Andrew Keith: Lane Crawford’s Intuition Man

Date: October 25, 2016
Services: Profile
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On this clear October morning, the sun shines bright over Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong’s budding artistic-haven-meets-industrial-powerhouse of a neighborhood. Designers, photographers, and creatives of all types make their way to the growing number of tech startups, fashion houses, and media agencies that call this area home. The partially-constructed subway tunnel down the street serves as a stark reminder of Hong Kong’s firm bet on the prosperity these innovators will generate here; as far as such innovators go, though, Andrew Keith is not your typical one.

As President of the long-celebrated department store and the burgeoning upmarket JOYCE Boutique, Keith is willowy and lithe with spirited eyes and smooth features his juniors would recognize as distinguished and his seniors might dub youthful. Two decades ago, he relocated to Hong Kong to work on G2000 and U2 under the leadership of Michael Tien, a role he later left in favor of volte-facing Lane Crawford’s then-struggling menswear line alongside industry titan Balbina Wong. At the time, returning to Asia – Keith spent much of his childhood in Borneo – was a questionable move, but for him it felt, “Very much like coming home. I’ve got Asia running through my blood,” he says with an unassuming grin.

In many respects, Keith is the quintessential fashion executive: a carefully-groomed, fortyish, slightly eccentric European. But whereas most executives maintain a laser-focus on the bottom line, Keith froths with fervor. He’s a trailblazer of the as-yet-unseen, an unwavering proponent that a customer’s every moment in a Lane Crawford or a JOYCE Boutique should be one of equal parts discovery and delight. He believes that craftsmanship is a virtue, and that its expression is a laudable event in and of itself. And when he sits before you, his entire face illuminating as he explains what’s coming next, it’s difficult not to share in his excitement, too.

Andrew Keith
Andrew Keith. Photo: Lane Crawford

Excitement alone doesn’t run a business of the two multi-brand retail companies totaling in excess of $1 billion USD, though, and Keith knows it. In 2007, as Lane Crawford considered opening up its first ever store in China, doubts were easy to come by and difficult to refute. Without any major department stores present in China at the time, the Chinese consumers’ unconventional buying behaviors – let alone political and regulatory obstacles abound – made expanding a lifestyle concept into relatively uncharted waters tough to justify. Yet Keith, Vice President of Womenswear and Menswear at the time, had a good feeling about the expansion, an incessant sense that the Chinese market was ripe for what Lane Crawford was already offering across the border. “There’s a black-and-white side to business, the financials, but there’s also the intuitive side that’s all about, ‘Does it feel right?’ We’re a business that manages both quite well. We’re just as much art as we are science, and entering China was a perfect example of that balance.”

Almost immediately, the expansion was a success, so it’s no secret today that Keith is bullish on China as a growth engine for both Lane Crawford and JOYCE. Yet will this strategy of deliberately ignoring existing fashion capitals – the Parises, New Yorks, and Londons of the world – where consumers have proven they’re ready to pay for the curation and experience that Lane Crawford and JOYCE are providing, backfire? Keith doesn’t think so. “There’s such seismic change happening here. You’ve got a country with China’s population going through such rapid development, combined with a generation of people who are discovering themselves, discovering their voices, and discovering how they play out on a global map. I don’t think we’ll ever be in a position like this again.”

The Women's Premier Zone in the redesigned JOYCE Boutique in Hong Kong Central.
The Women's Premier Zone in the redesigned JOYCE Boutique in Hong Kong Central. Photo: JOYCE

That said, it’s not only Keith’s customers who are exploring the notion of self-discovery; earlier this month, JOYCE collaborated with renowned designer Paola Navone to relaunch its Hong Kong Central boutique with a brand new aesthetic. Navone, the Italian whose work has appeared in JOYCE stores before, draws inspiration from India, the Philippines, and of course China and Hong Kong to shape the store’s eclectic new look, a cultural collision of warm, textured Pan-Asian design.

Of course, Keith is all too familiar with Hong Kong’s cultural blend. Having visited several times in his youth, and now living here for the past twenty years, his take on the city’s identity is a distinct one: “Hong Kong is a city filled with amazing contradictions. It’s futuristic in terms of its ambitions, yet the city is deeply rooted in traditional Chinese family and cultural values. You’ve got the densest urban environment in the world, yet you’re constantly surrounded by greenery, amazing beauty, beaches and space. It’s got huge aspirations on a global playing field, yet it’s still very much tied to China. And it’s a city that maintains the fundamental belief that anything is possible, and on a city scale, that’s really quite unique.”

If you think about it, Keith could’ve been describing JOYCE in the same breath. It’s its own emphatic proclamation of the future, kept modest by the deliberate usage of humble, time-tested materials. It’s an oasis of natural elegance deep in the throes of the metropolitan center, a sliver of beauty and personality wedged between uniform concrete pillars. It’s modern gallantry expressed in its purest form, a stance claimed with only tomorrow’s performance to support the weight of its wager.

More than anything, though, it’s a manifestation that, when armed with sufficient willpower and creativity, anything is possible. Here in Hong Kong, the opportunity capital of the world, it couldn’t ring more true.

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