With guests including supermodel Miranda Kerr and actresses Gao Yuanyuan and Carina Lau, Michael Kors’ Shanghai flagship party last Thursday was one of the most high-profile China fashion events so far this year—until the designer hosted his first-ever China runway show at Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport the next day. Taking place in a 30,000-square-foot jet hangar to celebrate Kors’ “jet-set” aesthetic, the Friday event highlighted that traveling Chinese consumers are just as important to the brand as China’s domestic retail market.
Entitled “The Michael Kors Jet Set Experience,” the airport event hosted 1,000 VIP guests including Hollywood stars Hilary Swank, Freida Pinto, and Camilla Belle. The runway itself was star-studded with top international models such as Kerr, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Shu Pei, and Ming Xi, and featured many looks in the bright “China red” that dominated international runways this past season among top designers with an eye on China.
Kors’ new Shanghai flagship—the brand’s largest in China—opened in January at the new Jing An Kerry Centre as part of a continued push into the China market. In addition to promoting the new mainland location, the brand’s airport event and travel-focused aesthetic fit well with Chinese consumers’ global luxury spending habits. High tariffs on imported goods mean that mainland purchases only make up about 30 percent of total Chinese luxury consumption, and more than 40 percent of Chinese consumers in an iFeng survey last year said that they had bought luxury abroad in 2013.
Chinese consumers’ focus on buying goods abroad is especially important for an accessible brand like Michael Kors, which hopes to tap into the spending of China’s expanding middle class. For luxury-loving middle-class consumers, the travel market is likely to become increasingly vital in the coming years due to the fact that prices are a more important factor in purchase decisions for middle-class luxury consumers than for high-net-worth individuals. The Shanghai Hongqiao Airport has a significant amount of duty-free shopping available for price-savvy Chinese travelers.
Kors isn’t necessarily worried about slowing luxury growth rates on the mainland. When asked in a recent Business of Fashion interview about why he is pursuing China expansion as mainland luxury market growth slows, he showed confidence in the purchasing power of the Chinese middle class, stating, “we are dealing with a mix of product where we have a range of prices that makes us accessible to a huge range of people.” In addition, Kors believes his brand’s modern aesthetic and relatively young age will help the brand. “I still think newness counts for a lot here in China,” he said.