It’s not often that a leading luxury label opens two flagship stores in one week. But Hugo Boss did just that. In late March, it set up two new Boss stores in Hong Kong. One is located at Central Building
in the business and retail heart of the teeming territory. Sprawling over 10,000 sq ft, it’s the largest of its kind in the Asia-Pacific and third largest in the world. The other is situated in Canton Road, not far from Nathan Road, the famous thoroughfare in the Kowloon district.

Hugo Boss is, undoubtedly, the alpha dog in the menswear-suit market. “We’re the No. 1 tailoring business in the world. There’re no other brands selling more suits at our price points,” says Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, chief executive of Hugo Boss. “The variety and complexity of what we do – new fabrics, new forms and reliability in terms of fit and quality – is tremendous.”

Global sales reached 2.4 billion euros (S$4.2 billion) last year, but Lahrs is not resting on his laurels. To up that number, he’s been on a tear to expand its Asian business. The paramount move: be the owners of its stores in this part of the world. “We’ve been working with franchise partners in mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan and decided rather late that it’s important for us to be in control of how the brand will be shaped in Asia,” Lahrs admits. “We’ve been doing business in Asia for decades and this was long overdue.”

Claus-Dietrich Lahrs: The CEO of Hugo Boss aims for the brand to operate its own stores in Asia.
Claus-Dietrich Lahrs: The CEO of Hugo Boss aims
for the brand to operate its own stores in Asia.

“But for a great brand, it’s never too late,” he adds quickly. The ultimate goal: to grow its Asian distribution to global sales from 15 to 25 per cent by 2015.

The two new Hong Kong flagships, aimed squarely at mainland China shoppers, are instrumental in that plan.

To celebrate the openings, Hugo Boss capitalised on the growing dominance of stars in the Asian entertainment market. Hollywood actress Margot Robbie (of Wolf of Wall Street fame) and American singer/songwriter Solange Knowles might have been in the house, but it was South Korean actor Lee Jong Suk, Hong Kong’s own international movie star Chow Yun Fat, singer/actress Miriam Yeung and actor Cheung Chi Lam who were a major play on star power to boost sales in the region.

The Boss team and celebrities at the launch of the flagship store in Central. From left, artistic director of Boss womenswear Jason Wu, actress Margot Robbie, CEO Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, former actress-turned-socialite Cathy Lee, actor Chow Yun Fat and wife Jasmine Tan, and CEO & president of Hugo Boss Asia Pacific Dr Gerrit Rutzel.
The Boss team and celebrities at the launch of the flagship store in Central. From left, artistic director of Boss womenswear Jason Wu, actress Margot Robbie, CEO Claus-Dietrich Lahrs, former actress-turned-socialite Cathy Lee, actor Chow Yun Fat and wife Jasmine Tan, and CEO & president of Hugo Boss Asia Pacific Dr Gerrit Rutzel.
The store in the business and retail heart of Hong Kong is the largest in Asia-Pacific and the third largest in the world.
The store in the business and retail heart of Hong Kong is the largest in Asia-Pacific and the third largest in the world.

WU-ING THE WOMEN

It is by pure coincidence that Hugo Boss’ new artistic director of womenswear is Asian in heritage. Rather, pure talent got Jason Wu the top creative job to expand and clarify the German brand’s women’s collection.

The 32-year-old Taiwan-born designer is renowned for creating US First Lady Michelle Obama’s inauguration gowns under his eponymous label.

Jason Wu: The Taiwan-born designer created US First Lady Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown.
Jason Wu: The Taiwan-born designer created US First Lady Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown.

Womenswear currently accounts for 11 per cent of its group sales, and Lahrs wants it pushed up to 15 per cent. “We’re not far away from 300 million euros, which is more than some womenswear-only brands out there. But it’s still a small portion compared to our menswear, and we can definitely grow the proportion in women’s,” he says.

“Since the women’s line was launched in 2000, we have offered a strong collection of dresses for ladies who want to look put together but not overdressed. That has done very well for us. What we’re doing with Jason is to raise attention, give it more femininity and make it more relevant to our female consumers. He’s a talented designer and respects the brand’s DNA, its core elements.”

But, with Hugo Boss known for its stoic menswear and Wu renowned for his feminine slant in fashion, how did the diametrically opposite design aesthetics converge in the latest Fall/Winter 2014 collection, unveiled at New York Fashion Week in February?

Wu has faultlessly capitalised on the menswear skill and technology on offer at Metzingen, Germany, where Hugo Boss is headquartered. The sleek clothes appeal to women in the business world, the female counterpart to the male Hugo Boss client. She’s sophisticated, minimal and no-frills, in a uniform of tailored tea-length sheaths, cashmere slip dresses and flannel pantsuits. All are rendered in a strictly neutral palette of black, charcoal, camel, white and blush pink. The use of a Bauhaus- inspired linear grid pattern accentuates the corporate undercurrent of the collections.

In an evening selection of gauzy gowns embellished with sequinned skirts, Wu also balanced tailoring with his signature feminine touch. His other familiar calling cards – embroidery and texture – were in evidence, too.

EMBRACING COMMERCE

To drum up anticipation right before Wu’s show-collection debut for Hugo Boss, a short film was released in four parts on the brand’s website. Shot in the Philip Johnson Glass House in Connecticut, the video stars Edie Campbell, the new face of the brand, running through snow in a sharply cut black cashmere trench, with fractured images of cityscapes and blossoming roses flashing across the screen.

“The number of clicks during and after the show was completely different from what we saw before in comparable events and exercises,” says Lahrs. “The e-commerce business is evolving and it’s evolving fast.”

Hugo Boss has online sales channels in Europe and the US and, to keep pace with this ever- growing market, launched its China e-commerce site last year. Similar sites in Asia are in the works, but held back by the “technical set-up that’s unique to each country”. But it is still staying one step ahead of the game. “What we’re getting ready for is omni-channel retail. That means consumers are able to go online, get consistent information about the brand and their favourite suit, click and buy, and pick it up at their preferred store,” he says.

“This seamless experience between online digital and physical distribution will be one of the most important challenges in our industry in the next two or three years.” A big undertaking but, given Hugo Boss’s titan networks and Lahrs’ forward-thinking strategies, will be no challenge at all.

Solange Knowles: The American singer/songwriter takes a turn at the DJ table.
Solange Knowles: The American singer/songwriter takes a turn at the DJ table.
South Korean artist Lee Jong Suk with Hong Kong actress Miriam Yeung
South Korean artist Lee Jong Suk with Hong Kong actress Miriam Yeung
Jason Wu, Cathy Lee and Chow Yun Fat
Jason Wu, Cathy Lee and Chow Yun Fat
Hong Kong stylist Tina Leung and Dr Gerrit Rutzel.
Hong Kong stylist Tina Leung and Dr Gerrit Rutzel.