Cai Xukun’s post-sex scandal comeback: Will Versace’s bet pay off?

    After nearly a year out of the limelight thanks to lurid accusations, pop star Cai Xukun is back making headlines and lighting up Weibo, this time as Versace's new ambassador.
    Cai Xukun poses for Versace’s pre-fall 2024 collection. Image: Weibo
      Published   in Fashion

    What happened

    Chinese top idol Cai Xukun is attempting a comeback after a hiatus from the spotlight.

    On May 22, Versace announced on its Instagram account that Cai Xukun, also known as Kun, had been appointed as the brand’s global brand ambassador. The news has gone viral garnering 370 million views on Weibo at time of writing.

    In June last year, dancer and actor Cai was embroiled in a scandal when media in China reported that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a woman, who was allegedly coerced into having an abortion after she fell pregnant.

    He later released a statement admitting having a consensual relationship with the woman, denying the accusation of coercion, and saying the matter had been “resolved.”

    Still, the incident led to media platforms like iQiyi and variety shows like Running Man removing content featuring him. The three brands he represented in China at the time, Prada, Tag Hauer and De Beers, stuck with him, though he has rarely appeared in their social media content since the story broke.

    Cai boasts 38.2 million followers on Weibo and 2.5 million followers on Instagram.

    The Jing Take

    Following this announcement, the hashtag #蔡徐坤范思哲全球品牌代言人 (Cai Xukun Versace global brand ambassador) garnered 370 million views on weibo, ranking No.1 on the hot search list for 14 hours.

    “Kun is brave, incredibly talented and unique. He’s a singer and producer. He represents the new confident voice of a generation,” Donatella Versace, the brand’s chief creative officer, said of Cai in Versace’s announcement.

    For many of Cai’s fans, this latest move is an indicator of his innocence. Consequently, many have expressed their excitement about the appointment.

    “Cai Xukun suddenly announced as Versace’s global brand ambassador without any prior hype. This is just too exciting!” wrote Xiaohongshu user Xiaokuifadianzhan (小葵发电站).

    “I've always wanted to buy a bag. Now I don't have to choose the brand; Kun Kun has chosen it for me,” posted fellow commentator Mantianxingchen (漫天星辰).

    The announcement was posted on the brand’s global account, rather than released through a fashion public relations agency in China, further exciting fans who see the move as validation from a “higher authority.”

    Not all reactions on Chinese socials have been positive.

    “Cai Xukun has fallen out of favor, yet they announced him as their global brand ambassador,” posted Weibo user Quanshaoye (圈少爷).

    But Cai’s scandal is different from those involving other A-list celebrities like Kris Wu and Li Yifeng, who were both canceled and convicted of crimes. Cai’s situation is more reflective of China’s code of ethics for artists. So, while some may slam his appointment due to a more critical stance on ambassadors’ morals, many of his loyal fans and those who focus on his work rather than his personal life support his appointment.

    China’s increasing scrutiny of celebrity culture heightens risks for luxury brands when marketing in the mainland. Ways of mitigating this are thoroughly background-checking potential partners, keeping an eye on related statements in Party-controlled media as indicators of the government’s stance, and preparing a public relations strategy for handling potential scandals.

    The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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