It was my first time traveling to Hong Kong and the only landmark I knew about was not the typical tourist attraction—like the tallest mountain, The Peak—but, instead, the iconic Lane Crawford department store. The 164-year-old shopping mecca is known for discovering international brands and introducing them to forward-thinking Chinese customers. It was one of the first to stock Haider Ackermann and is a top store for some of the largest beauty brands, like Crème de la Mer.
When one enters Lane Crawford for the first time, it becomes clear that someone very adept is working at the helm. The name of this luxury genius is Sarah Rutson, one of the most beloved women among many designers and street-style photographers. After a stint working at Lane Crawford in the nineties, she returned in 2004 as its fashion director. It was my first time in the famous store and I was lucky enough to spend my hours there with its heart and soul, Sarah, who shared with me her thoughts on fashion, success, the new luxury, and much more.
“We started an online store eighteen months ago. For us, it was like the last piece of the cake—it was about solidifying what our brand is about to a large audience. It was not until we really defined Lane Crawford that we decided to launch an online store. That is the reason why we came later to the Internet. We have some extraordinary results now: 1.3 million visitors per month, and we have shown a triple-digit growth year on year. Lane Crawford is a very trusted brand in China, and our customers know that all the products we have are real and they know what our store is about.”
On why it is important to remain a shopgirl:
“When I am in Hong Kong, I am always in the store. I am very connected to our customers. I still work with them, and I find that super-important. It helps me to understand how consumers change their opinions. It also helps to connect your brand to them in terms of what’s going on and how you are moving forward. I always say: ‘I started working as a shopgirl thirty years ago and I’m proud to stay a shopgirl.’ The customer is always in the center of everything and I am very passionate about this thought. What makes Lane Crawford powerful is the fact that we are very respectful and very connected to our audience. I am constantly looking at everyone and exploring new opportunities. I want to understand where else people buy, what else they are shopping [for], what their lifestyle is. Never be arrogant [enough] to think you can sit in an office and understand what is happening in the store.”
“What connects us to the rest of the world and our clients in different countries is our edit. Lane Crawford has some exceptional things, which people can’t buy elsewhere. We are driven by our customers’ desires and the way they express themselves through fashion. We know each space we are buying for and how many unique styles can be bought from a brand. We are about a point of view, so it is not about buying stuff, shelving it on racks, and hoping that it works—it’s about an experience, it’s about a focus, it’s about a very clear directive. When a customer comes into a store, he doesn’t feel overwhelmed, he feels a very strong sense of confidence of ‘I know what is going on, I know what this brand is saying, I know what this store means.’ We represent it very well.”
On a new Chinese customer:
“The Mainland Chinese consumers today are not about obvious labels anymore. They don’t want to wear brands head to toe, and self-expression has become very important to them. Seven years ago, I would say that the phrase ‘What are you wearing?’ would be the worst thing you could have said to someone. Now, it is a huge kudo, because when the clothing is not obvious and someone doesn’t know what it is, it means it is special as opposed to the very obvious brands and items. That is a luxury. The Chinese client is really understanding about the fact that craftsmanship and quality are incredibly important, and the two do not always go hand in hand. When we opened our Beijing flagship in 2007, I remember working with customers who would look at the label first. Within eighteen months of that store opening, they would buy things just because they loved them. After living here for twenty-one years, I see how fast China moves.”
On working with new designers:
“Lane Crawford has always been known for making discoveries very early on. We were one of the first to introduce Sacai and discover Haider Ackermann and buy his first collection. We have built brands and we have built fantastic businesses with small designers. Also, Lane Crawford is very committed to finding Chinese talents who are in China only. We are helping them to build product architecture and we are giving them an extraordinary platform in a great multi-brand environment on a global level. We’re selling them so well—it’s thrilling! What is really important is that any brand that comes to our store, regardless from which country, it has to have a very particular ‘handwriting.’ We’re picking up designers who can add something to our brand mix that no one else is doing. This market is very much geared toward new discoveries, which Lane Crawford has always been about.”
On personal wardrobe:
“Ninety-nine percent of my clothes are not runway, as opposed to my close friend Anna Dello Russo’s. [She] calls me ‘The Magician.’ I wear a uniform—I live and die in a biker jacket and a tuxedo jacket. I am obsessed with shoes; I dress from the feet up. It is always about the feet, and then I work out from there. I don’t shop trends. I am very proud that I have been recognized for my personal style considering it really doesn’t change so much and I don’t spend a fortune on clothes. Also, I have a tiny wardrobe—it is just [about] how you mix it all together.”
Photos: Courtesy of Lane Crawford