What’s Next for Luxury in a Locked Down China?

As if luxury’s relationship with China wasn’t complicated enough, the country’s ongoing zero-Covid policy leaves luxury with a dilemma. As New York, London, Milan, and Paris return to physical schedules, few Chinese press, influencers, and buyers sat on the front row. And, the more remote the China market becomes, the greater the worry for luxury. 

Since 2020, the mainland has been in lockdown. During this time, a self-sustaining fashion ecosystem which is redefining the fashion industry as we know it has evolved. It is developing, alongside pre-existing Western fashion hierarchies, as a more powerful domestic industry recalibrated around global names (as well as local) working on Chinese terms as opposed to (what used to be) locals following what houses and fashion weeks did outside of the country. 

This is a paradigm shift towards Chinese consumer power. Now, as fashion councils streamline their digital output, and essentially move on, Jing Daily explores how luxury is addressing the gaping chasm between their countries, brands, and China’s new normal. 

The British Fashion Council (BFC), usually in the market during (for example) Shanghai Fashion Week, partnered with WWD China on a day-long webinar last year as well as with SINA Fashion for its Fashion Awards. “The reach of digital is phenomenal, especially in China where so many platforms are available — but we understand the importance of the physical and we really look forward to travel restrictions being lifted, and welcoming back our Chinese industry friends,” says Caroline Rush, CEO of the BFC. But overall initiatives were missing this season. 

Much of the heavy lifting was done by local names such as Mithdrate and Feng Chen Wang which held physical runways. Rush also outlines that UK colleges offer hotspots for Chinese students from which the London Fashion Week schedule continues to benefit, including “a growing list of Chinese names who are leading the way when it comes to engaging with the Chinese consumer.” 

Feng Chen Wang at London Fashion Week. Photo: Screenshot, Feng Chen Wang Studio

Similarly, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), has seen a growing number of Chinese designers debut on schedule (Private Policy, Social Work, PH5, and others), thanks in part to Universities like Parsons School of Design in New York City increasing their outreach in the country. 

Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA, stresses the popularity of its digital platform in catering to Chinese fashion fans. “RUNWAY360 and our strong social and editorial presence provide real-time direct access to NYFW, and a front-row seat to the Chinese consumer as well as China’s retail and fashion community.” Still, as this needs to be accessed by a VPN in the mainland, it’s not immediately accessible to the average fashion fan.

Rather, efforts from individual entities such as schedule stalwart Michael Kors made more of an impact in China. It had Chinese ambassadors such as singer Wang Feifei and actresses Gao Yuanyuan and Bai Lu amplify the show; they posted invitations and invited followers to watch live. At the time, total views on homegrown livestreaming platforms for that event totaled 13.5 million the key point here being that these were indigenous channels. 

Michael Kors showcases his latest collection at New York Fashion Week. Photo: Michael Kors’ Weibo

Moreover, having a local partner is often a guarantee of success: they know what viewers want and, of course, how to navigate the market. Plus they don’t have accessibility issues like requiring VPNs. Both Paris’ Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) and Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) have partnerships with Tencent, China’s entertainment conglomerate. 

This season, Tencent Fashion — which has a fan base of 1.4 million — partnered with the young idol Zhu Zhengting. In total, it achieved 2.14 million views for Paris Fashion Week. Jing Daily has already reported on how its brands understand the importance of engaging local audiences. Companies like Balenciaga and Chanel also operated their own separate livestreams which achieved 3.5 and 3.73 million views, respectively.

Milan Fashion Week fared well too with a healthy 37.16 million live views and 23.21 million for playback views on the Tencent video platform. CNMI’s CEO Carlo Capasa notes that the last two years were fundamental for the development of fashion weeks’ digitalization. “Together with Tencent video, we have organized fashion week talks to make the consumers and also fashion players better understand the industry, the Italian and Chinese market too,” Capasa states, also pointing out that members organize offline activities in the locale: “During show time, brands organize offline show watching events with local media and KOL to create and enrich the Fashion Week vibe.” 

Recommended ReadingWho’s Courting China at Milan Fashion Week?By Jing Daily

Currently facing the largest surge in infections since the outbreak, parts of China are back in lockdown. Unlike Western countries such as the US and UK which have chosen to open up, China is choosing to shield its citizens. And luxury is, again, impacted: share prices at LVMH, Kering, and Hermès have all declined as cases have spiked. Will this impact sales too? 

Granted, this situation poses its challenges now, brands could still access China for this season. They didn’t. Last year, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and more made the effort. Though watch parties draw millions of eyes from the general public, they do beg the question: in a market based on a model of innovation and curiosity, how much longer can a dinner, club outing, or screening replicate physical shows?