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For China's High-End Fashion Consumers, 'Italy' Now Just A Bullet Train Away

Tucked in between Beijing and Tijanjin is a “village” with all the trappings of Rome, Florence and Milan combined. Welcome to Florentina Village, an Italian-themed outlet mall that’s already drawing upwards of 25,000 visitors per day.

Marco Alfieri

WUGING -- There are little streets, piazzas, stores selling Italian brands and of course, Michelangelo's David. Only David's not naked, as he usually is. Instead he wears jeans and holds shopping bags. Which makes sense since this isn't, after all, Florence, Italy, but rather Florentia Village, the first Italian-style outlet village in China.

Located in Wuqing, between Beijing and Tianjin, the mall is almost 100% Italian-made. The design and construction were overseen by the office of Milan architect Massimo Roj, Florence's Rdm Group, via a joint venture with the retail giant Waitex, is in charge of the project's development and management. Rdm, in fact, has several such projects in the works. Last year it invested $1 million in five luxury villages near Chinese cities. The next village due to open soon will be near Shanghai, between Pudong international airport and the upcoming Disney resort. In China, these types of outlet villages are suddenly big business.

China, the world capital of fake brands, may indeed be overrun with two-dollar T-shirts. But it is also a huge market for expensive designer labels, who are more than eager to do business here. Zegna, Armani, Ferragamo, Prada, Fendi, Bulgari and Moncler all have boutiques around Florentia Village's "Piazza San Giovanni." Tod's, Frette, Piquadro and Brooks Brothers also have shops – near the "Colosseum." And along the "Grand Canal Promenade" customers can browse at the Satchi, Esprit and Pal Zileri stores.

At the end of the promenade is a restaurant called Bella Vita, which features wooden tables and a familiar flavor. Even in this fashion park there is place for tasty Italian food. "It's going well, many people stop here to eat our pizza and pasta," says the manager, Samuele Rossi. Inside, there are Italian vintage wines which are not easily found in China.

Over "Rialto Bridge," near the yet-to-be completed "Piazza San Carlo," a poster reading "Coming Soon" announces upcoming sportswear stores. Dozens of workers are fixing flowerbeds and road signs. Once completed, Florentia Village will host 220 stores. The first section was launched in June - with a Venetian masquerade party and fireworks. The second section is set to open this month.

"Re-creating the Italian style has not been easy," says the architect Roj. "With these kinds of projects, details make the difference. Asking Chinese workers to re-create Italian style pink rock, pilasters, frames, and copper eaves was hard. But we did it."

Just Like Italy, Only Friendlier

Wuging is located between Beijing and Tanjin, which are 100 kilometers away from each other. Five years ago, the two metropolises were 130 kilometers apart, but sprawl is inching them closer together – and eating away the small fields, forests and ponds that separate them. Together the populations of Beijing and Tanjin add up to about 35 million of people. The cities are connected by blue and white high speed trains that leave every 10 minutes and make the journey in 25.

Florentia Village is strategically located, close to a train station, from which visitors begin arriving in the late morning. They wear Western clothes, are young, wealthy, and obviously Chinese. They drink green tea from little flasks. In the afternoon, women driving SUVs arrive at the outlet. They wear only labeled clothes. They prefer to come here during the week, to avoid the weekend crowds. Many girls are here as well – with their parents, dreaming of a job in a famous brand's store.

Florentia is a strange composite of all things Italian. Art, culture and fashion, Venice, Florence and Rome are all mixed up in few hectares. Purists will no doubt dismiss it as kitsch, something akin to a Las Vegas on the Yellow Sea. But for many Chinese, this is the closest they'll ever get to the Italian peninsula. Those who do end up making the trip to Europe might be disappointed with the real Italy, where they're unlikely to find the same welcoming treatment, attention to detail, efficient hotels and public transportation.

Ivano Poma, CEO of Rdm Asia, has been living and working in China for 17 years and knows the market well. "This district has the fastest growing GDP per person in all of China. Our marketing campaign is focused on Tianjin, where during the weekends there are fewer entertainment options than in Beijing," he says.

The goal of the Florentia venture, he says, is to eventually enjoy a turnover of 100 million euros per year. "Today we have between 10,000 and 25,000 visitors a day. Compared to Chinese malls, we have many original brands that the new wealthy class loves," Poma says. They are marketing the outlet in the surrounding residential areas. From the look of things, reaching the 100 million-euro mark shouldn't pose much of a problem.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - Florentia Village website

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