Each year, it seems more luxury brands apply zodiac animals into their designs to take advantage of marketing opportunities for the one of the busiest seasons for Chinese shoppers: Chinese New Year. And every year, a selection of these brands are subject to criticism from China because of their design choices. This year, Nike has been targeted by discerning followers on its Weibo profile regarding its use of the characters fa (發) and fu (福), which, when viewed separately, are words for “luck,” but when viewed together, mean something along the lines of “get fat.” (Nike said that the two characters are options on its customizable platform and not intended to be mixed and matched.) Meanwhile, Louis Vuitton’s gold monkey keychain has been subject to negative reviews on social media for a face some web users say looks like E.T.
It’s no doubt a balancing act when it comes to creating a product that plays to Chinese culture—just look at previous attempts to relate to China through fashion design, like last year’s Met Gala. China’s state-run newspaper Global Times recently published an article on the subject, which quoted a skeptic of Western brands using obvious Chinese imagery in their holiday designs. The skeptic is Caroline Xue, the director of a Chinese scarf design company, who, herself, has had to debate how to best design her company’s Chinese New Year limited-edition products. The response from staff was unanimous.
“The idea of using a monkey on the scarves was rejected by every Chinese member of the team, and they said it might end up in having stocks that will not sell for years,” she said in the article. “Monkeys are not as lucky in Chinese culture. They are naughty and not as desirable as horses or dragons.”
While these Chinese style critics may seem like a tough crowd, there are yet a few examples of contemporary Lunar Year design coming from creatives in China. Here are five products to look out for (and, perhaps, learn from) as the gift-giving season takes off.
While it’s not surprising that Nike, Adidas, and even Converse have all released special-edition year of the monkey shoe designs, it’s more unusual to see this type of themed sneaker from a Chinese label. Sportswear brand Li-Ning opted to forego any Chinese characters or animal imagery and stick with red and gold for its official design for the Chinese Basketball Association.
2. Zhijun Wang
Nike’s so-called “Get Fat” Chinese New Year shoes have received widespread attention on social media, but that didn’t stop Beijing-based artist Zhijun Wang from customizing his own pair of Nikes in the spirit of the holiday. The Nike Air Force 1s feature a gold geometric monkey design with leather and maroon detail. Although it may look like an official collaboration, Wang’s work is all his own. The designer is known for deconstructing the likes of Puma, Asics, and even New Balance footwear and reassembling them by hand and adding illustrations and other personal touches in his studio.
3. Shanghai Tang x Moleskine
Shanghai Tang, the Hong Kong-based luxury lifestyle brand known for incorporating qipaos and mandarin collar jackets into its collections, has adopted Chinese New Year marketing in multiple areas, including via a curated selection of red fall and winter wear and monkey-themed gifts. The brand also teamed up with Moleskine to offer chic notebooks with an embossed monkey print as well as a planner that features Chinese horoscopes and a feng shui guide to interior design for the office.
4. Tang Tang Tang Tang
The elegant lazy Susan featuring a symmetrical pattern of monkeys by this high-end lifestyle brand from Hong Kong is among Lane Crawford’s featured list of Chinese New Year gifts. Tang Tang Tang Tang capitalized on not only the importance of food and family gatherings during the holiday, but the design is a nod to the much coveted Lunar Year good luck—in feng shui, it’s considered auspicious to have a lazy Susan in the center of the table in one’s home.
5. H&M x Liu Wen
While it’s not exactly a product by a Chinese designer, H&M has the backing of supermodel Liu Wen for its year of the monkey campaign, which will be sold in select stores across Asia. Liu Wen joins Korean celebrity Siwon Choi in modeling a selection of H&M’s 30 pieces for men, women, and children. Styles incorporate rich, red hues, playful monkey embroidery and prints, and gold and red accessories inspired by traditional Chinese lanterns. Liu Wen tells media, “I love how the collection goes beyond the typical festive wardrobe by adding in a combination of modern silhouettes, ethnic details, and a variety of lively prints.”