Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fashion queen never says die

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By Xiao Changyan (China Daily)

Film producers hunting great storylines need look no further than the life of Sung-Joo Kim.

One of the most celebrated businesswomen in the world, Kim was born into the richest family in South Korea but was deprived of her inheritance for refusing an arranged marriage. She later created her own independent fashion kingdom, then lost a fortune in the late-1990s Asian financial crisis. This "iron lady" rebuilt her empire, then declared that her only daughter would never be considered as her possible successor.

Kim recently visited Beijing and passed on her ideas about business and feminism to Chinese women.

"I want to create an Asian powerhouse," she declared.

She has now acquired MCM, an ailing luxury brand, and plans to turn it into an international powerhouse relying heavily on China.

Beijing has four franchised MCM stores, targeting those who cherish individuality and independence.

"Asia is becoming the major market in the world and it's only natural trend that Asian companies will take over the luxury brands - after all, we are the major buyers," she says, citing Singapore billionaire Christina Ong's acquisition of UK brand Mulberry, Hong Kong businessman Kenneth Fang's purchase of Pringle of Scotland and Dickson Poon's rejuvenation of Harvey Nichols.

She emphasizes that the 'new' MCM is targeting a different consumer - not the "blind buyers" of the past. She chuckles about the "wives and concubines of rich men" who are so often targeted by luxury companies. "We are targeting intelligent consumers - 21st century well-traveled, high-powered professional men and women," she says. "That's a very different notion to those who buy for status and are driven by logo. Our consumers certainly appreciate luxury images, but with substance."

According to Kim, new business is emerging out of the 21st century knowledge-based economy and women are better suited to it than men. "With the Internet you have to be able to sell products without knowing the customer, so you need intuitive power - emotional quotient (intelligence) or EQ," she says. "Women have it more than men."

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