Luxury Takes A Back Seat At China’s Annual Congress

Attendees Expected To Keep It Low-Key This Year

Public outrage at conspicuous displays of wealth at last year's NPC have spurred the government to crack down

Following a much-hyped crackdown on officials’ use of public funds for high-end goods, lavish banquets, displays of wealth and VIP receptions over the past year, luxury is taking a noticeable backseat at China’s annual congress. This is a major shift from last year’s event, during which eagle-eyed Weibo users lampooned the high-priced and logo-festooned belts, suits, watches and jewelry worn by delegates. With the exception of flashy billionaire philanthropist Chen Guangbiao — whose lime-green suit made headlines this weekend — attendees at this year’s national congress will undoubtedly be looking to keep their heads down and blend in rather than make a fashion statement.

As the Guardian writes of the chilling effect of the current luxury chill in Beijing:

“Of course [the crackdown is] having an effect. Many officials are now running on thin ice; they’re very careful,” said Ji Xiguang, a former newspaper journalist who spread news of a recent sex-and-extortion scandal in Chongqing.

Paul French, chief China strategist for Mintel, said designer boutiques were “still selling individual suits, but they don’t get the guy coming in and buying 10 that he wants to give out. Or they come in and say: ‘I want 10 suits, but I need an invoice saying it’s office stationery.'”

As Avery Booker of Jing Daily noted: “Gift giving’s not dying away in China – no matter what the government tries to enact.”

Like many, Booker predicted a short-term hit for some brands and a shift to stealth gifting instead, via “very small, concealable luxury items” such as pens and cufflinks, or overseas trips.

Chinese netizens called out attendees at last year's congress for high-priced items

As we noted, though ostentatious displays of wealth will likely remain under wraps this week in Beijing, it’s unlikely to augur serious shifts in Chinese luxury consumption this year. While luxury retailers will likely be largely disappointed by year’s NPC, compared to previous years when business boomed, Jing Daily has previously pointed out that the current luxury crackdown appears to be mostly serving to push more private, online, and overseas purchases. After becoming so accustomed to foreign luxury items, don’t expect delegates to “trade down” completely.


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