In 2023, every luxury brand is hungry for internet virality. Meme-based fashion is dominating — from Balenciaga’s trash bag, to Jacquemus’ ultra-mini Chiqito purses, as well as overtly performative runway shows elbowing their way into the limelight. However, the Fall 2023 season in Paris saw less of these two internet-grabbing tactics.
At Paris Fashion Week (PFW), celebrities were the vehicle in maintaining consumer-attention, something that oftentimes distracted from the actual collections. As a result, across Chinese social media, PFW trending topics were more about the Chinese stars perched on the front row, rather than the runway or even designs.
For example, the sole reason that Dior saw meteoric engagement figures was because local singer Liu Yu Xin went to the show; #刘雨昕巴黎时装周# (#liuyuxinparisfashionweek) gained 920 million views, and 39.38 million organic mentions on Weibo.
Similarly, the whereabouts of actress and Louis Vuitton ambassador Liu Yi Fei was avidly followed by netizens, with the hashtag ##刘亦菲巴黎时装周(#liuyifeiparisfashionweek) seeing 120 million views.
Both Louis Vuitton and Dior were some of influencer marketing platform Lefty's top five performing brands at PFW overall, along with Valentino, Saint Laurent, and Loewe. All of which gained traction in China for inviting major local celebrities and key opinion leaders (KOLs): Loewe's show featured Chinese actress Sun Qian (孙千) (5.375million on Weibo), Valentino had new ambassador WayV's Winwin attend the show, and South Korean K-pop group Blackpink’s Rosé graced the frow at Saint Laurent.
Even major labels are being forced to rely on fan culture. As businesses face the Covid-19 financial hangover, striving to connect with their crucial luxury market in China, it’s a reliable strategy for Chinese consumer engagement.
Of course, celebrities have forever been an integral element of fashion seasons, but as social media has charged the rise of community-led purchasing, they’re playing a vital role for luxury. It isn’t a case of simply ramping up engagement figures either: this is an era where consumers are constantly striving to connect with others, resonating with subcultures by supporting their favorite stars.
Taking this consumer psychology into consideration, brands need to nurture their social reputation and fashion week has become the moment to do that. A wonderfully intricate, well-crafted collection will only appeal to fashion fans. The masses want simplification: if their favorite celebrity likes something, they will too.
This celeb-first fashion week approach was further emphasized in an interview with the Shiatzy Chen team backstage before the show. In the days leading up to Fall 2023, the brand posted on its social media platforms every day that Into1’s Liu Yu would be attending in Paris. At the event, he sat next to Malaysian-Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh, and the hashtag about it gained 9.1million views.
Seeing as Shiatzy Chen has 151,000 fans on Weibo, these engagement figures exceed the platform’s average. That marks a job well done in fashion today.
The brand’s marketing executive explained to Jing Daily just how significant KOL involvement is in 2023: “So many younger Chinese love the [guo chao] national style, and they love seeing idols from China. It’s a great way for our show to stand out and raise great awareness,” she said. “We have planned a 360-degree marketing content, consistently communicating in the lead up to the show. We’re also the only Chinese brand doing a livestream for fashion week on schedule.”
As one of the first local names to be on the Paris Fashion Week schedule, since 2009, and for always staying true to its heritage identity, Shiatzy Chen feels obliged to connect with China and, knowing the culture extremely well, knows that the best way is via celebrity fanbases — the show also featured Chinese internet star Lu, who has 140million followers on TikTok.
Despite the fact that fashion week has always been an event centered on marketing exposure, with some pieces on the runway never even making it to shelves, where does this heavily celeb-led strategy leave design, and how much longevity does it have?
Menswear and Womenswear Buying Director for Browns, Ida Peterssen said in an interview with Jing Daily last season, “A show going viral, if for the right reason, will no doubt pique our interest. [...] The clickbait effect will only last so long. The reality is that the collection will not launch with us until six months later — so you need to feel confident that the hype will remain.”
When that hype derives from celebrities in attendance, deciphering a hero piece or viral look becomes a tricky feat. It ultimately makes it difficult for these luxury buyers to truly recognize what will sell best, further distancing fashion week from the point of the industry itself: the clothes.
As PFW Fall 2023 became an A-lister spectacle that successfully distracted the mainstream public from the collections, there have been hardly any comments about the actual garments online.
Any conversation is seen as good marketing, though. With brands steering their focus toward younger demographics, they are projecting an understanding of the workings of fan culture. People follow those that they admire.
This is evidently an era where fashion has never been so basic to understand. Creating a cult luxury label needs a community of fans, celebrities fuel that. Clout comes first, clothes come second.