Economy

Cultural Revolution: A Chinese Functionary Creates His Own Luxury Label

Countless products are manufactured in China and then sold in the West under European or U.S. brand names. A new clothing venture is looking to turn that model inside out, hiring Italian tailors to make top-end suits for sale in China – under a Chinese br

Authentic elegance (Carsten Linke)
Authentic elegance (Carsten Linke)
Florian Eder

SORAGNA - Two things made Umberto Angeloni realize that his client wasn't kidding around. For one thing, Jie Zhang had Angeloni's company thoroughly researched and was apparently impressed by what he found: he placed an initial order for 100 hand-made suits.

The other thing was that the People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party paper, carried the story prominently, as did State television. Angeloni was left with the impression that the man is not only serious, but also has the support of the Party for the billion-euro state company he heads and for his plan to create a Chinese luxury label in men's fashion. Angeloni's northern Italian company was to make the suits.

Many Chinese in the People's Republic buy clothes that have fantasy Italian labels. Some buy up Italian clothing companies that aren't doing so well. And there are of course high-end Italian tailors aiming to grab a slice of the Chinese market – a vast market, already accounting for 20% of worldwide luxury product sales and growing faster than any other market. After all, the number of Chinese millionaires has reached three million – and they want nice things.

But what Jie Zhang was doing was different from all that. He was venturing into uncharted territory by creating an original Chinese label for clothing made in Italy. So Angeloni's team produced and delivered the suits, and Angeloni – CEO and majority shareholder in the men's fashion company Caruso in Soragna, near Parma in Italy – sat back, awaiting further developments with "great interest."

Angeloni has been in the high-end garment trade for a long time, and he follows the rules that have always stood him in good stead when it comes to dealing with new business partners: "We don't do joint ventures. We produce, they pay. But the way we're set up doesn't exclude something much bigger. To start out it will be small and local, but it could become a success all over China."

The name of the brand is SheJi-Sorgere, a combination of Mandarin and Italian words. And it has real potential for growth. "Sorgere is made in Italy, but it's not an ostensibly Italian brand. It's a Chinese brand," Angeloni says. The company is in no hurry to expand, but already has a target clientele: "bankers and politicians," says Yingjie Zahn.

Yingjie Zhan is the general manager of China Garments, a company that manufactures uniforms and turns over the equivalent of 260 million euros. It belongs to the Chinese state holding Hengtian Group, and it is the company for which Caruso will be producing the SheJi-Sorgere brand. "We're aiming for the top of the pyramid – men who stand out through their education and success, gentlemen who know was real luxury is," she says.

Turning the production stream on its head

Umberto Angeloni says he feels like the lucky one among Italy's top-end tailors, for whom business hasn't been that great since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. His own company made some 61 million euros in turnover last year. In his opinion, what is happening now is not a question of a bit of renewed growth but a sign of something much bigger and previously unimaginable: a reversal of global production streams.

Italian textile manufacturers used to be afraid of the cheap labor in China, he says. Analysts and economists were prophesying their imminent doom. "But now the exact opposite is happening. The Chinese are coming to us, spending a lot of money, ordering suits made of the best materials, seeking the best of the best in terms of tailoring skills," says Angeloni. "It's a revolution that I don't think most people have cottoned on to yet."

And it's one he played a role in. In October, Angeloni attended a congress in Beijing and told Chinese trade customers: "Your client is now a mature, developed man not about to be taken in as far as quality goes or be easily impressed by fancy names. You make enough cheap stuff, and by now your customers have entirely different expectations. Create a Chinese brand, but do it right, make it a good one."

He got the call not long after that. One hundred suits to be delivered by Dec. 20 for a private show. Could he handle it? No problem. Angeloni's team got to work: narrow-cut suits, black tie evening wear cut from silk jacquard – all with logos discernible only to the connoisseur: on the sides of buttons. This was followed by an order for 300 suits for a March fashion show in Beijing.

