A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Lanvin’s creative director, Alber Elbaz, on the eve of his 10th anniversary celebrations in Beijing. Lanvin is one of many fashion houses that are flocking to the Chinese capital – this month alone, Armani and Hugo Boss will host huge international events – all in the hopes of wooing more rich Chinese customers.
During our interview, Elbaz made an astute observation about luxury brands launching in China.
“People see China nowadays and they see branding, they see marketing, they see dollar signs. They just want to attack the Chinese market straight away. If there’s something I hate, it’s to attack the Chinese market,” he told me.
While it’s no secret that every brand from Paris to New York wants to enter China, Elbaz’s use of the word “attack” was interesting. In the past few years, we have witnessed the lengths that many brands will go to just to get their products into Chinese wardrobes, whether by spending millions on useless marketing events or creating Chinese-themed collections that no one identifies with. (Let alone the Chinese!)
The reality of the situation is that the Chinese market is not an easy one to crack. If history is anything to go by, it’s a lesson in patience more than anything else. The brands that are currently profiting are the ones who have been present in the country for over 10 years. Many of them also have a strong presence in third- or fourth-tier cities, which are untapped goldmines thanks to large affluent populations that can’t travel to Beijing, Paris or Hong Kong to get their luxury fix.
Then you have the ever-changing face of the Chinese consumer. Two years ago it was difficult to spot women in anything less than head-to-toe designer looks. Now the local girl is matching her Gucci shoes with Acne jeans and a Rick Owens jacket. Who needs a logo, when a discreet white tack on the back of a jacket a la Margiela is way cooler?
Perhaps if brands stand down and start spending more time learning about the Chinese consumer’s changing habits, wants and needs, only then can they ensure smooth sailing in fashion’s new promised land. As the saying goes: Slow and steady wins the race.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Divia Harilela has worked in the lifestyle and fashion media for over 12 years. Most recently she served as the fashion editor for Hong Kong’s leading English language newspaper, The South China Morning Post, where she remains a contributing editor. In March 2011, she founded The D’Vine, one of Asia’s leading luxury and fashion websites.