Raphael de Masne de Chermont was made executive chairman of Shanghai Tang, China’s first homegrown luxury fashion brand, by Compagnie Financière Richemont, which invested in the business in 1998. Along with David Tang, founder of Shanghai Tang, de Chermont transformed the company from a quirky retailer based on tailoring to a fully-fledged Chinese lifestyle brand. The French media have given him the nickname "le mandarin de luxe."
The French businessman graduated from the Audencia Nantes School of Management in 1987 with a Masters in management. He then worked for some of the most prominent brands in the Richemont portfolio, like Cartier and Piaget, all over the world, in countries like Belgium and Hong Kong. He has never worked in his native France, contrary to what many of his fellow graduates move onto.
Le Masne de Chermont was instrumental in growing the brand’s target audience. When the retailer first rose to prominence, it was mainly popular with Western expatriates and wealthy travelers to Hong Kong. Now, however, China is its main customer, comprising 20 percent of all sales.
“When I arrived on the scene in 2002, our job was to make the clothes relevant and wearable. It was very ethnic and party-oriented, so we had to twist it so it could survive beyond this romantic, 1930s Chinese aesthetic established by David [Tang]. We also had to stop going after Westerners exclusively,” he told BoF.
Business is now balanced between Asia and the Western countries almost exactly. Now, with the entry of brands like Shang Xia from Hermes, the brand faces more and more competition from other ‘made in China’ luxury brands. “Just because they put dragons on something they think it will sell. We have tried to cut all the clichés about China from all our product. Everything is toned down. Even our fits are more contemporary,” he explained.