This year, luxury brands went on a roller coaster of outrages, scandals, and celebrity fallouts. From Louis Vuitton dropping Kris Wu after his #MeToo allegations to Lanvin scrubbing the posts of Word of Honor’s star Zhang Zhehan over a selfie gone wrong, the fashion industry got rocked by several unexpected controversies.
For brands, these often unexpected scandals show that luxury must be more aware of cultural sensitivities in China. They can do that by investing in more in-depth background research on celebrity profiles before signing partnerships and endorsement agreements.
Decisive action is vital, especially as Chinese authorities came down hard on idol culture this year and criticized platforms that make stars out of “unworthy individuals.” Here, Jing Daily selects the top moments of 2021 that defined celebrity relations in China. For more of our 2021 end-of-year reviews, read here.
July saw Chinese-Canadian pop star Kris Wu embroiled in a scandal that rocked Chinese society. His alleged girlfriend Du Meizhu accused him of infidelity and seducing underage girls. Du claimed several young female victims were sexually exploited by Wu, including herself. The majority of citizens were outraged and suggested Wu quit entertainment and face legal sanctions. Since then, the ramifications have been wide-ranging. Wu’s collaborations with Chinese brands like Tencent Video, KANS, and at least 11 international names, including Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Porsche, and L'Oréal, were suspended or terminated. If convicted, he could receive ten years to life in prison and face deportation. Whatever the verdict, it is clear that this case has already been a game-changer for women seeking their day in court in China.
In August, Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan became embroiled in serious political controversy over the nation’s war history. Instagram posts by the star of the boys’ love drama Word of Honor, showing him visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo — a controversial symbol of Japan’s war legacy — were outed on Weibo. Although he issued a public apology letter claiming he was sorry for his ignorance about the historical background of this shrine, which commemorates the names of over 1,000 convicted Japanese war criminals, the fallout was substantial. Unlike the brands impacted by Kris Wu's scandal, the international players who collaborated with Zhang cut their ties much faster, learning a valuable lesson from the Wu incident.
The 22-year-old star Lucas Huang got publicly shamed when reports claimed he took advantage of fans romantically and financially. The NCT member subsequently became the latest Chinese celebrity reprimanded for bad behavior in August. Following the news, netizens were quick to blast the star on social media, expressing their anger and disappointment while questioning the sincerity of his apology on Weibo. On the whole, luxury brands were surprisingly slow to respond to this incident. However, the exception was Gucci, which quietly scrubbed images of the idol from its Qixi campaign.
Amid an industry tax evasion scandal, two livestreamers were slapped with massive fines by China’s tax authorities this November. Zhu Chenhui (Cherie) and Lin Shanshan got hit with $10.34 million (66 million yuan) and $4.38 million (28 million yuan) fines, respectively. And on top of that, they were “canceled” by netizens. While this is very bad news for them, China’s enhanced regulations aimed at livestreaming may benefit luxury brands in the long run. Livestreaming issues like counterfeits, infringement of consumer rights, and false advertising have kept high-end houses away from the sector. But perhaps with tightening controls, it can become a viable strategy for fashion houses in 2022.
Beijing refused to clarify why this 45-year-old actress (one of the country’s wealthiest and most beloved) got erased from the internet. But her cancellation amid a wider crackdown by the Community Party on the entertainment industry — or what it has dubbed “chaotic” celebrity fan culture — illustrated how luxury needs to tread carefully and choose wisely in 2022.