Zhang, head of the Holding and creator of the label, had a simple Mao jacket made for himself which he then sent to a Chinese firm of craftsmen that used to cater to the emperor "s court to have the inside richly embroidered. "Nationalists who want clothes made in Italy, Socialists who spend out for luxury others can't see – it may be hard for us to grasp, but it's not contradictory in China," says Angeloni.

The Italian clothier is used to discretion. While Caruso does produce a collection under its own name, it also produces men's clothing for labels at the topmost end of the price scale that give nothing more away about their producer than a "made in Italy" label.

It's an open secret in the sector that Caruso is producing the new men's line for Berluti, and that some 600 of its employees work on producing brands from Lanvin to Dior. The boss, however, has nothing to say about all of that. He has no qualms, however, speaking at great length on the subject of his new Chinese client and business partner, about whom he raves. Angeloni sees Jie Zhang as the rescuer of the "made in Italy" label and his business model as the future of the luxury market.

"The consumer wants to know where something comes from and how it's made," says Angeloni. "A brand label alone is not enough."

A Mao suit made in Soragna

Angeloni says that he can adjust to the fact that rules in the future may well look very different from what they do today. The negotiations over SheJi-Sorgere so far have not been exactly simple. "The man speaks only Chinese, and he starts the answer to every question you ask him with ‘Confucius say" ..."

Zhang once invited Angeloni to a very sophisticated restaurant in Beijing where he had arranged for a multicultural meal to be served: Dom Pérignon, followed by an Italian wine with Pata Negra ham from Spain. This was followed by a 200-euro portion of fish, whose virtues Angeloni failed to appreciate because it was full of bones. "Then they brought the bones back to the kitchen, and not long after that they came back to the table as crackers."

But, Angeloni says, he went on bravely eating. To be successful in China is the dream of every producer of luxury merchandise. Which is why the French are there as well, knocking on doors along with the Italians. According to Claudia d'Arpizio, a partner in the global management consulting firm Bain & Company, luxury goods in China will turn over an estimated 16 billion euros this year. D'Arpizio produces a study of the global luxury market every year.

The new edition came out this week, and shows up to 22% growth in China, which is to say more than in any other economic area in the world and 10 times more than in Europe. But d'Arpizio also says that the figures of the big luxury firms active in China are flattening out: she sees the "first faint signs of saturation."

These may have to do with the government-ordered slowdown in growth, but Angeloni has a further explanation: "Many luxury brands in China just want to milk the cow. But China doesn't want to be milked anymore." In other words, the newly rich customers in the People's Republic have cottoned on to just how dependent the fashion industry has become on them.

So little by little, just the way fashion itself is created, the future for the moneyed elite may not be about hunting down western status symbols but – this is what Angeloni hopes – a Mao suit made in Soragna.

A certain officially-stoked mistrust of western brands could help that along, he believes. Since last year, certain terms are taboo in advertising in Beijing – "upscale," "exclusive," "luxury," are not allowed to be used in association with "foreign cult products." The same holds true in other big Chinese cities.

SheJi-Sorgere hasn't gotten as far as advertising yet. Nor are there any stores, just a workshop for private customers at the China Garments headquarters. Since the order for the March show there have been no further large orders.

"But we created some suits for clients who know our business partner," says Angeloni, adding that they heard about Caruso via word of mouth. The next step that's been agreed on is that the Chinese are going to send a tailor to Soragna so he can learn how clients are measured for suits.

The slow tempo is part of the business model, meant to suggest exclusivity as opposed to instant availability. This "fine art of luxury" must be carefully developed, Angeloni says, step by step, unaccompanied by some noisy campaign.

"But in the second half, China Garments should be able to tell us where the first shop will be," he says. Curiosity coupled with a last hint of uncertainty about his new partner seem to be making Angeloni just a tad bit impatient.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Carsten Linke

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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