For decades Italy has maintained its reputation as a leading luxury fashion destination, perhaps thanks to its powerful ‘Made in Italy’ branding rich with craftsmanship, tradition, and heritage. And it continues to hold its own: According to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Powers of Luxury Goods report, 24 percent of the world’s top 100 luxury goods companies currently have headquarters there – the highest concentration in the world – confirming its dominance within the global luxury fashion landscape.
Yet, with a predominantly traditionalist approach to fashion, Italy is increasingly falling behind rising emerging markets where novelty and innovation tend to prevail. In a bid to challenge the status quo, former luxury fashion buyers Leslie Luo and Shan He set out to launch Hitchhiker, Milan’s first concept store with a strict focus on emerging Asian brands. “Italy’s fashion market is generally conservative, with a relatively narrow focus on mainstream luxury logos and few interpretations of other cultures,” says co-founder Luo. “With Hitchhiker, we are trying to break the classic mould, which has dominated Milan’s fashion culture for a long time.”
Named after Douglas Adams’ iconic science-fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Luo and He hope their conceptual boutique will inspire customers to “discover their individual style” and “experience a new fashion adventure.” Up-and-coming Korean designers Pushbutton and Kimhekim are already on board, as are Chinese talents Chen Peng and Feng Chen Wang. Luo adds that emerging London-based labels Charles Jeffrey Loverboy and Chopova Lowena are also be a part of their roster.
“More and more up-and-coming Asian designers are receiving international attention, and they have a uniqueness you can barely find in Western markets,” explains Luo of their decision to offer a highly niche edit, adding, “we focus on brands with a strong identity and knack for storytelling and Asian designers, in particular, create really powerful imagery to support their brand DNA.”
“We are trying to break the classic mould which has dominated Milan’s fashion culture for a long time.”
Aside from filling a gap in Italy’s retail market, the store offers a dedicated space for potential collaborations and events, and acts as an important platform for designers during Fashion Weeks: “[It] provides exhibition spaces for young designers who don't have runway show projects yet. They will be able to use our store to demonstrate their talents on an international stage,” Luo reveals.
With Hitchhiker soon to open its doors, the co-founders are already looking ahead, divulging that other categories will be added to their selection of clothing, footwear, and accessories including interior decor and lifestyle products. Additionally, they plan to launch a project based on upcycling vintage clothing, “where modern elements will be creatively integrated into classic designs,” they tease.
For now, Luo and He are focusing on the launch of Hitchhiker’s flagship store in July, which will sit in Milan's most sought-after luxury district, just a stone's throw away from 10 Corso Como. While entering a niche space is always risky, the duo are optimistic, believing the store’s unique concept and brand mix will undoubtedly turn heads: “It’s a gamble but also an exciting quest which will definitely stand out based on the idea alone.”