Gucci’s Dionysus, Marni’s Trunk Bag, Dior’s Saddle Bag; the list of It bags in China goes on and on. Some of them reflect global success; others, however, became disproportionately popular on the mainland when compared to other regions in the world. In the West, an It bag’s formation is largely determined by fashion influencers on Instagram and brands’ official channels and campaigns. In China, on the other hand, the road for a design to become an It style is far more complicated.
Sophisticated Chinese consumers rely on a nuanced combination of sources to gather information on products. Not only are they influenced by domestic KOLs, celebrities, and user-generated content on platforms like Little Red Book, but they also look to foreign influencers and KOLs, as well as observe trends and uptake among their own social groups. Luxury consumption in China is deeply rooted in social contexts and individuals like to show off their spending power through handbags — one of the most conspicuous luxury categories. Brands can, therefore, benefit from an It bag as it increases the social value of the label among shoppers.
As luxury handbags and leather goods represent one of the largest spending categories across all age groups, in particular, Gen Zers, luxury brands should invest in the creation of a potential It handbag. And while each It bag had a different pathway to prominence during 2019, many of the qualities and marketing strategies are highly traceable. Here, Jing Daily highlights some of the formulas that contributed to the success of an It bag in China.
Good and Recognizable Design Always First
Today’s customers are presented with so many choices across different brands and have, as a result, cultivated a chic, sophisticated taste; it is now far from enough to depend on a brand name to sell a product. According to the Mckinsey China Luxury Report 2019, due to an increased level of sophistication younger Chinese consumers have started to appreciate more nuanced elements including design, fabric, and the production process; a good and recognizable design becomes the first step to establish the reputation of a handbag and facilitates a potential take-off.
The importance of design is especially true when considering a brand’s fallout. Even brands like Louis Vuitton will struggle to launch a new handbag if the design fails to connect. “It’s all about the product and brand first. It is the very rare exception that an unpopular brand and or a bad product will ever become an ‘It’ product,” says Elijah Whaley, former CMO, current advisor at PARKLU, China’s Premier Influencer Marketing Platform. Louis Vuitton’s hottest bag of this season, “Multi Pochette Accessoires” — with over 8,500 mentions on Little Red Book — is among those being criticized online. Netizen 吃货不能吃 on Little Red Book commented: “Even models appear less attractive as they wear this bag.” In addition, under Mr. Bags’ unboxing video of this bag on Little Red Book, netizens expressed disappointment in the discrepancy between the bag in real life versus how it appeared in images on Instagram.
Tell-Tale Sign of Success: A Chinese Nickname
A nickname essentially closes the distance between consumers and products while a local nickname increases the “talkability” of a commodity. According to Daniel Zipser, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, Leader of Greater China Consumer and Retail Practice, bags normally have English or French names that are not easy to pronounce. “With easier nicknames, people tend to talk about them more both on social media and in daily life. With Chinese nicknames, purchasers get to know the story and the uniqueness of the bag better.”
Currently, most handbag’s nicknames are based on appearance, transliteration, translation or pop culture references. JW Anderson’s Pierce bag was given the name, Bull Demon King Bag (“牛魔王包”) due to its similarity in shape to a character from the Chinese Classical Novel Journey to the West, which increased the social buzz around this bag. The Drew bag, considered the most iconic design from Chloé in China, received the name “小猪包” for the similarity in pronunciation of Drew and the Chinese character ”猪” (zhū), and the similarity between the shape of the bag and a pig head. Ultimately, the goal is to make a bag easier to remember or refer to and adding more fun to the name adds even more value. But, perhaps, the biggest gain from nicknames can be seen culturally. As much luxury consumption on the mainland is socially driven, casually referring to handbags by nicknames in conversations highlights a touch of sophistication among peer groups. “Using the nickname itself shows that he or she knows the latest trend of fashion and is a luxury insider,” adds Zipser.
KOLs and Celebrity Endorsement Are Huge Drivers
According to the Tmall report, “Rankings on Chinese Celebrities in Driving Sales,” in 2018 the keyword “celebrity style” (“明星同款”) received over 100 million searches on Tmall. Brands who want to create an It bag should not miss out on vital celebrity and KOL strategies; in fact, on the mainland, trusted celebrities and KOLs connect better with consumers than brands. As Parklu’s Whaley explains, China’s younger generations identify strongly with KOLs who look and sound like them or a version they aspire to. “Once trust is established, a KOL’s followers can be extremely receptive to the advice and endorsements the KOL delivers through their content, and by extension, willing to lend trust to the brands that KOLs promote.”
At the end of 2018, Mr. Bags shared a WeChat article asking readers what bags they purchased based on his recommendations. The list included handbags from Hermès, special editions of Louis Vuitton and multiple mentions of Dior’s Saddle bag; many fans admitted hearing about designs from him first.
Celebrities, on the other hand, use aspirational images to drive sales. For example, the Gucci Camera bag that Chinese actor and X NINE member Zhan Xiao wore to Milan Fashion Week received the nickname “The bag that Zhan Xiao carried to the show” (“肖战同款”) and became intensely pursued by his loyal fans. While the singer has not yet been appointed by Gucci as a brand ambassador, his power in driving sales is undeniable. On Little Red Book, user 龚逗逗 posted her recently purchased Camera bag captioned, “No one can inspire me to buy Gucci except celebrities, and no celebrities can persuade me to buy Gucci like Zhan Xiao.” Indeed, Chinese frantic celebrity culture contributes to a very unique scene where an association of a handbag to a prominent celebrity like Zhan Xiao can massively drive the exposure and sales of the bag.
Nevertheless, KOLs or celebrities are not a rainbow road to popularity; brands can have a hard time in choosing the right taste-makers for the brand and its products. Whaley summarises, “As important as KOLs are in generating top-of-the-funnel awesomeness, they are only one part of a larger whole that starts with great products and ends with happy consumers. Any weaknesses in the chain will lessen the likelihood of success.”
User-Generated Content Acts More Quickly in Catching Up A Trend
Besides the more official voices of KOLs and celebrities, user-generated content in 2019 has been a driving force in the creation of an It bag — namely for its ability to create and escalate a trend, quickly. The re-edition of Prada’s Hobo bag launched in Paris and London earlier this year; it received over 1,700 notes on Little Red Book, yet WeChat seemed was slow to tap the trend. It mentioned less than 90 times. Brands should also monitor real-time reflections of popularity and be nimble enough to understand a trend and capitalize on the rise in demand by promoting it.
A unique and recognizable design appears universal in the rise of an It bag. But as is often the case in China, the road to securing a successful or iconic design is manifold. As Chinese consumers approach luxury consumption from a highly socially-driven mindset, additions to the product that adds more social value including nicknames, celebrity and KOL strategies, and user-generated content, all act as a major factor in boosting the potential success of a handbag.