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Business

Hugo Shows China Who's Boss

In China's increasingly affluent upper classes, the name to have on business suits and casual wear is Hugo Boss, the German fashion label. Even those who can't afford the real thing love to wear the logo.

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The well dressed in China have fallen for Hugo Boss and all the brand represents.

The Chinese have long had a taste for German cars. Just as those who are native to the country which produces Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Opel, the Chinese have taken to their hearts the curves, the reliability and the performance of Germany's automotive products. Now it seems that another icon of German style has made an impact in the Orient: fashion label Hugo Boss.

Chinese popular fashion has a reputation for being a hip mix of retro styling; thrift shop couture and market stall bargains. That may well be true for the youth of the People's Republic who have embraced Western casual clothing trends but for those who shop at the higher end, there is none more attractive that upscale Swabian brand.

As they pass down shopping streets littered with Swatch outlets and Haagen-Dazs ice cream parlors, China's new affluent classes are often decked out in the latest offerings from the German fashion house.

New upper-class adopts Boss style

Der chinesische Schauspieler Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Regisseur Sun Zhou, die Schauspieler Gong Li und Sun Honglei

China's film stars honor the Berlinale in German suits.

It is a scene increasingly common in a section of China's society in which increasingly fashion conscious and well-paid Chinese are helping the German brand become a market leader.

"China is a booming market for us," said Phillip Wolff, marketing manager in the Hugo Boss headquarters in the southern German town of Metzingen. "There exists a huge desire to catch up in terms of style. And the people there love our product. We can imagine that we will have a lot of success in China in the long term."

Chinese success driving Hugo profits up

Last year was a high point for Boss marketing in the Far East, one of the most difficult markets to break and remain successful in. The company's profits rose about ten percent to €82.4 million ($102.5 million) with flourishing business in China contributing largely to the healthy figures. Boss expects to more than double sales in China over the next four to five years, according to a recent report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper.

Boss opened its first store in the most Western Chinese metropolis of Shanghai in 1994. In the ten years since, Boss has expanded to 50 stores across the People's Republic with another 50 estimated to open in the next five years.

"This is a combination of the good product, of the price-quality relation and an excellent image around the world ", explains boss marketing head Wolff, explaining the secret of Boss' success.

A bringer of good luck

Hugo Boss Logo

Another factor could be that the name. "Boss" itself conjures up good omens for the Chinese, an association with a leader and chief that the superstitious believe can also bring luck. Such is the belief in the product and the brand name that well-off Chinese dig deep into their pockets to buy goods which Phillip Wolff says are twice as expensive as they are in Germany.

Goods from abroad are subject to high import taxes in China and foreign companies have to pay extra fees to access the Chinese market. As a result, Boss clothing can swallow up a good few months worth of salary for the average Chinese breadwinner. Those not yet a part of China's nouveau well-to-do can still be clothed in Hugo Boss, in a way, although in the form of fake items from canny label forgers.

Roaring trade in counterfeit clothing

There is a booming business in China's bigger cities for fake Boss items and specially made items on markets where a "Hugo Boss" label can be added at a bargain price.

Far from being concerned at the trade in fake Boss clothing, the reaction from Metzingen is a composed, even flattered, one. "We would be offended if one did not fake us," says Wolff. "It is a good sign. On other hand, we do cooperate with lawyers, with detectives and also with the government to a certain extent to tighten loopholes in copyright and protect our logo."

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