Icicle owner ICCF: Attitudes towards apparel consumption have changed with Covid pandemic
Shanghai-based fashion group ICCF (Icicle Carven China France) has been regularly posting double-digit growth rates in recent years, despite the pandemic.
ICCF’s success is due to the “eco-sympathetic” philosophy of its main label Icicle, founded in 1997 by Ye Shou Zeng and his wife Tao Xiao Ma, and to the buoyancy of the Chinese market, where the group’s other brand, Parisian label Carven, is now thriving, and will soon be operating 30 stores.
On Tuesday February 22, Icicle will open its second flagship store in Paris’s luxury shopping district, on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Ahead of the inauguration, ICCF's international vice-president Isabelle Capron spoke to FashionNetwork.com, explaining how the group has grown steadily in terms of retail distribution, staff and output, notably strengthening its presence in Paris, and also outlining her vision of the Chinese and European fashion markets.
FashionNetwork: What are the group's forecasts for 2021?
Isabelle Capron: Our performance in 2021 has been positive. In 2020, the group generated a revenue of €217 million, up by 12% compared to 2019, and managed to keep growing thanks to a strong recovery in China. The same trend continued in 2021. ICCF has maintained the same high-speed pace as in the past, when growth rates ranged between 18% and 25% depending on the year. A success that is explained by Icicle’s absolutely visionary market positioning, with an ethical approach and a philosophy that from early on hinged on comfort and well-being, ever since its launch in 1997. The label's sustainable strategy, proof that fashion developed in synch with nature can be beautiful and very appealing, and also steeped in an Oriental mindset, is entirely consistent with contemporary fashion trends.
FNW: Which other factors lie behind ICCF’s success?
IC: The group’s results have been driven by a very buoyant Chinese market, tapping the rise of middle class [consumers]. In the last decade, the latter’s influence has greatly increased. Between 500 million and 600 million Chinese have achieved a higher standard of living, and they are truly enthusiastic consumers. Especially the younger generations, for whom self-expression is key. The average age of luxury consumers in China is 10 years lower than that of European consumers. Demand for quality and security has become very high in the country. The trend intensified owing to the Covid pandemic, which sparked [people’s] ecological awareness. Finally, there is genuine pride in buying Chinese. Made-in-China products are no longer synonymous with low quality.
FNW: How is Carven progressing in China?
IC: Carven is expanding at a very vigorous rate. It currently operates 20 stores in the country, and is set to have 30 by the end of 2022. It is now benefiting from a degree of popularity in China. And through its expansion there, Carven will be able to finance renewed growth in Europe. In September, the label re-opened its old store on the Champs-Elysées, in addition to the existing one on rue de Grenelle, and launched a new e-shop.
FNW: Will you be hiring a new creative director for Carven, and will the label show again?
IC: This has clearly been the goal from the very beginning, but it’s still too early to be on the agenda. The management wants to take their time and consolidate the brand.
FNW: Where are Carven's collections produced?
IC: The collections are designed by the label's own creative studio in Paris and produced in China by ICCF’s factories, with an emphasis on quality sourcing. High quality and exceptional materials are a must. Our founders are extremely active in trying to source the best fabrics and sustainable materials, both for Carven and Icicle. Some of the fabrics - silk and cashmere - come from China, the rest from Europe, like linen from Belgium and wool from Italy, and also from Japan, where we source high-quality cotton.
FNW: What is the group’s manufacturing structure?
IC: The group owns three factories in the Shanghai area, and is about to invest to increase its output capacity. It will relocate one of the factories in an industrial park in the same region, combining it with part of the head offices and a logistics hub.
FNW: Has the group’s organisation grown in size in Paris too?
IC: Yes. By the end of the year, we will have a staff of 90 people, between design, retail and other departments. Numbers have grown to such an extent that we will relocate part of our offices. The design centre that Icicle established in Paris in 2013 will remain within the headquarters in avenue Raymond Poincaré. It has grown in size, and it now comprises four areas: a fashion studio-workshop, an office that looks after brand image, a studio for accessories design, set up a year ago, and a studio for menswear, which is being set up now.
Our commercial organisation was boosted by the arrival in 2017 of David McNulty from Louis Vuitton, as head of the commercial structure, and of Fany Moulié Moroz, who was hired from Burberry in late 2019 as commercial director Europe. The retail, marketing and commercial structure teams will move to the top four floors of the building that is home to [Icicle’s] new [Parisian] store, at 50 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
FNW: What are your plans for Europe?
IC: Our objective is to open stores in other European countries. But it is still too early to talk about it. It is very important we consolidate our business in Paris first. In September, we also launched Icicle’s European e-shop. Meanwhile, [Icicle] is growing internationally, having recently set foot in Japan, with a concession in Osaka.
FNW: Despite growing in China, Icicle is not especially well-known yet …
IC: In terms of market positioning, Icicle is completely consistent with all current trends. It is perfectly in synch with the times. We must publicise it though, that’s our challenge. We need to expand our customer base. In the spring, we will amp up our marketing and advertising efforts. We are also staging plenty of events at our cultural venue on the top floor of the avenue George V store, because [Icicle] is a brand that needs to be experienced first-hand.
FNW: What’s your assessment of the current market situation?
IC: China is clearly bouncing back. The country exited the Covid crisis early on, in May-June 2020, and is recovering vigorously. The country’s zero-Covid policy, prompting extensive one-off lockdowns, can occasionally affect some stores, but overall life has returned to normal and growth remains sustained, also because of China’s size. Of course, Chinese people cannot travel abroad, but the size of the domestic market is huge. Besides, in China, people are very confident about the future. The difference between Chinese and European attitudes is striking.
FNW: Do you expect Europe too to bounce back?
IC: My outlook here is more cautious. The approach to consumption and work [in Europe] has changed, and this will necessarily impact our industry. The question is, how do we dress today? There is a trend towards a more informal style. Consuming less and better is another strong trend. How do we stimulate [consumers], make [the brand] known, make people come to the stores? These are our challenges. With the Covid pandemic, attitudes towards apparel consumption have changed. And we don’t know where people will be spending their money in future. The pandemic will have a profound impact on societal trends and lifestyles, and labels will have to deal with it.
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