Beijing’s fashion and design set showed up for some serious crocodile love at the Lacoste 80th anniversary party on October 16. Hundreds of guests flocked to the exclusive shindig, held in the Yan Club Arts Center, a spacious gallery in the capital’s trendy 798 Art District.
Guests nibbled on a selection of canapés created in honor of the event, including small éclairs topped with tiny edible crocodiles. While sipping on glasses of free flow Champagne, they signed their names on an iPad screen with their fingers, then watched as their signatures were projected onto the wall of the gallery, one of three interactive elements that also included a photo booth that shared pictures projected in real time, and a QR code that the tech savvy could scan with smartphones to pre-order Peter Saville Holiday Collector polo shirts. Specially designed products from eight of France’s top maison Francaises were displayed in glass cases sat in the center of room. As with any good birthday party, music is a key part of the equation, and by the end of the night, revelers were tearing up the dance floor to the sound stylings of DJ Wordy, one of the capital’s top DJs.
The lineup of maison Francaises’ birthday “gifts” were clearly aimed at moneyed consumers, with a sleek, green crocodile skin Hermès bag with a side tennis racket pouch stealing the show. Fauchon’s gourmet éclairs, whose icings mimicked the texture of Lacoste’s trademark polo shirts, added a fun touch. Other gifts included brooches from Boucheron, a silver Christofle golf club, a travel bag from Goyard, a pre/post golf game kit with two candles, a notebook and pens from S.T. Dupont, a crystal Baccarat vase, and a set of ceramic golf tees from Bernardaud. At the top of the wide staircase at the back of the gallery sat a display of classic, white polo shirts from Peter Saville’s Holiday Collector’s Series.
Is Lacoste making a play for the attention of China’s über wealthy? Lacoste representatives declined to answer questions at this time regarding the brand’s marketing strategy in China, saying that the company is currently undergoing a “strategy transition period” and is set to change course next year.
Lacoste’s upcoming shift in marketing strategy may be prudent considering the swiftly changing tastes of the Chinese luxury market. An increasing number of Chinese consumers are buying luxury goods abroad to avoid the high import taxes imposed on luxury goods domestically, which range between 20 percent and 70 percent, according to the 2012 McKinsey Chinese Luxury Consumer Survey. In 2010, just 36 percent of mainland Chinese luxury consumers purchased goods abroad. By 2012, that number had risen to 63 percent, and the country’s share of the global luxury consumer pie is expected to hit one third of the entire global luxury market by 2015.
Add to this mix ultra-wealthy consumers’ (which the report defines as households with liquid assets over RMB100 million) increasing demands for special in-store treatment at mainland locations requiring more money and more staff, growing savvy about the quality, reputation, and consistency of brands both abroad and at home, rising retail rent prices across the country, and a continuing government crackdown on corruption and conspicuous consumption, and it’s a very different luxury landscape brands must navigate in China than just a few years ago. It’s “harder and more expensive for luxury brands to win over the nation’s consumers,” says the report.
The days of Chinese luxury consumers snapping up products for the name alone are dwindling, and the wealthiest consumers are already looking for style and substance over flash—the subtly stylish Hermès tennis bag for example, over the instantly-recognizable LV travel bag. Brands such as Lacoste will have to sharpen their marketing mettle in order to cut it in this quickly changing environment, says the report. “Simply building lots of stores in Chinese cities and offering merchandise emblazoned with famous logos is not nearly sufficient for reaping the rewards this market offers.”