Luxury fashion brand Anna Sui collaborated with McDonald’s to release red envelopes bearing a dog design for Chinese New Year, which this year takes place on February 16.
Red envelopes (or hongbao) are traditionally stuffed with cash and handed out to colleagues, friends, and family during the festival. The Sui envelopes were distributed in San Francisco, home to the largest Chinatown outside Asia.
Born in Detroit, Anna Sui is a 65-year-old Chinese-American fashion designer, and a recipient of the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Vogue describes her designs, which include summer dresses that retail for up to $770, as “beautiful” and “a bit kooky.”
The collaboration is a peculiar one; why is a high end fashion label collaborating with a brand whose main message is value?
It would seem to suggest that the dividing line between luxury and mass market brands is further blurring. In an increasingly noisy media market, far more important is what’s trending.
McDonald’s USA said that with the collaboration they wanted to “recognize and reach Asian Americans in a culturally relevant way, so they decided to work with Asian-American designer Anna Sui to create something special and keepsake worthy. Additionally, McDonald’s knows that the beginning of the year is a time when many people realign their personal goals and finances, so the lightly-branded envelopes have well wishes for the new year printed on the rear flap that allude to keeping value top-of-mind.”
In this instance, McDonald’s used the opportunity to promote its $1, $2, and $3 menus.
The benefit for Anna Sui was different. “Sui and her brand are all about having fun and trying different things”, McDonalds said, suggesting there is a way for luxury brands to collaborate with mass market brands that could result in a win-win.
This sense of fun and experimentation is reminiscent of, say, Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Supreme, or Stella McCartney collaborating with H&M, a way for brands to show that they’re irreverent and down to earth, like Jennifer Lawrence swearing on talk shows and discussing her love of the Kardashians.
Those who weren’t able to attend the Anna Sui red envelope launch event on January 23 could get them by reaching out to two YouTubers, Vietnamese American Gina Darling and Vietnamese Canadian Leenda D on Instagram and Facebook. Red envelopes are also exchanged during Tết, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year celebration.
Facebook and Instagram are popular in Vietnam, but have long been blocked in China. Asked whether the collaboration would extend beyond the United States, McDonald’s USA told us, “Plans are only for San Francisco at the moment, but McDonald’s is always listening to customer feedback to help inform future decisions.”
In mainland China, red envelopes are increasingly exchanged digitally. This year, Alipay and Coca-cola have teamed up on an AR animation that delivers digital red envelopes.
WeChat remains the most popular way to exchange hongbao. A nominated sum can be either paid directly to an individual using the app, or placed into a group where members rush to open it to get a share of whatever is allocated.
This trend has also been picked up in Taiwan, where late last year Taipei Fubon Commercial Bank (台北富邦銀行) and Taiwan Mobile Co (台灣大哥大) together worked to add a digital red envelope feature to the M+ Messenger app, with transactions processed using blockchain technology.
Many luxury brands would no doubt rather people gift their Year of the Dog items, rather than cash.