Chinese KOLs Return To Milan Fashion Week

What Happened: After a two-and-a-half-year absence under stringent COVID travel restrictions, a handful of China’s biggest fashion bloggers and KOLs have finally made it back to the front rows of Milan Fashion Week. They were seen at the likes of Prada, Gucci, Ferragamo, Fendi, and Versace shows. One of the most successful homegrown personalities, Tao Liang, better known as “Mr. Bags,” is thoroughly enjoying being back in action: “I feel so excited to come back to the fashion weeks! To see all the latest designs and creations in person is very different from seeing them via the internet,” he tells Jing Daily.

With over 6.7 million Weibo followers, a reputation for being able to convert fandom into serious sales, and collaborations with the likes of Givenchy, Fendi, and Tod’s under his belt, Mr. Bags’ return has been welcomed by the Italian lines — especially in light of recent Chinese luxury retail slumps amidst COVID lockdowns. Other mainland names made an appearance too, veteran singer Na Ying flying in for Moncler’s 70th-anniversary event.

The Jing Take: But it’s a trickle rather than a flood. Although we’ve seen the likes of Mr. Bags, Yuyu Zhangzou, and Cici Xiang making waves on the Milan circuit, the Chinese KOL contingent is noticeably much smaller than it was in pre-pandemic days. And you wonder if most of the country’s celebrities are still trying to keep a low profile for now.

“For me, you need to be in fashion week, to feel that vibe from the people, in real life, not just on a livestream or from your phone or laptop,” says Yuyu, known for her fun, eclectic style and 3.5 million Weibo followers. “Fashion week gives this really strong feeling of passion — of how people around inspire you. It’s a big festival and I was so happy to be back.” 

Yuyu, a fashion blogger with 3.5 million Weibo followers, was spotted at Milan Fashion Week. Photo: Courtesy of Yuyu

Beijing’s strict regulations still insist that citizens are not allowed to travel overseas purely for leisure purposes. Usually an official work visa must be obtained, or you must present an official letter of invitation from a company to go abroad (for professional reasons). Upon return, most destinations institute the 7+3 rule: seven days in government hotel quarantine and three days restricted movement at home. These barriers are making it difficult for most KOLs, PR, and media to attend international schedules — even if it is for work. So to generate some buzz in the domestic market, houses like Gucci and Etro have been holding almost simultaneous screening parties of their Milan shows within China, though the impact of these (versus the real thing) may be limited.  

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For high fashion influencers, attendance at these global spectacles represents a major competitive angle; not just commercially (when businesses pay them to attend or post) but also for fan clout, expertise, and credibility. “As a blogger who writes about handbags, I definitely have a much deeper impression and memory of the pieces I saw during the fashion shows,” explains Mr. Bags. “With the music, the model’s walk, the runway atmosphere, the bags become more alive. And the designer’s point of view on how they want them to be portrayed is also clearer. Later when I really write about my recommendations and thoughts, it’s so much easier for me to remember those bags I saw at an event.”

Mr. Bags and Yuyu sit front row at the Fendi show together with Caroline Daur and Chriselle Lim. Photo: Courtesy of Mr. Bags

The China market is of course still a big priority for major European groups. Some smaller labels might have pulled out, but most of the larger ones are still banking on Chinese growth in the wake of European economic woes such as war and inflation. When it comes to someone who can generate sales like Mr. Bags does — his previous Givenchy Valentine’s collaboration sold out in 12 minutes, netting a total of $170,000 (1.2 million RMB), while his Tod’s partnership raked in $500,000 (3 million RMB) in just seven minutes — his presence at Milan is a soothing reminder for brands of that still massive China potential.  

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.