It’s been 11 years since Stephen Chi opened the first Stella Luna boutique in Shanghai. Today, the high- contemporary brand — a division of production giant Stella International Holdings Ltd. — boasts 222 global points of sale: 183 in Asia, five in the U.S., 17 in Europe and 17 in the Middle East.
Developing a flagship label was a no-brainer for Chi — the nephew of one of Stella International’s founders — and his team, given the company’s deep manufacturing expertise. “You control your own destiny,” he said of its built-in production capabilities. Stella designs, develops and manufactures footwear for luxury labels including Bally, Givenchy and Prada, and its client base includes Clarks, Deckers, Timberland and Wolverine.
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Now the CEO’s goal is to elevate Stella Luna. Last year, he appointed the brand’s first creative director, Capucine Safyurtlu, a former fashion editor at Numero and French Vogue. “I thought the brand needed a change. It was not good enough,” he said bluntly.
An engineering graduate, Chi applies both the logic and perfectionism of that discipline to his burgeoning fashion empire. “This world is creative and fun, but at the end the day, you need to think so I can analyze things as opposed to being 100 percent emotional,” he said.
Chi’s choice of Safyurtlu might seem counterintuitive. “I’d known Capucine for a while,” he said. “I thought she’d be great, especially as she doesn’t have a shoe background. Shoe designers all think the same way, but I wanted a woman who has great taste, who is successful, smart, somebody that can bring shoes as the total package — a fresh eye and a new energy.”
For her part, Safyurtlu said she was looking for a new challenge. “My whole career was based on creativity — editing stories, mixing colors and prints. I know how to edit, and I have a strong sense of what I want, but I was a little bit bored,” she admitted.
She found that the business side of the fashion industry, which she touched on as a fashion and market editor, proved increasingly more attractive. “Something inside me wanted to be part of that,” she said.
The Safyurtlu effect has certainly resonated with buyers. James Newell, VP and DMM of women’s shoes at Barneys New York, was on board from the start. “There was a real buzz about Capucine’s debut collection,” he said. “We love her point of view — it’s sexy, edgy and whimsical.”
Taking inspiration from the jewelry world, Safyurtlu first devised a new signature for the label, which took shape as the voluptuous Stella buckle. “I felt there was something missing,” she said. “We definitely needed a strong DNA, so I wanted something that would be straight off recognizable without any logo at all.”
“I wanted to create something that didn’t really belong to shoes. I liked the contrast with the fabrics, but I also wanted to create something you can close or open, or something around the ankle that protects you and makes you even sexier at the same time.”
A classic slide complete with the buckle is her most popular style. “Now it’s just a question of how I can play with it,” she said. Spring ’18’s take involves a hot-pink suede version that she developed to match the label’s packaging. The color runs throughout the collection, from dramatic plissé sandals to slingbacks with architectural cone-shaped heels. “Stella Luna has been a hit with our customers in Shoe Heaven across a selection of styles, from boots and ballet flats to slides and slippers,” said Maria Milano, GMM of womenswear at Harrods. “The varying fabrics and decorative features are eye-catching, making them a great addition to our shoe offering.”
Moving forward, Chi has even more aggressive goals. “I set the bar very high, so I think everything is not good enough. Stores, sales — everything we can improve.”
E-commerce will be a major focus, he said. “It’s not something we have done very well [so far],” he said. The website is to undergo a revamp to better represent both brand image and product. “I need to prove to Stella International that we can be just as big [as they are],” Chi said. “Or bigger even and better.”