DVF will hold the "Red Ball" March 31 in Shanghai (Image: Diane Von Furstenberg's Weibo)
Her name may be a tongue-twister in Chinese -- Dài'ān Féngfúsītīngbǎo (黛安·冯芙丝汀宝) -- but that hasn't slowed Diane Von Furstenberg's all-out effort to become a household name in China. Earlier this year, Von Furstenberg announced that she plans to expand her DVF line beyond the two stores currently operating in Beijing and Shanghai to more top-tier locations, and hopes to spread the word about her brand, well established in the West but nearly unheard of in China but for the country's most fashion-savvy, via high-profile events that tap China's contemporary art scene and the star power of Chinese celebrities. Considering Von Furstenberg's friendship with folks like Wendi Deng, media queen Hong Huang, photographer Hai Bo and conceptual artist Zhang Huan, there's no reason to discount Von Furstenberg's ability to make a scene.
Though Von Furstenberg's possibly tongue-in-cheek goal in China is to "sell every Chinese a t-shirt," first she's going to throw a couple of parties, the first being her "Red Ball" in Shanghai, and the second being the much-anticipated "Journey of a Dress" exhibition in Beijing. The "Red Ball," designed by fashion industry "master creator" Alexandre de Betak, will take place at Zhang Huan's cavernous Shanghai studio tomorrow, March 31. Afterwards, Von Furstenberg will jet off to Beijing for a reception at the US Embassy and the launch of "Journey of a Dress." Running from April 2-May 14 at Pace Beijing, the exhibition presents a number of portraits of the fashion maven by top artists like Andy Warhol and Helmut Newton, as well as new portraits by Chinese contemporary artists like Zhang Huan, Hai Bo, painter Li Songsong, and multimedia artist Yi Zhou, along with a retrospective of 40 years of DVF fashion.
DVF - "Journey of a Dress" is one of the most eagerly anticipated art/luxury events of the year
While this event will get Diane Von Furstenberg in the headlines in China, which is pretty much the point, the question is: will it motivate more Beijing or Shanghai shoppers to make their way down to their local DVF store, wallets at the ready? Good PR doesn't always lead to good sales in China, especially when well over 50 percent of big-time luxury spenders do their shopping abroad and young white-collar workers buy their high-end toys in a piecemeal fashion. With sales being the ultimate goal, obviously, Diane Von Furstenberg apparently thinks it's best to latch on to a growing trend in China, one that PricewaterhouseCoopers recently said is "ripe for an explosion" -- online retail.
As Von Furstenberg told Bloomberg, getting involved in China's nascent online shopping market, considering China's more than 450 million Internet users, "will be impossible not to do," adding, "I haven't gotten into it yet, but I will." While the online market is still relatively new in China, at least as far as international luxury brands are concerned, DVF isn't exactly deluded in thinking there's gold in the online hills in China. Last year, Armani launched its Chinese-language online store, and recently the online mega-retailer Yoox made its China debut. In the run-up to the eventual launch of her online store, Von Furstenberg has also followed the lead of Tom Cruise and signed up for a Sina Weibo account, which currently boasts around 20,000 "fensi" (粉丝) or fans. (For the sake of comparison, Weibo celebrity and sometime actress Yao Chen has more than seven million fensi.) While this is a good start, and though we know Von Furstenberg can't speak Chinese, her Weibo -- interesting as it may be -- would greatly benefit from bilingual content for the sake of her Chinese fans. Certainly she has a local assistant who could make this happen.
While Diane Von Furstenberg is hitting all the right keys, presumably, in her China expansion effort, hob-nobbing with media elites and art stars, poking the zeitgeist via Sina Weibo, and holding lavish events in Beijing and Shanghai, is she expecting too much from the China market, too soon? It all depends on her target consumer. Currently, the DVF brand lacks the widespread brand awareness or appeal of a Louis Vuitton or Gucci in second- and third-tier cities, many of which are still in the first stage of international brand consumption. Given the choice between a DVF handbag and a more recognizable Chanel handbag, most well-heeled Chinese consumers beyond the ultra-brand-savvy in top-tier cities would choose the latter. This is not to say that DVF will not be perceived as a true luxury brand in China, but it will simply take time, and DVF should understand this, taking a long view of China and investing in consumer education rather than expecting to barnstorm the market. Diane Von Furstenberg's exclusive parties and photo shoots might endear her to the Chinese media and arts elite, but it's far more difficult to "sell a t-shirt" to the other 1.29999999 billion Chinese.