China’s ‘Sex and the City’ Stirs Heated Debate Over Luxury Brands

Ode to Joy, China’s hit television drama about five young women making it in Shanghai, reached an astounding 10 billion views when the first season launched in April 2016. It’s since been hailed for its groundbreaking portrayal of a new generation of young independent women in China, the way HBO’s Sex and the City was a watershed moment for the frank portrayal of young women in the West.

But the show has received some criticism in its second season, which comes to a close in the next few days, for upping instances of the placement of luxury products. The closing credits of a recent episode listed over 50 advertisers (including Chow Tai Fook, Guerlain, and Givenchy), which was double the amount listed in a given episode in the first season. Some critics even dubbed the show Ode to Advertising.

The way the brands are used also reflects the differing socio-economic backgrounds of the five characters: Andy, the career-driven executive loves a clean cut Balmain suit while Guan Ju’er, a recent graduate, dresses more conservatively and prefers accessible luxury like Michael Kors. (See a full breakdown of all the characters below). This, in turn, has spurred heated discussions online about whether or not the characters can actually afford the clothes they’re wearing.

The characters’ sartorial decisions, however, have introduced a new opportunity for fashion brands to tout their looks and viewers are catching on. A Baidu search for “Ode to Joy + Andi + Brunello Cucinelli,” for example, turns up 34,000 results. As with Sex and the City, many young Chinese women are looking to adopt the looks of their favorite characters.

Below is an introduction to each of the characters and how they wear their favored brands.

Andy wearing a Delvaux Brilliant bag. Image Via Sohu fashion.

1. Andy

Actress: Liu Tao

Role: The hard-charging executive.

Brand Notes: In the first season, Andy is often seen wearing an Hermes bag. But in the second season, she wears Delvaux bags. Brunello Cucinelli is another brand favored by this character. Off-screen, actress Liu Tao is a big fan and friend of Cucinelli’s.


Qu Xiaoxiao’s wearing a dress from the Jacquemus 2016 Spring/Summer collection. Image via VCG.

2. Qu Xiaoxiao

Actress: Wang Ziwen

Role: The flamboyant “second-generation” rich girl who took over her parents’ HVAC infrastructure company.

Brand Notes: She’s street-smart, even arrogant and loves to wear unknown expensive designer pieces to show off her unusual taste. Her character is credited with taking independent French brand Jacquemus mainstream. It has also been said that the products from independent designer Pollyanna Keong often sold out on Taobao immediately after the show aired.

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Fan Shengmei wearing Lanvin. Image via Tencent fashion.

3. Fan Shengmei

Actress: Jiang Xin

Role: A resourceful human resources staffer at a foreign company, Fan is constantly under economic pressure from her family.

Brand Notes: She desires a luxury lifestyle and aspires to be a “gold digger.” She is often the character to show off her bling, wearing clothes that feature big brand logos from Louis Vuitton and Lanvin to Chanel. But she’s not afraid of wearing designer knock-offs either.

Guan Ju’er with Beats headphones. Image via VCG.

4. Guan Ju’er

Actress: Qiao Xin

Role: An intern at a Fortune 500 company, struggling to secure a full-time position.

Brand Notes:  From a middle-class family, Guan is quite studious and rather conservative. She prefers accessible luxury including Michael Kors as well as local Chinese brands like Erdos and IIIVIVINOKO.

Qiu yingying. Image via VCG.

5. Qiu yingying

Actress: Yang Zi

Role: A naive, small-town girl with lots of idealistic perceptions about the big city.

Brand Notes: Qiu is into affordable Chinese and Korean brands though she has been spotted wearing a bag by Furla.



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