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François-Henri Pinault’s Surprise China Trip Boosts Ties With Local Government, Retailers

By Denni Hu,


SHANGHAI — François-Henri Pinault , chairman and chief executive officer of Kering, is making a surprise visit to China right after Chinese New Year.

Pinault is one of the first luxury executives to visit China since the country reopened its borders in late December . Pinault’s last trip to China was three years ago, just before the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

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The weeklong whirlwind trip is taking Pinault to Shanghai , Beijing, Chengdu and Nanjing , where he has attended meetings with local government officials and important landlords, made store visits and hosted a town hall meeting with Kering’s China team.

During his meeting with Shanghai Party Secretary Jining Chen on Wednesday, Chen said the local government welcomed Kering’s increased investment in the Shanghai market and urged Kering to facilitate more cross-cultural exchanges between France and China.

“This will eventually fufill President Xi Jinping ‘s vision of Shanghai, to transform the city into an influential socialist modern city as well as improve the livelihoods of our people,” Chen said.

Pinault reassured Chen of the importance of Shanghai and the broader China market to Kering. He told Chen the company has plans to “reinforce strategic investment in Shanghai that combines the company’s sustainable enterprise innovations and digital transformation know-how.”

“We will continue to make good use of the China International Import Expo platform to release new products, technologies and services. We will contribute to Shanghai’s rise as a global consumption center,” Pinault added.

In between his meetings, Pinault has been making quick visits to Kering brands’ stores at key shopping malls, including Plaza 66 and IAPM in downtown Shanghai.

Accompanied by Jinqing Cai , Kering’s president of Greater China, Pinault has spent time chatting with store managers and employees to boost morale and has been all smiles in group photos he took with the local team.
François-Henri Pinault and the Balenciaga IAPM team.

“We were quite nervous and spent a week preparing for his visit. But he seemed satisfied and impressed by our store. He even took the time to see the store inside out a few times,” a Balenciaga sales associate at the IAPM flagship told WWD.

“He avidly shook our store manager’s hand before leaving; I heard he rarely does it,” the employee said.

Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit and Saint Laurent CEO Francesca Bellettini are accompanying Pinault on his China visit. It is believed that visits by global heads at Kering’s other brands, including Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Boucheron and Alexander McQueen, will swiftly follow.

Pinault also took a half-day trip to Nanjing, specifically to meet with Tiejun Wu, the founder and chairman of Deji Plaza, a top-performing Chinese shopping mall that raked in more than 21 billion renminbi, or $31.2 billion, in 2022.

Wu is one of the most prominent collectors of traditional Chinese art and is also believed to be a top client at Christie’s , the auction house acquired by his father François Pinault in the mid-1990s.

Following his Shanghai trip, which also included a festive company town hall meeting that featured a traditional Chinese dance performance, Pinault’s last stop will be Beijing, where he will meet with Ji Xiao An , the chairman of SKP , widely considered the best luxury shopping mall in China.

Pinault will also meet with executives at WF Central , an up-and-coming luxury shopping mall close to the Forbidden City.

Pinault’s visit spotlights the company’s confidence in the China market post-reopening. Despite macroeconomic uncertainty and other risk factors, Barclays predicts the Chinese luxury sector will grow by 15 percent in 2023.

The Asia Pacific market, excluding Japan, accounts for 33 percent of annual sales for the company, according to Kering’s third-quarter results .

A recent HSBC report stated, though, that a “stronger team in mainland China…could help the brand converge toward peers’ sales growth regardless of the fact it will be in a transition period.”

Kering will report fourth-quarter and full-year report on Feb. 15.

Pinault’s China trip unofficially kicks off a series of executive visits to China in the coming months.

It is understood that Bernard Arnault , chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton , will travel to China soon.

Arnaud Carrez , marketing and communications director of Cartier , is also understood to be planning a China trip in the coming months.

Capri Holding’s John Idol and Michael Kors’ newly anointed CEO Cedric Wilmotte also have plans to visit China in March, the company’s local team confirmed to WWD.

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