Learn how 29-year-old Jennifer Woo turned Chinese retailer Lane Crawford into a booming six-star luxury emporium.
New York has Barney's and Paris the Bon Marché. Thanks to 29-year-old retail prodigy Jennifer Woo, China now has Lane Crawford, a premiere style emporium.
For 29-year-old Jennifer Woo, slipping into the role of President and Managing Director of Lane Crawford in 2003 was just about as natural as sliding on a pair of Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos. Daughter of Peter Woo, Chairman of Lane Crawford, she already had the requisite retail DNA pumping through her blood. Yet it was her unique cross-cultural upbringing that nurtured her sophisticated sense of style and eye for opportunity – two qualities essential for stepping up to the plate. Bringing her fashion acumen and appetite for luxury to China's booming market, Woo quickly transformed Lane Crawford – a sleepy 155-year old company whose slogan was once originally, "The place to buy anything from a pin to an anchor" – into a successful style emporium on a par with Barney's and Harvey Nichols.
In November 2004, after only 18 months at the helm, she cut the ribbon on the company's most illustrious venture to date: a 82,000 square-foot flagship in Hong Kong's prestigious IFC building. The 'specialty store' – a series of exquisite light-drenched galleries created by the design company Yabu Pushelberg – fuses art, architecture and fashion with concierge services ranging from holiday bookings to blackberry tune-ups.
Catering to a new breed of style-conscious consumers, Lane Crawford has transformed shopping into an interactive art. This November, the company celebrated the next exciting stage in its evolution with the re-launch of its store in Pacific Place in Hong Kong. Some of the revolutionary features at the 50,000 square-foot store include sculptural sale counters with heat-sensitive touch screens, a CD bar with iPod sound stations and "behavioral technology" visual projections. Since she assumed her new position as Managing Director of the Lane Crawford Board of Directors in October 2005, Woo is now working towards building strategic retail initiatives in Greater China and, possibly, abroad.
Your mandate for the Lane Crawford IFC flagship was to 'build the most beautiful store in China'. What inspired its design?
The collections of our designers from all over the globe and the store designers themselves – George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg – inspired me. Fashion evolves each season and is so integral in the lives of many in Hong Kong and China, I really felt that Lane Crawford must build a store that will enhance our brand portfolio, complement our designers and speak to our savvy fashion customers.
How does it reflect the changing cultural and consumer landscape in China?
The Chinese customer is becoming so sophisticated. With access to the fashion world through the internet and other channels of communications, Chinese consumers are as up-to-date as any fashionista in New York. Today, beyond anything else, the most prevalent culture in China is the culture of learning.
The Lane Crawford IFC goes beyond just fashion. It is a complete contemporary luxury destination, including a martini lounge and CD bar. What does this multi-level luxury concept say about your vision of modern living?
When we set out to build the new Lane Crawford, we saw an opportunity to build a store around our customers – and our customer's lifestyle. Fashion reaches beyond ready-to-wear and extends into every part of our customers' lives. They are used to the best spa retreats, the best restaurants, the best home decoration, the best hospitality, and the best travel destinations.
In your opinion, what does the new Chinese luxury consumer crave most?
They crave the newest, the best, and the most innovative product.
It's the fantasy of many young girls to have their run of an entire department store. Was it a dream come true to become the president of one of the best in the world?
I have been fortunate to be able to grow up with Lane Crawford as part of my childhood, and fortunate to have the opportunity now to guide the evolution of the brand. Yes, running a department store is 'dreamy' because I do love fashion and have a soft spot for shoes – so it's rather convenient from that point of view. But it is more than that; it is really the opportunity to make a difference, to build a brand, and to meet and exceed our customers' expectations! It has been such a rewarding journey working with all our wonderful partners from around the world – designers and creative talents – and so encouraging when our projects enhance our customers' shopping experience, and of course even more rewarding when it all positively impacts the bottom line!
Where did you develop your taste for luxury?
Living in HK it's hard not to!
How is luxury defined at Lane Crawford?
Mostly our products and the designers we have in our portfolio define luxury, but it has most recently been defined by our service standards. With the opening of our new IFC store, we had an opportunity to revolutionize our operations by implementing a two-pronged strategy. Firstly, to treat every customer that comes through our doors as a VIP. We implemented a new concierge service offering services ranging from charging your cell phones and blackberries, to booking a luxurious holiday to Bali. And secondly, to reward our top-spending customers, we designed a special 3,000-square-foot suite that is attached to the Four Seasons hotel for a more private shopping experience. The suite offers private sessions with personal stylists, showering facilities, complimentary refreshments, and special previews of collections and special events. All of these services are available without any obligation to purchase for our top-spending customers.
What are some of your choice fashion selections for winter 2005/2006? And for spring?
For this winter, my favorite two collections are Chloé and Roland Moret. For the spring, Chloé and YSL.
Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming designers?
Roland Moret, Phi, Sharon Wauchob, Neil Barrett.
Style is an art of living. What does your style reveal about your personality?
Elegant and reserved.
What are your plans for Lane Crawford's future?
I believe that the Lane Crawford brand and business has great potential to continue to evolve and develop. In today's world where customers are spoiled for choice of product and options, it is essential to keep the brand alive. Retail is a living business and it's important to continue innovating.
Jennifer Woo's travel and culture confessions
What are some of your essential carry-on travel items?
Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream. Crème de la Mer. A pashmina. And my nano Ipod.
What are some of your favorite beauty brands and products?
Crème de la Mer. Bobbi Brown Shimmer Stick.
What is your definition of luxury?
I don't think there is a blanket definition of luxury anymore – it is not a global standard, but individual to each of us. Luxury can't simply be measured in material terms. It's discovering something unique, or attaining something that is rare or appreciating something not for its value but its beauty.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
I don't know about an object – one of the greatest luxuries now is time.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
The time and place where the people I love and care about, and those who inspire me, are together enjoying each other's company. We would be by the water, there would be Champagne, great debates about pop culture, and raucous laughter.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
I wouldn't dare attempt to answer this one . . .
Lane Crawford Store Locations
Podium 3, IFC, Central.
Pacific Place, 88 Queensway.
Times Square, 1 Matheson Street.
3 Canton Road, Tsimshatsui.
Shanghai Times Square, 99 Huai Hai Zhong Road.
No.167 Central Street, Dao Li District.
619 Yan'an Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang