Balmain Is The Latest To Tap Pokémon. What Will China Think?

What Happened: On September 1, Balmain became the first luxury fashion house to reveal a clothing collection featuring one of the longest-standing gaming IPs in the world, Pokémon. It officially launched on September 2 globally, including in Shanghai and Chengdu. 

This year has already seen Pikachu grace 30 pieces of upcoming CDG streetwear, Clarks’ Wallabees, and a second Uniqlo series by Pokémon artist Magma — not forgetting the latest McDonalds Happy Meals. As the highest grossing media franchise of all time, Pokémon’s IP is seemingly hotter than ever before. And although Pokémon Go has been banned in China since 2017, the franchise’s popularity in the mainland cannot be underestimated. For context, back in 2019, China saw the Uniqlo T-shirt featuring Gengar sell out in around 30 minutes online, despite being produced in generous quantities.

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The release date for CDG x Pokémon is yet to be announced. Photo: CDG

The franchise has even recently filed lawsuits against six Chinese gaming companies running the counterfeit game Pocket Monster Reissue, or Koudaiyaoguai Fuke, due to copyright infringement. In short, Pokémon is extremely popular among Chinese consumers, yet how will they react to its foray into luxury as the world’s second-largest consumer market?

The Jing Take: Judging by the social media reaction to Clarks’ Pikachu Wallabees across Weibo and WeChat, Chinese consumers generally prefer to play Pokémon than wear it. That’s based on online engagement: the Clarks post on its collaboration received just 18 likes whereas its post featuring C-pop star Xu Weizhou around that same time had just short of 5k.

That being said, China is Balmain’s second biggest consumer base, and nostalgic, animated IPs are extremely popular among the nation’s luxury fans. According to Mintel (2021), 77 percent of Chinese consumers enjoy products that stir memories of the past. Just as Balmain creative director Olivier Rouseing said in a release, “[Pokémon] makes me think of an earlier, simpler time, when we all shared a rosy vision of all the positive changes that we were certain that digital innovations would make possible.”

As a distinct proportion of Chinese millennials grew up playing Pokémon and are now at the age to splurge, it’s likely that this joint series will be a hit in the mainland. Plus, the NFC-enabled badges accompanying the collection add a virtual element that truly appeals to tech-first Chinese netizens. Each permits exclusive access to the collaboration’s official digital content, prizes, and VIP tickets to the Balmain Festival at Paris Fashion Week. 

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The Pokémon collaboration follows on from Balmain’s Barbie collection earlier this year. Photo: Balmain

As more luxury brands playfully incorporate popular IPs, it’ll be interesting to see whether these drops will be appreciated by China’s older consumers. It’s a question of whether they will welcome this cartoonish fashion or stick to traditional classics. All in all, though, young streetwear fanatics are sure to love it.

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.

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