Suzy Menkes: Luxury Brands & The Promise of Southeast Asia


Sophie Doran | October 01, 2013

This is the first international luxury conference in the world to focus on South East Asia. Yet this is a region that should be so important to the industry

Suzy Menkes shares the key themes of the 2013 luxury conference

For the fifth year running, Luxury Society has partnered with the International New York Times luxury summit, to bring our membership together and discuss the most pressing issues in our industry, led by some of its most influential figures.

As the official business network of the conference, we are delighted to announce a specially discounted rate exclusively for Luxury Society members to attend the upcoming International New York Times event in Singapore on November 21-22.

To further pique your interest, we spoke to Suzy Menkes, the renowned International fashion Editor, to learn more about the upcoming conference and the luxury market in Southeast Asia.

Why is it timely to focus on South East Asia and its consumers?

This is the first international luxury conference in the world to focus on South East Asia. Yet this is a region that should be so important to the luxury industry. There has been a massive focus on Asia – but that interest has hardly gone beyond China – and Japan before that.

With the slowdown in China, I think it’s incredibly important for all of the luxury industry to think about these countries that are ready and waiting – places like Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines – all of these highly populated countries with growing middle classes.

Some of these countries are already on the luxury map, but others have been ignored – even if there is a big number of high net worth potential clients. People just aren’t thinking about South East Asia, which is why it’s so important that we at the International Herald Tribune are focusing on this S.E.A. of luxury.

“ There has been a massive focus on Asia but that interest has hardly gone beyond China and Japan ”

There seems to be a high masculine content this year. Why is that?

It is hard to over-estimate the importance of luxury menswear and all the surrounding male accessories across the region. This sector is growing in double digits – often faster than products for the female market. It is time that the industry looked at this pan-Asian phenomenon.

Who are some of those Asian designer names that you are bringing to the conference, alongside the well-known names like Anna Sui and Phillip Lim?

As well as focusing on the consumers in the region, I think it is essential for us to talk about the creative side. Yes of course it’s important as a growth market for the global luxury industry, but at the S.E.A. of Luxury Conference, we will be taking a close look about the creative talent coming from Asia.

And talking about how Asia can be a creative powerhouse – and not just the place to manufacture low cost fashion. It’s the idea that Asia can create, as well as consume. We’ll be bringing over designers who are significant in South East Asia, and who represent a wave of creative talent. It’s people like Biyan Wanaatmadja from Indonesia whom I want to highlight at the conference.

And let’s not forget about the Asian American designers, like indeed Phillip Lim and Anna Sui; I’m looking forward to talking to them about their thoughts on Asia, and whether they see themselves as a kind of bridge between the U.S. and Asia.

“ Asia can be a creative powerhouse, not just the place to manufacture low cost fashion ”

Which are some of the more mature South East Asian cities in terms of luxury awareness and infrastructure?

Well, I’m delighted we’re holding the S.E.A. of Luxury Conference in Singapore – it’s really the hub for luxury in the region. Everyone is there – or if they aren’t yet, they’re about to be. Tom Ford, for example, is opening a store in Singapore next year, and I so look forward to hearing Domenico de Sole talk about this and his plans for the rest of the South East Asian region at the conference.

But I go to the IHT Luxury Conference to learn as well, so I’m looking forward to seeing a panel of retailers – from Manila to Jakarta, Singapore to Saigon – talking about their businesses and their future plans.

“ Tom Ford, for example, is opening a store in Singapore next year ”

You’ll be in conversation with Michele Norsa, Anna Sui, Gildo Zegna and Andrew Keith – what are some of the themes you want to explore with these speakers?

Well Gildo Zegna will be opening the conference, and I’m looking forward to hearing him set the tone for the two days – we’re looking at the entire South East region but also stretching to China – so as well as places like Singapore and Indonesia, I hope Gildo will talk about opportunities in second and third tier cities in China.

I’ve been planning out this year’s conference as a series of “waves,” and Gildo is really part of a “wave” which looks at the power of the male consumer and the importance of male brands in Asia – which are really driving growth for the luxury industry.

And so is Andrew Keith – he’ll be focusing on ecommerce, and talking about how the Asian male consumer behaves online. Anna Sui – She really is an America/Asian success story. I am particularly interested in talking to her about how she built her business and how she developed such a thriving beauty business pan-Asia.

I’m so excited Michele Norsa will be coming to the conference with James Ferragamo – I’m looking forward to hearing about their experiences in South East Asia, and finding out how they have developed from a favourite luxury footwear supplier in Japan to one of the most recognized names across Asia.

“ Andrew Keith will be focusing on eCommerce & how the Asian male consumer behaves online ”

This year’s speakers mix prominent luxury brand creative directors with some of SE Asia’s most knowledgeable local retail, communications and economic experts; what value are you hoping this combination will deliver to attendees?

The IHT Luxury Conference series has always had a diverse mix of speakers – from creative directors to CEOs, from academic experts to financial gurus, and this year is no different. I’ve put this conference together with the aim of really putting South East Asia right at the forefront of people’s minds and making people as excited about the region as I am!

And so yes, we have creative directors from international brands – like Anya Hindmarch, Phillip Lim, Sandra Choi from Jimmy Choo, but also creative directors from Asian brands – I’m especially fascinated by Jiang Qiong Er of Shang Xia, which is of course part of Hermès, and the idea that they can take their accumulated years of wisdom and apply that in creating a true Asian luxury brand.

This year also sees a very strong focus on jewelry – I think it’s very important to discuss this in a region which has such a passion for jewels and precious metals. So we have Western creative talents, such as Stephen Webster, but also Asian creative, such as Qeelin’s Dennis Chan.

And of course you need the facts and figures to back everything up and to give the foundation to all this. So I hope that attendees get a comprehensive picture of the region – but as well as the conference, there’s also great networking.

“ I think menswear, jewelry and accessories are particularly important for South East Asian consumers ”

What sectors are currently key to SE Asia’s luxury economy? Which sectors have opportunities to grow?

Well I think menswear, jewelry and accessories are important. South East Asian consumers want something beautiful and lasting, something they can pass on, which is why we have Cartier, Stephen Webster and Fabergé talking – they really know the mind-set of these consumers and why their attitudes to jewelry.

To further investigate previous IHT luxury conferences and 2013 speakers on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- In Conversation With Andrew Keith, President, Lane Crawford & Joyce Group
- IHT 2013: The Future of Luxury in Africa, Trade Not Aid
- In Conversation With Domenico de Sole, Chairman, Tom Ford