Changing Taste in China

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For the past five years, if not longer, luxury goods magazines have been publishing the same story about China every week. The market there is booming, thanks to China’s economic growth, but consumers are said to be “unsophisticated.” Most buy luxury goods as status symbols, rather than for the quality they offer. As a person who’s half-Chinese, it’s hard to not get defensive over these characterizations, but it’s also hard to pretend they aren’t true.

There are some exceptions, however. George Wang – better known to some as maomao on StyleForum and Beijing1980 on Tumblr – recently opened a menswear boutique in Beijing. Named BRIO, which is Italian for spirit or verve, it offers the kind of classic, softly tailored Italian style that George has always championed. George was in San Francisco last week, so we met at La Farina for lunch and chatted about his new store.

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BRIO is an impressive two stories. The first floor, which is street level, holds all of the shop’s menswear offerings. The second floor is downstairs, where you can find a lounge as well as a barbershop (BRIO has an in-house barber who can give a shave and a cut). The idea is make a space where men can hang out, relax, and have a drink; not just buy clothes. Photos show that the lounge is still a work-in-progress, but the space so far looks exceptionally nice.

So does the list of brands. There are some British makers, such as Begg, Edward Green, and Sanders (BRIO will be carrying Sanders’ Playboy chukkas, which were made famous by Steve McQueen). The rest, however, is largely Italian. The store will have Sartoria Dalcuore for suits, Stefano Bemer for shoes, Rota for trousers, and G. Inglese for shirts. Other brands include:

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All of these stand in stark contrast to what’s usually sold in China (and, indeed, even much of the Western world). Whereas most places offer made-to-measure suits from the same mass-production factories, Sartoria Dalcuore will offer handmade, bespoke tailoring. To be successful, BRIO will need to draw in a certain kind of customer – one that understands the difference between ready-to-wear, made-to-measure, and bespoke – but George thinks the potential is there.

Unfortunately, BRIO can’t take international orders at the moment. China’s customs and duties are simply too high, which makes it hard to export things out again. George didn’t rule out the possibility, however. Should the store work out, he can see setting up an outpost in Hong Kong at some point, where international shipping can take place.

Hopefully that happens soon. BRIO offers a kind of taste-level that’s not only unique in China, but frankly most of the world. I’m also hoping that they eventually open a location in the US. When I suggested the idea to George last week, he smiled. 

You can follow BRIO at their social media accounts on Instagram and Weibo

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