Is China Rap Superstar Kris Wu Too ‘Street’ for Louis Vuitton?

A furious war is waging on Chinese social media over Paris-based fashion titan Louis Vuitton’s surprise announcement yesterday that it has named 27-year-old rapper, reality-TV judge and celebrity Kris Wu as its global brand ambassador.

As of this writing, more than two million readers on Weibo have shared the Louis Vuitton announcement, many attaching comments—most of them wildly positive—but many others critical, even snobby. They note that the so-called “China’s king of streetwear,” who has also repped McDonald’s, is too young, too mainstream, too commercial or just a bad fit with a storied 164-year-old luxury brand known for its craftsmanship, design—and exclusivity.

Louis Vuitton's official announcement on October 31. Photo: Weibo

Louis Vuitton’s official announcement on October 31 has been shared more than two million times. Photo: Weibo

The move signals a fresh new direction for Vuitton, a thrown-down gauntlet to its edgier rival Gucci, and a switch to marketing specifically to Chinese millennials and Gen-Z. Earlier this year, Vuitton had already announced the founder of streetwear Off-White, Virgil Abloh, as the artistic director of its menswear collection.

Writes one Wu opponent: “All the luxury brands are trying to become Supreme.” Writes another, “A luxury brand can’t have it all.” Says a third, “Is his fan base really a Louis Vuitton customer, because they are all so young?” But supporters, of either Wu or the hire, note that his fans are so numerous and loyal that they will buy whatever he represents.

Wu performing at the 2018 iHeartRadio Much Music Video Awards. Photo: Kris Wu/Weibo

Wu has had a similar position at Burberry since 2016, launching a capsule collection, and was credited with a boost in sales there (not to mention huge crowds at his appearances on behalf of the brand). Burberry has repeatedly and publicly recognized Wu’s contributions in reshaping the brand image among Chinese millennial consumers, and he has also played an ambassador role at Bulgari.

But he’s become far more famous since serving as a judge on “The Rap of China,” a hugely popular and culturally influential reality competition that has brought rap to mainstream China. Indeed, Burberry’s announcement two years ago that it was naming Wu to the same title—the global ambassador—received only a couple of hundred thousand shares compared to Louis Vuitton’s two million in traffic in the past day.

Right or wrong for Louis Vuitton, it’s good timing for Wu. His latest album, Antares, drops tomorrow. The album shares its name with the 15th-brightest star in the sky, but Vuitton is obviously hoping for even brighter wattage.


Market Analysis, Marketing