Alexander Wang led French fashion house Balenciaga’s efforts to ramp up its China presence this week at a star-studded Beijing runway show, exhibition, and party on Thursday night. Despite slowing China growth for luxury giants such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci, the brand joins a contingent of smaller labels expanding in China as fashion tastes diversify.
Showing off the label’s spring line, Wang took a cue from Valentino’s 2013 Shanghai show by designing a 13-piece China-exclusive capsule collection likely aimed at keeping mainland sales up as more customers shop abroad to avoid taxes. The event also showed off Balenciaga’s history and heritage with an exhibition of over 40 pieces created by founder Cristóbal Balenciaga between 1939 and the 1960’s curated by Wang. Chinese celebrities such as Yao Chen, Ni Ni, Li Yuchun, and Wang Luodan graced the front row, boosting social media chatter about the event, and top Chinese models Ming Xi, Xiao Wen Ju, and Shu Pei walked the runway.
With sights set on expansion in China, Balenciaga has been upping its publicity efforts. In March, the brand launched its official WeChat account, which offered special features to promote the Beijing event such as the ability to text questions about the brand’s history. The company currently has 12 stores in mainland China and has noted that it is planning more for the future, although further details have not yet been released.
Wang believes that now is the right time for an expanded presence into China as individual style and interest in smaller, niche brands are on the rise. According to an interview with Women’s Wear Daily,
“Before, growing up in Shanghai, the market was much more specific to brands such as Cartier or Dunhill, or even the very large brands such as Vuitton,” he said. “That was much more based on logos and items that were much flashier.
“The consumers here have become much more evolved,” he continued. “The taste and the style have grown beyond the bigger brands that have a major presence.”
Balenciaga is a bright spot for parent company Kering, which has seen much better China growth rates among its niche brands than mega-label Gucci as Chinese consumers’ interest in logos fades. Bottega Veneta, which also falls under the Kering umbrella, saw 22 percent mainland China growth in the first quarter of this year compared to only 2 percent Asia-Pacific growth for Gucci. Balenciaga isn’t the only Kering brand making a China push: Stella McCartney has also been in China expansion mode after a Shanghai extravaganza last year.
Wang’s status as the brand’s lead designer is an added boost for the brand given his cultural connections to China—he spent part of his childhood in Shanghai, where his mother still lives.