DVF - "Journey of a Dress" is one of the most eagerly anticipated art/luxury events of the year
Perhaps no western designer made more direct overtures to the Chinese market last year than Diane von Furstenberg, whose DVF brand recently debuted in Beijing and Shanghai. As Jing Daily recently noted, von Furstenberg's ability to mingle among and bring together a diverse group of Chinese media elites, artists, and fashion insiders has made quite a splash in China:
[Von Furstenberg] is carefully crafting a personal image that draws creative verve from the art, fashion, and celebrity scenes in China and internationally. The idea, of course, is that in the minds of Chinese consumers, this personal elan will extend to the DVF label and products.
“Journey of a Dress,” a traveling retrospective...gives von Furstenberg and her career museum-level treatment, combining sketches, patterns, and other items from her personal archives with original portraits by the likes of Andy Warhol and Helmut Newton. The show will travel to Beijing in April, opening in a space created by the Pace Gallery in the 798 art district. Her week-long sojourn in Beijing [last fall]...included visits to artist studios, many of whom the Pace Gallery commissioned to create their own portraits of von Furstenberg for inclusion in the show. [S]he and her staff debated throwing a “Red Ball” evening gala–possibly at artist Zhang Huan’s French restaurant in Shanghai–intended to dazzle not only in itself but in the international celebrity star-power it could draw.
While other well-known international designers have recently attempted to draw on Chinese star power to build fashion "cults of personality," with Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana hobnobbing with Vogue China's Angelica Cheung and model Naomi Campbell in Shanghai and Miuccia Prada recently rubbing shoulders with actresses Gong Li and Maggie Cheung at CAFA Beijing, Diane von Furstenberg appears to be taking the long view of her brand's foray into China. While her strategy -- significantly brasher and more visible than that of her competitors (sometimes to a fault) -- isn't to everybody's liking, von Furstenberg certainly is making the right friends in people like the publisher and Chinese fashion booster Hong Huang and contemporary artists Hai Bo and Zhang Huan. At the same time, her approach to brand expansion, somewhat surprisingly, is more restrained than many brands. Currently, DVF operates two boutiques in Beijing and Shanghai, and plans for a major nationwide rollout have yet to be announced. At the moment, building a strong foothold in two of China's wealthiest cities, while amassing a network of influential brand advocates, is DVF's broader plan.
DVF in Beijing (Image: DVF Facebook Page)
While Diane von Furstenberg's dream of "selling every Chinese a t-shirt" will likely remain just that for years to come, she seems to be content with the idea of selling a t-shirt to every wealthy Beijinger -- a far more likely prospect. This April, DVF's “Journey of a Dress” traveling exhibition, one of the most anticipated fashion events on the Beijing social calendar, will land at the Pace Gallery in the city's 798 arts district. As Luxury Insider notes this week, "Journey of a Dress" will comprise "a series of portraits of the iconic designer taken over the past four decades as well as a fashion retrospective celebrating her life’s work." Reflecting the track of von Furstenberg's career, the exhibition features early portraits by Andy Warhol and Helmut Newton and newer pieces by Chinese artists Li Songsong, Zhang Huan, Hai Bo and Yi Zhou.
Whether von Furstenberg's loud, colorful and unabashedly elite-focused strategy for cracking the China market becomes the envy of the fashion industry or a case study in misreading a young and still developing market will remain to be seen. Von Furstenberg claims to be committed to building her brand there over the long haul, and she and her company clearly have the money to operate in China at a net loss, which they likely will for some time. But, for all the rosy news and record-breaking figures emerging from the Chinese luxury market, and for all of the high-profile friends she's making in China, Diane von Furstenberg will have to work harder to make an impact there than perhaps even she realizes. The second- and third-tier cities are where all the motivated shoppers live right now, and wealthy Beijing and Shanghai shoppers are both spoiled for choice in saturated luxury markets and more likely to shop overseas. Courting cultural and business elites might seem like the right strategy, but for DVF to really make a name for itself in China, Diane von Furstenberg might have to throw some parties in Chengdu, Hangzhou or Xi'an as well.