From Magnum to KFC, Global Brands Tap Chinese Designers’ ‘Cool Factor’ to Win Over Millennials

Fashion consumers are used to seeing mass-market and designer collaborations—that is, when they’re between the likes of H&M and Kenzo. But in China, these typical partnerships play out in a more unusual way.

First, there was Lipton at Labelhood, Shanghai Fashion Week’s presentation platform for emerging, trendy Chinese designers. For this collaboration, the British tea brand set up a DIY pop-up cafe in the middle of all the action at Rockbund, where it sold gift boxes created by three Chinese designers that were on the presentation schedule. Each box was filled with a fashion accessory to pair with a Lipton tea. Mass-market collaborations also appeared on the runway, with ice cream brand Magnum joining SFW for the first time by partnering with New York based womenswear label Leaf Xia. Xia took to the main catwalk at Xintiandi this month with chocolate-colored jumpers, hand-painted ice cream clutches, and playful embroidered dresses inspired by Magnum’s packaging designs.

The pairing may seem strange, but brands like Magnum and Lipton are in tune with just how much China’s millennials love lifestyle experiences.

Leaf Xia paired more obvious odes to Magnum with more subtle, yet playful nods to ice cream. (Courtesy Photo)

Leaf Xia paired more obvious odes to Magnum with more subtle, yet playful nods to ice cream. (Courtesy Photo)

For Xia, who first showcased her collections at trade show Mode last season after debuting her work on the London Fashion Week runway for spring/summer 2016, Magnum’s pop-up DIY ice cream bars in New York City are symbols of luxury and fashion. “When I went to the ice cream shop, all the people there were taking selfies,” she said. “I think it’s very cool.” She said it was an easy decision to partner with the brand, which provided its logo and materials in exchange for social media marketing in China.

Xia’s brand was broadcasted on Magnum’s social media platforms, and the ice cream company was exposed to Shanghai Fashion Week’s KOLs and media from around Asia. Magnum even had a presence at Shanghai Fashion Week’s first consumer-facing pop-up shop event, GreenCode, where Xia had her collections from the past two seasons available. A freezer full of ice cream bars sat next to her stall, where guests could study her painted replica of the Magnum ice cream wrapper in clutch form up close and in person.

It’s clear that the brand is attempting to step up its status in China, where the luxury ice cream bar can be found next to 15-cent popsicles at the local 7-11. The brand did its second Pleasure Store pop-up in Beijing this summer at a trendy shopping mall in Taikoo Li, and Chinese locals stood in line for hours to get a chance to do their own DIY ice cream experience. Customers could either scan a QR code for Magnum’s WeChat to receive the ice cream for free, or spend about US$30 at Taikoo Li mall for two of the treats. The DIY experience let guests choose from almost 30 different toppings, which ranged from as ordinary as chocolate shavings, to the more decadent, like rose petals and chili flakes. Last spring, Magnum’s pop-up stopped in Shanghai for ice cream fans at K11 mall.

C.J. Yao brought KFC into her collection for the second time this year. (Courtesy Photo)

C.J. Yao brought KFC into her collection for the second time this year. (Courtesy Photo)

Designer C.J. Yao also returned to Shanghai Fashion Week this season with a second design collaboration with KFC, after wowing crowds last April with handbags that looked like buckets of fried chicken. This time, the designer played with the Colonel Sanders’ motif on bags and shirts, with one dress even taking the ordeal a step further with the words, “Come chat chicken with me.” The fast food chain’s foray into fashion might be taking a cue from Moschino’s 2014 collection, when designer Jeremy Scott took inspiration from McDonald’s. But fashion is only one part of an attempt by KFC to turn China’s millennials on to its product, dipping its toes into tech in Shanghai and even producing its own brand of gimmicky nail polish for its Hong Kong consumers.

KFC's logo is nowhere to be found this season, but Colonel Sanders made several appearances in C.J. Yao's latest collection. (Courtesy Photo)

KFC’s logo is nowhere to be found this season, but Colonel Sanders made several appearances in C.J. Yao’s latest collection. (Courtesy Photo)

It’s likely that Chinese consumers will continue to see similar mass-market partnerships in the future as brands find innovative, or simply quirky, ways to appeal to a growing segment of trendsetting young consumers.

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