The entire fashion world woke up today with the news that Karl Lagerfeld, one of the legendary fashion designer of our times, and best known for his creative role at Chanel, passed away at the age of 85 in Paris.
In China, Karl Lagerfeld was better known by his household name “Lao Fo Ye (老佛爷),” the term that was once exclusively used by Chinese people to address Empress Dowager Cixi (慈溪太后) — who held control of the Chinese government in the late Qing dynasty for about five decades. The fact that Chinese consumers like to call Lagerfeld “Lao Fu Ye” demonstrates his status and power as the “Kaiser” of the fashion world.
Lagerfeld’s connection to China may have been deeper than many have thought. In 2014, he designed a hotel in Macau, The Karl Lagerfeld Hotel (owned by SJM Holding, LTD, A Macau casino company), signaling his entry into the nation’s hospitality business. And two years ago, the designer’s namesake fashion label, Karl Lagerfeld, was acquired by a Fujian-based menswear company Septwolves. The latter now owns the distribution rights to Karl Lagerfeld’s brand in the Greater China region.
As news of Lagerfeld’s passing broke last night, China’s social media platforms, including Weibo and WeChat, have seen an influx of posts mourning the fashion industry’s huge loss.
Chinese actress Zhou Xun (周迅), has been the face of Chanel in China since 2007, posted on Weibo recollections of her working relationship with Lagerfeld over the past decade, and expressed her best wishes to him in heaven.
Another Chinese fashion icon and model Liu Wen also wrote a condolence note on Weibo to recall her first fashion runway show experience with Chanel back in 2008. Liu’s post has become one of the trending topics, attracting over 76 million views and close to 10,000 comments.
Aside from celebrities, a wide variety of Chinese media outlets from Yicai to Harper’s Bazaar, and numerous WeChat public accounts reported the news and published long features to profile Lagerfeld’s life to acknowledge his contributions to the industry.
But for the majority of Chinese consumers, who have limited access to and knowledge of the glamorous fashion world whatsoever, they chose to express their sorrow and sadness in a special and controversial way.
Late last night, a topic called “How many pieces of Chanel do you have?” started trending on Weibo (see image above). The host of this topic called for users to post Chanel products that they own or aspire to own as a way to memorialize him. The topic has aroused enormous interest from netizens, with many of them posting pictures of their Chanel products from watches to handbags to cosmetics. As of this publication, it had attracted over 74 million views and 8,186 discussions.
For example, Weibo user “Ningxi” commented, “An eyeshadow palette, a bottle of perfume, and a Leboy handbag, are all I have now. I don’t own many, but there are many that I wish I could have in the future. Chanel is a divine brand in my heart. I will work harder to make more money to buy its products.”
However, not all Chinese people agree that showing off Chanel handbags is an appropriate way to pay tribute to Lagerfeld. One user named “ajuer” wrote, “These people are so self-centered. R.I.P is all you need to say. No one cares about how many Chanel items you have.” Another user echoed, “These people just want to show off. I doubt how sad they are about Karl’s passing!”
In recent years, the death of renowned fashion players from Kate Spade to Hubert de Givenchy has created large-scale online discussions among Chinese social media users, demonstrating the country’s ongoing and continuous obsession for luxury.