“Whatever She Wears, Ordinary People Will Imitate”
After China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan sparked an online fashion frenzy during her inaugural overseas trip to Moscow in March, both Chinese and foreign media have taken notice of what she has been wearing on subsequent foreign visits. Her in-progress tour of the Americas with President Xi Jinping is no different, as Chinese-language media outlets continue to promote her “made-in-China” style choices.
“What is Peng Liyuan Wearing On Her Foreign Visits?” is the title of a photo slideshow put together by state-run Xinhua, which features China’s first couple on their visits to Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica. The gallery, which does not explicitly provide the names of any designers she is wearing, likely has the political aim of showcasing the fact that Peng chose outfits featuring traditional Chinese elements such as qipao-style dresses and jackets. State-run media outlets have avoided naming the brands she has worn in the past, and are likely to continue to do so in the future. This is probably because, as iLook editor Hong Huang has stated in a recent Women’s Wear Daily article, “the first lady’s husband is waging the most fierce anticorruption campaign in modern Chinese history. Any association of his wife with a commercial enterprise is probably going to play into the hands of his political adversaries.”
However, as the massive amount of publicity Chinese brands have received from designing for the first lady has shown, the state-run media’s silence on specific designers will not prevent her from contributing to their prominence by wearing them. “During the foreign trip, the first lady has been wearing clothing with Chinese-style elements on many occasions, which reveals a sense of our national confidence,” states a Chinese-language op-ed on TNC regarding the Chinese first couple’s current tour. “By selecting clothing made in the country, and having the courage to wear it in international situations, this embodies our confidence in our traditional culture.” It also notes that Peng’s effect on domestically designed fashion has been “enormous,” because “whatever she wears, ordinary people will imitate.”
Foreign media praise of her Chinese-style fashion choices has also been a topic of conversation on Chinese media. On Sina, commentary on English-language coverage of her style proudly stated, “The British Daily Mail has taken notice of Peng Liyuan’s elegance on display as she accompanies leader Xi Jinping on a foreign visit to the Caribbean. In Latin America, this singer has won a great number of fans.” The article then goes on to quote the body of text which accompanies Daily Mail‘s extensive photo gallery of her outfits from the beginning of the trip.
Although Peng and U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama have drawn comparisons as fashion-forward first ladies, there will be no chance for a photo op between the two during the Xi-Obama meetings, as the U.S. first lady will not be accompanying President Obama to California at any point on the trip. Speculation as to why this might be is already starting to draw international media attention.