards are changing fast and there’s a growing interest in organic textiles, sustainability and better working conditions. The situation will inevitably improve the more money starts circulating in the market. China is trying to shed its bad image.”

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