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The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Fashion • Man Of The Moment -

rans­form­ing Hong Kong-based fash­ion and life­style store Shang­hai Tang from some­what of a quirky sou­venir em­po­rium into a pi­o­neer­ing Chi­nese lux­ury life­style brand may not have been pos­si­ble if it wasn’t for Raphael le Masne de Cher­mont. Join­ing the brand in 2001, fol­low­ing stints at Cartier, Pi­aget, Baume & Mercier and Pan­erai un­der the Richemont Group, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Cher­mont has played a ma­jor role in the brand’s ex­po­nen­tial growth – both here and abroad. To­day Shang­hai Tang has pres­ence in 45 cities around the world, in­clud­ing Lon­don, Shang­hai and Sin­ga­pore. We chat to the debonair Bre­ton about risk, retail cul­ture, his per­cep­tion on the no-tie pol­icy, and the im­por­tance of med­i­ta­tion.

What are the chal­lenges and risks you’ve en­coun­tered in trans­form­ing the Shang­hai Tang brand? The risk was that the cus­tomers who were buy­ing our sou­venirs would not come back any more. We still kept the old items, but we tried to min­imise the Maos, dim sum bas­kets and quilted jack­ets – the clichés of China. At the time I joined, 80 per cent of the cus­tomers were Western­ers, but to­day the ma­jor­ity are Asians. Our num­ber one cus­tomers are the main­land Chi­nese. We wanted to give China a brand that res­onates with the Chi­nese.

When you first started out in the com­pany, what was the first thing you wanted to im­prove or change? I wanted to change noth­ing in the be­gin­ning. I spent three years look­ing for a way to grow the busi­ness and to draw more cus­tomers. Back then, the brand was sell­ing a few pieces of cloth­ing and peo­ple were buy­ing them, but only a few would wear them. The only time you would see some­one wear­ing [Shang­hai Tang pieces] was on spe­cial oc­ca­sions like Chi­nese New Year. I started invit­ing de­sign­ers, as we wanted to dress peo­ple on a daily ba­sis.

Sev­eral years ago you launched a cam­paign called the Man­darin Col­lar So­ci­ety – a mission to per­suade men not to wear a tie. What is the think­ing be­hind that? The Chi­nese know-how is silk, em­broi­dery, cash­mere and qi­pao, and th­ese are re­lated to women. When you think of men, it’s long cheongsam or a Mao jacket. Men don’t wear silk and em­broi­dery; their cloth­ing is more ca­sual chic. So we cre­ated an el­e­gant jacket and fo­cused on the man­darin col­lar. We wanted to send a mes­sage to the world that there’s an al­ter­na­tive el­e­gance to not wear­ing a tie. So you think it’s a good idea for, say, a mod­ern en­tre­pre­neur to go with a no-tie pol­icy in the work­place nowa­days? Yes. The thing is peo­ple con­fuse them­selves be­tween wear­ing no tie and [look­ing like] trash, some­times. That’s why we are pro­mot­ing al­ter­na­tive el­e­gance. It means you may not be wear­ing a tie, but can still look el­e­gant or dif­fer­ent.

What is the one Shang­hai Tang piece in your closet that you trea­sure the most? My travel jacket. We call it the travel jacket be­cause it has zips ev­ery­where to put your wal­let, pass­port and doc­u­ments in it. I am in a plane 30 per cent of my time and I need to make sure I don’t for­get my pass­port. It also doesn’t wrin­kle and you can ac­tu­ally wear it in a meet­ing. I’ve had it with me for eight years now.

How do you spend your free time when not trav­el­ling for work? I play polo. If I am not rid­ing horses, I am ei­ther at the sea­side or in the moun­tains. I love na­ture and I love hik­ing. I hike at least two to three hours on one week­night, usu­ally on Wed­nes­days, and six hours on a week­end. I have to be care­ful not to do vi­o­lent sports and I need look af­ter my knees.

You rep­re­sent Hong Kong at polo. Why did you de­cide not to fo­cus on pur­su­ing pro­fes­sional polo, since it’s such a pas­sion? My dad told me I should study in­stead. As a sports­man, you’re good un­til 35 when you’ve reached the top and then you have to have an­other ca­reer. It’s also a risky sport and you can get a lot of in­juries. There’s a lot of com­pe­ti­tion too.

Is there any par­tic­u­lar watch you like to wear ev­ery day? Pi­aget’s lim­ited edi­tion Alti­plano in white gold. It’s ac­tu­ally a man­ual watch and the move­ment is ex­tremely thin. I have had it with me for 20 years.

What things do you do in or­der to keep a stress-free life­style? I med­i­tate for 10 to 15 min­utes in the morn­ing. I started med­i­tat­ing over 10 years ago, but I am not dis­ci­plined. Jon Ka­bat-zinn, a spe­cial­ist in mind­ful­ness, trained me. I am not that spir­i­tual; I was born and raised Catholic, but as you grow older I think you need to be spir­i­tual and be con­nected with the essence of the world.

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