PARIS– Two Italian luxury brands, Gucci and Bottega Veneta, are testing men’s-only stores in China, a sign of the dominance of the male clientele in the world’s most robust luxury-goods market.

Men are the biggest spenders in China – not only for themselves, but for women, said François-Henri Pinault, the owner of Gucci and Bottega Veneta, speaking in an interview. Both brands are part of French luxury and sports apparel group PPR SA, which Mr. Pinault heads. “The decision of buying for women is still made by men [in China],” Mr. Pinault said.

The shift to adapt to Chinese consumers underscores a broader transformation in the luxury-goods industry to cater to the new wealth coming from Asia. Consultancy Bain & Co. expects luxury-goods sales in China to jump 25%.

Prada SpA, which is planning to list its shares on the Hong Kong stock market next month, intends to open a design studio in Hong Kong this year. The Asia Pacific market is now Prada’s biggest. Closer to home, a significant portion of PPR’s luxury-goods sales in Europe are generated by Chinese tourists, Mr. Pinault said.

Growth in the luxury goods market isn’t limited to China, however. “It’s not only Asia, it’s really world-wide,” said Mr. Pinault.

High-end fashion houses such as Hermès, Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana have opened stores housing only men’s apparel and accessories in recent years. Yet these boutiques, located in cities such as New York and Milan, are a way to eke out extra growth from mature markets.

Men are typically the first luxury spenders in emerging markets, as they buy watches and branded accessories as status symbols before they start spending on the women in their lives. In Japan for instance, which caught on to luxury-goods in the 1980s, only after many years did a young generation of working women surpass sales to men.

PPR’s luxury-goods brands – which include Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen – have aggressively opened new stores in China in the last seven years. Gucci now counts 42 stores on mainland China, and 21 for Bottega Veneta. Mr. Pinault aims for his brands to be present in many of the provincial capitals, but he cautioned that “we need to manage the scarcity of the product.”

PPR’s Chinese stores are bigger than anywhere else in the world, Mr. Pinault said, enabling them to sell the full product assortment including clothing, accessories and shoes, as opposed to the accessories-only shops in many emerging markets.

When European luxury brands first started appearing in China in the last decade, local consumers latched onto logo products that blared status. However, consumers especially in Beijing and Shanghai are rapidly gravitating towards higher-end luxury goods that are less ostentatious. “What took 20 years in the U.S. to go from aspirational to discreet luxury will probably take 10 years in China,” Mr. Pinault said.


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