Chinese Illustrators Have Brands In The Palm Of Their Hands

Today, artists are the trending vehicle for brands to reinvigorate their image. Like back in May 2022, when Chinese fans of luggage maker Rimowa had the opportunity to purchase exclusive, limited-edition stickers to accessorize their products. Designed by Chinese New York-based illustrator Vanilla Chi, each art deco-esque graphic added a colorful edge to the industrial cases. Millennials and Gen Z generally love embellishing their belongings with stickers, and the limited-time-only charity drop was a great way for Rimowa to reach them while celebrating local talent.

“Luxury brands have their own wide audience, and it is a great achievement for my work to be seen and understood by more people through this opportunity,” Chi said of the project.

vanilla chi x rimowa

Three of the stickers that Vanilla Chi designed for Rimowa. Photo: Rimowa

Like Rimowa, many foreign lines are now embracing projects with Chinese illustrators. In the mainland, Fendi has become synonymous with artist Oscar Wang’s cartoon Fendidi Panda, which forever dons head-to-toe monogram looks. In conversation with Jing Daily, the talent explained that labels work with him to, fundamentally, translate their name into a Chinese context.

“I take a couple of keywords that I grasp and then apply my take to it, for example, Fendi is youthful, trendy, and fun,” he explained. “I visualize the global perspective of the brand and then apply Chinese elements — ones that consumers from China understand.”

Of course, local names are most in tune with the market. As nostalgia and gaming are both sales generators in China, animation is often seen as the ideal way to illustrate these. 

The success of Oscar Wang’s Fendidi panda proves the power of animation in China. Photo: Fendi Weibo

Chi noted that her artwork resonates due to its innate connection to national values. “Nowadays Chinese people have a strong sense of identity with regard to our own culture, and only Chinese artists can get deep into that, and they therefore make better works. This is also a respect for humanity. I am very excited to see this trend of diversity,” she remarked.

Another creative thriving in this trend is China-born, Paris-based Jiayi Li, who has worked with an impressive roster of brands, from Loewe and Vivienne Westwood to Bang Olufsen and Justine Clenquet. “As a local creator, I may have a deeper connection with audiences my age as we share a common visual language,” observed Li, who’s visually-delicious, sometimes seductive, digital art is vibrantly futuristic.

To celebrate the Year of the Tiger, Vivienne Westwood tapped Jiayi Li. Photo: Jiayi Li

The artist’s favorite collaboration so far (and there have been a few) was with homegrown clothing label Teenie Weenie for which she designed two collections in 2020 and 2021. “My client gave me so much freedom,” Li affirmed. “I used the brand animal and com

bined it with my own digital character to create illustrations about summertime. We did four city pop-ups and offline meet and greets with customers and fans.

Millennial and Gen Z tastes for artwork have garnered Li 55,900 followers on Instagram, though it’s not just her own fanbase that was enthused. According to Arnold Ma, founder of digital marketing agency Qumin, it’s the sense of familiarity which drives China’s attraction to animation. “Most of the consumers who now have disposable income to afford luxury and premium products grew up in an era with cartoons and manga style,” he maintained. Data from Mintel supports this, showing that 77 percent of domestic consumers enjoy products that stir memories of the past.

Indeed, China’s illustration hype is unlike anywhere else. Even on the streetwear scene — famous for its tongue-in-cheek branding — there’s a western version of the Fendidi Panda, and Melting Sadness’ Kokoro Family. The latter’s founder, artist Zhang Quan, finds that his consumer base adores the childlike characters, recognizing aspects of themselves in each animation. 

Whether it’s a result of nostalgia marketing, the anime industry, gaming, or a combination of all the above, the movement has pushed illustrators to the forefront. Forget independent designers for a hot second, it’s time for brands to turn to Chinese artists for collaboration.

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Art & Design, Collabs and Drops, Fashion, Global, Market Analysis