Balenciaga Couture Ushers in a New Era in China

What Happened: Over the weekend, Balenciaga held an elaborate, worldwide exclusive event to court China’s would-be couture customers. In a first for the market, the luxury house presented thirty looks from its 50th Couture Collection and offered viewings, fittings, and performances for press, clients, and VIPs. “It is an honor to bring this collection to China as a worldwide exclusive event to tell our story and show our true origins and heritage through the eyes of Demna’s modern approach,” CEO Cedric Charbit tells Jing Daily.

Nineteen looks from the first couture collection designed by Demna (also, Balenciaga’s first couture collection since 1967) were displayed in Tank Shanghai, including one created especially for the event. A further eleven looks from the collection went on show in a bespoke dressing suite built along the bank of the city’s Huangpu River. The collection, originally shown in Paris and an homage to Cristóbal Balenciaga, was revolutionized by Demna’s new sartorial codes.

The Balenciaga couture installation at the Tank Shanghai museum. Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga

The Jing Take: Compared to their peers, Balenciaga entered China quite recently — less than 15 years ago. Since then it’s grown a retail footprint of 40 stores in what is its strongest market for ready-to-wear. Now, it’s offering the exclusive experience of couture, or custom-fit clothing constructed entirely by hand, to local shoppers.

During 2021, brands like Prada and Dior have made extraordinary efforts to physically reach Chinese consumers at home, from store openings to fashion shows. Balenciaga’s activation captured the spirit of the moment on a number of levels: firstly, showing couture requires an extra layer of care and commitment which will not have been lost on the audience. The immersive exhibition experience tailored for China’s luxury elites, such as actress Qi Wei and her husband Li Cheng Xuan, allowed guests to linger on the exquisite craftsmanship behind the designs.

Balenciaga’s exclusive event featured guests such a Chinese actress Qi Wei and her Korean-American husband Li Cheng Xuan. Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga

Secondly, it serves to reframe consumers’ impressions of the brand; this activation shows another pillar of the legacy name, carrying it from edgy, fashion forward sportswear to bone-fide, hand-made luxury (especially as post-pandemic China — pretty much — welcomes back a roll of red carpet events). According to CEO Cedric Charbit, although sophisticated audiences are familiar with the modern creativity of the brand driven by Demna’s creative, modern vision, this is their first time to experience and connect with the French’s innovator’s “highest expression of craftsmanship.”

Finally, now marks the ideal time for Balenciaga’s revival of this individual practice, and by foregrounding China at its heart, it has much to gain. According to a report on the country’s Haute Couture industry by Academia Sinica, estimates suggest that the country’s couture market will exceed $40 billion next year.

The challenge of showcasing a Couture Collection without an atelier (the team was unable to travel due to restrictions) saw central and local teams working seamlessly. And this is when activations work best: when companies have faith in their local counterparts. Plus, all the fitting and measurements will be taken locally. It will now take months for clients to see the end results from this dedicated ritual of couture. But after all, this is fashion worth the wait.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.