In the past decade, luxury retailers in Metro Vancouver and other western urban centres have increasingly introduced Chinese themes, culture and events into stores to lure the rapidly growing upscale consumers from China.
But now the reverse – a traditional Chinese luxury brand looking to establish itself as a global brand through engaging western haute couture – looms on the horizon, as Vancouver’s Lao Feng Xiang Jewelry (LFX) Canada launches a western art exhibit this month to draw more mainstream attention.
The exhibition is made up of 16 paintings by 10 local artists at Vancouver’s ROAM Gallery, whose work will be shown in jewelry display cases at LFX Canada’s flagship store on Alberni Street through October. The artwork, officials say, could help to broaden the appeal of the LFX brand beyond its heavily Chinese-focused clientele. Established in Shanghai in 1848, LFX is one of China’s oldest jewelry makers.
“We have a very Chinese name, and we have very traditional Chinese jewelry,” said Katherine Xu, vice-president of LFX Jewelry Canada. “But a lot of people don’t see that we also have a lot of diamond, pearl and coloured-stone collections that are designed for the international market. So I hope this opportunity will bring people to see how these items – displayed in front of western paintings – interplay with global styles and elements.”
LFX, ranked by market research group Deloitte as the world’s 13th-largest luxury-goods company in 2017, is usually strongest in traditional Chinese jewelry items made with gold or jade.
Retail analyst Craig Patterson said that LFX’s strategy of using western art to broaden its branding hasn’t been seen previously in Canada’s luxury retail sector, although variety retailer Miniso – which opened its first Canadian store in Vancouver in April – markets itself as a “Japanese lifestyle brand” despite being headquartered in Guangzhou, China.
Patterson, president and CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. and editor-in-chief of the company’s industry publication, added that LFX’s choice of artwork fits the market the company is trying to attract, because the demographic for art and jewelry buyers often crosses cultural lines and overlaps in income, spending power and consumption habits.
“Expanding into art could be a brilliant move on the part of LFX – they’re a trusted jeweller, and jewelry can translate into art,” Patterson said. “And the retailer’s clients may be high-income and art collectors as well, so it’s win-win.… Expanding into actual art certainly isn’t a stretch and might be very strategic if LFX already has an affluent client base.”
Xu said that similarity in customer profile between art and jewelry was why her company decided to pursue an exhibit.
“We’ve found that a lot of our clients, when looking at our jewelry, really appreciate the designs and the craftsmanship behind the work. And because we have a long history – five generations of artisans involved in jewelry craftsmanship – there are always stories coming behind each piece of jewelry. That’s very similar to art appreciation.”
Luxury brands have been experimenting with moving beyond their core product in several cases. Carmaker Mercedes-Benz, for example, sells branded clothing in some automobile showrooms.
But LFX representatives noted that the choice of featuring new, local artists comes from the Little Black Dress Gala, a charity fashion-art event scheduled for October 20 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver that focuses on supporting local youth and women.
Jessica Lamirande, marketing supervisor for LFX Canada, said her involvement in the event introduced her to ROAM Gallery owner Jennifer Angers Daerendinger, who agreed that a co-operation with LFX would benefit both parties.
“We wanted to do something unique for the community in October, and we believe this is a chance for local artists to showcase their art to a more diverse group of people,” Lamirande said. “We are on Alberni Street, and it’s a fantastic location for that.”
Xu added that Alberni Street, being close to some of the city’s most prestigious hotels, makes it even more crucial for LFX to step beyond its traditional client demographic.
“Absolutely,” Xu said when asked about the company’s desire to reach the neighbourhood’s high concentration of non-Chinese tourists. “Vancouver is a major tourism hub, and people like to see many unique, different things in the city. Some may be hesitant to come to our store because they think the price points are too high. We hope that this makes for a more accessible, easily appreciable experience for those customers.”
She added that, depending on the current event’s success, additional art exhibits might be planned.