As many Chinese luxury consumers once obsessed only with a few top “mega-brands” such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci expand their tastes, a growing number of high-end niche labels are upping their China marketing efforts in response. Last week, LVMH-owned Céline joined this growing group with its first China runway show in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone on May 22.
The low-key presentation displayed the brand’s 2014 Fall/Winter collection, and was attended by Céline-clad celebrities such as Hong Kong singer Faye Wong, mainland actress Mei Ting, mainland singer Na Ying, and stylist Tian Yuan. The event was a smaller affair than Kering-owned rival Balenciaga’s Beijing event held the previous week, which featured a runway show, exhibit, and top celebrities such as Yao Chen and Li Yuchun.
One of the main reasons for Céline’s additional push into China is that the brand recognizes a growing preference for individualism among Chinese consumers. According to CEO Marco Gobbetti in a recent Women’s Wear Daily interview:
“It’s a way to respond to a customer that’s been evolving and growing,” Gobbetti said of the China market. “A few years back they were just approaching the market, and now they are the real experts.”
Gobbetti said Céline appeals to a new generation of Chinese consumers who are active professionals making their own choices. They want quality products and have done extensive research about designs and materials. China consumers still want a full-service retail experience, but they arrive informed and knowledgeable.
One way in which smaller luxury brands are still lagging behind market giants, however, is in their digital strategy. A recent L2 report found that Balenciaga has a slight edge over Céline in its digital marketing strategy in China, but not much of one—both were ranked as “feeble” in their China digital abilities. Balenciaga’s score is likely to improve now that it has a new WeChat account that was launched in March, which it used to promote its Shanghai show. Céline, meanwhile, has a basic China site but no supporting digital presence in China at the moment.
For now, Céline is also holding off on expansion of its brick-and-mortar stores in China, opting instead to renovate its 20 existing China boutiques.