HONG KONG RETAIL GIANT TANG READY TO PLUCK BIG APPLE: NEW STORE WILL BRING CHINESE STYLE TO U.S. FASHION CIRCLES

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To meet with Hong Kong-based retail magnate David Tang is to witness live theater. Between regal puffs on a Cuban cigar, he gestures with great flourishes-revealing the ivory lining in his black silk Mandarin jacket-and articulates with the drama of a Shakespearean actor.

Mr. Tang will need those promotional skills in November, as he plans to take his Hong Kong-based Shanghai Tang specialty store-a Chinese version of a Ralph Lauren boutique with silk and Chinese apparel and campy Mao Tse-tung alarm clocks-to New York's Madison Avenue.

After that, he'll be venturing to the fashion capitals of London, Milan and Beverly Hills.

ACTRESS IN AD ROLE

Preliminary ad plans call for showcasing Chinese actress Gong Li, of "Raise the Red Lantern" and "Temptress Moon" fame, in the ad campaign for the New York opening. Ms. Gong has signed on as the face of Shanghai Tang for three years in a worldwide, exclusive-for-fashion contract.

"Gong Li is the most internationally recognized and renowned Chinese actress," said Hong Kong-based Marketing Manager Winni Cheng. "It is really beneficial to us to use her worldwide. She is the epitome of Shanghai Tang; she personifies traditional Chinese beauty."

In the works are plans to invite Ms. Gong to the Madison Avenue store opening and also host the premiere of her newest film-"Chinese Box," co-starring Jeremy Irons-in New York at the same time.

Advertising for the U.S. store will start in October, and will likely be adapted from the Hong Kong marketing approach, Ms. Cheng said. In Hong Kong, ads created in-house show soft-focus shots of Ms. Gong in close-up or amid traditional Chinese furnishings. The ads run in newspapers, magazines and on outdoor boards.

Overseeing the ad strategy is Carl Barbato, newly appointed chief operating officer of Shanghai Tang U.S. and formerly senior VP-director of stores at Bergdorf Goodman.

TANG AS PROMOTER

The sociable Mr. Tang, who has been known to squire Princess Diana and the Duchess of York around Hong Kong, will be his own best promoter. Indeed, he and public relations agency Loving & Weintraub, New York, will be hosting several special events designed to introduce Chinese culture and fashions to the West.

"David has a magnetic kind of charisma," said Marvin Traub, the former Bloomingdale's chairman who is Mr. Tang's merchandise adviser. "That energy mixed with the timelessness of Chinese style itself, I think, will make New York fall in love with Shanghai."

Said Mr. Tang: "I want to take New York. I want to pick it up and embrace it with a big squeeze and a sloppy wet kiss."

The question is whether the love will be requited. Mr. Tang is the first to bring chinoiserie to U.S. fashion circles. The vast majority of the clothing will be the same as in Hong Kong, but a fall/winter collection will be added for cooler U.S. climates.

ADDITIONAL STORES

Once the Madison Avenue flagship store-with its 28-foot ceilings, and a mix of Chinese heritage and Disneyland whimsy-is up and running, Mr. Tang and his primary investor, Vendome Group, which owns Cartier and Mont Blanc, will move forward with plans for more international stores.

"I would never enter a market with arrogance," Mr. Tang said. "But I do enter with confidence. After all," he joked, "it is splendid that there is so much bad taste, because it makes people like me look superior."

Contributing: Scarlet Cheng in Hong Kong. Ms. Gault is a reporter for Crain's New York Business.

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