By now, Mr. Bags is practically a household name among China’s luxury handbag aficionados, but a new collaboration with family-owned French accessories house Longchamp has the potential to take this recognition global.
Weibo’s top fashion blogger released a seven-piece handbag collection to his more than 800,000 followers on WeChat and 3.2 million followers on Weibo today (December 22), honoring the Year of the Dog a little early. The bags reinterpret Longchamp’s lambskin Le Pliage Cuir line, giving it a little more of a structured form and adding a splash of furry paw prints on the front. The bags are available in several sizes in classic black, as well as a more feminine powder blue and pastel pink, and are priced between RMB 1,500 and 6,950 ($226 and $1,052).
But what really makes this launch unique is that it’s the first time a luxury brand has released a design by a Chinese blogger to its international customer base. As of January 1, the bags will be available in Longchamp’s stores worldwide.
“Mr. Bag’s reputation and reach now goes beyond China,” Longchamp Chief Executive Jean Cassegrain told Jing Daily. “The product that we designed with him is a product that a lot of our customers can like—we are targeting both his followers and ours.”
After the WeChat sale, the global collection will be officially launched on December 31 at Longchamp’s flagship store at the Kerry Center in Shanghai, which celebrated its grand opening in April of this year, with a celebration for VIP customers. Those that attend the offline event will be able to buy the bags before they’re released in Longchamp boutiques around the world on New Year’s Day.
Mr. Bags, whose real name is Tao Liang, has done numerous creative collaborations with luxury handbag brands in the past year, including a recent 200-piece capsule with Tods, which he released on his birthday over the summer. However, until now, his collections had been available exclusively in China, which posed a problem for many of his “Bagfans” that live or study abroad.
“For the Tods collaboration, we received a lot of feedback from fans saying, ‘I’m not in China now, but can I still buy it?’” Tao told Jing Daily. “So I thought, is there a chance we can sell it globally so that Bagfans outside of China will have access to this collection?”
Tao, who got his start as a blogger while studying in the United States, estimates he has a huge fan base overseas (“Many of the Bagfans living in China right now are actually people who used to study or work outside of China”).
It’s these globalized followers that have guided Tao’s collaborations, inspiring him to create a more practical feature for the Longchamp travel tote—an outside pocket that perfectly accommodates an iPhone and passport for those stressful moments in airport security lines. He also worked with Longchamp’s Artistic Director Sophie Delafontaine to design Longchamp’s first clutch-sized bag with his millennial female followers in mind.
“Chinese girls are quite petite, so a smaller size will be perfect for them, and a lot of them don’t use long wallets anymore because really they don’t use that much cash,” Tao said. “So a small clutch can fit anything they want to use on a daily basis.”
The bags’ canine-inspired design is one that also took careful consideration, as luxury brands have recently been grappling with the challenge of celebrating Chinese New Year with holiday- and culturally-appropriate products that are actually going to appeal to the millennial Chinese market.
“It’s important to us to work with someone who has a good understanding of Chinese culture,” Cassegrain said. “Even though we have been operating in that market for a long time, it’s important to have someone who can act as a go-between, understand the nature of our brand, and understand how much you want to have a dog on your bag for the Year of the Dog.”
“We don’t want to be too obvious. We want to be a part of the Chinese New Year celebration in a soft and subtle way. Mr. Bags understood that very well.”
This collaboration is just one of the many milestones Longchamp has achieved in the Chinese market in the past year. Not only was the fashion house an early adopter of the WeChat sales platform, but eight months ago, it was one of the first luxury brands to launch a WeChat Mini Program, allowing customers to download Longchamp’s shopping app directly through WeChat by scanning a QR code without having to go to the store’s own website. Cassegrain said they plan to continue to “innovate” and maintain a “strong and efficient partnership with Tencent” to keep up with China’s competitive digital landscape.
“In China, the customer needs newness all the time, so every season, every month, and every week we must come up with a new and exciting product,” Cassegrain said. “Sales are important of course, but even more important for us is to keep this feeling that we have new, exciting products all the time and to work on our brand image.”
While Longchamp hasn’t released exact sales figures for China, Cassegrain said performance has been strong and they’re expanding their brick and mortar presence, starting with a soft opening of a Beijing flagship store today (on December 22). The company recorded global sales revenue of $642.5 million last year, with 28 percent coming from Asia.
The brand is working on reaching consumers in the midst of a luxury market upturn that will see an estimated 15 percent growth in China by the end of this year, according to Bain & Company. And if that wasn’t helpful enough, Mr. Bags has a history of selling out of collections on his WeChat account—on Valentine’s Day, he sold out of an 80-piece exclusive Givenchy handbag collection in just 12 minutes.
“There’s so much noise in the market that you need ways to grab consumers’ attention, and Mr. Bags has so much reach,” Cassegrain said. “He’s very powerful, and he helps to relay our message in a very powerful way.”
Tao was recently signed on by the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), who will represent him worldwide and likely ensure many more projects like the Longchamp launch coming out of the Chinese KOL sphere.
“They will give me more resources and help me establish a more international career,” Tao said. “It’s such a dream come true for me.”