Have China’s Consumers Forgiven Balenciaga Enough to Buy Couture?

What Happened: After a 53-year absence, Paris Couture Week marked the return of Balenciaga to its schedule. The house’s haute couture branch closed in 1968 and in an unexpected move has now been revived by the provocative designer, Demna. The hashtag #53yearsreturntohautecouture has received 75 million views and the 14 minute film posted on the brand’s Weibo site has 1.8 million views to date

On the whole, media and influencer responses to the collection were positive, including reactions from fashion KOLs such as Fashionmodels (10 million fans) and Dipsy (7 million). Still, amid the flattery, some online were quick to remind netizens of the company’s public relations crisis following security staff’s rough handling of some Chinese customers at its boutique in a Paris department store. 

The Jing Take: As fashion statements go, this was sagacious. Amid a struggling industry, Balenciaga has found meaning in the past and recast it for a new generation. When it comes to China, despite the continued obsession with luxury purchases, some of the next generation are growing tired of overconsumption. 

By suggesting people stop buying “sneakers and T-shirts” for a year or two and instead invest in a “couture trench coat,” Demna is perfectly reflecting the fashion fatigue felt by Gen Z. Moreover, by focusing on “making clothes, not fashion,” the designer is also foregrounding the often forgotten use value of garments. 

However, Balenciaga’s “ugly beauty” look is controversial and often a hard sell among China’s young shoppers, though Chinese celebrities are especially keen on haute couture; appearances in it by younger celebrities like Liu Yifei, Victoria Song, Roy Wang Yuan, and Cai Xukun cause heated discussions online. And the brand’s risky “anti-consumption” message is a gamble, to be sure, but if it can cut through the noise, it might well win a new clientele for Balenciaga and haute couture as well.  

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.