One of the interesting effects of China becoming the second-largest luxury market in the world has been the gradual influence of Chinese design in recent collections by major designers. Late last year, we saw this in Chanel's pre-fall collection (debuted in Shanghai), and in the run-up to the ongoing Shanghai World Expo saw China-only designs from Prada, Ferragamo and -- again -- Chanel.
However, the recently unveiled Louis Vuitton spring-summer 2011 menswear collection takes a somewhat different approach than that employed by other fashion houses, adding design cues and materials that are distinctively Chinese while aiming these products at Western, rather than Chinese consumers.
Quilted blazers were made of luminous silks, and whiskered Chinese dragons dressed up the leather totes and other accessories that are the historic trunk-maker’s main cash cow. Models sported temporary tattoos of Chinese zodiac signs — sometimes intermingled with Vuitton’s interlocking LV symbols — on their necks and calves, and their translucent button-down shirts were printed with similar tattoo designs.
“China is becoming really important,” menswear designer Paul Helbers said in an interview with The Associated Press in a preview of the collection — built, he said, partly around the sartorial style of high-rollers at Shanghai casinos. Helbers cited Amazon skydivers and Scandinavian midsummer revelers as his other main references for the collection.
[Marc] Jacobs balked at the idea that the Chinese imagery was aimed at seducing the burgeoning Asian luxury market.
“China is obviously a great market and everyone talks about the modernity and the interest of it ... but I think probably the least appealing thing to the Chinese market is any kind of Asian reference,” Jacobs said in a backstage interview. “It wasn’t about appealing from a business point of view.”
Ignoring for the moment the fact that Shanghai has no casinos (at least none that are legit), Jacobs's statement that Asian-influenced design would be less compelling to Chinese buyers is interesting. While this sentiment is clearly discussed in indispensable texts on the Chinese luxury market like Elite China and The Cult of the Luxury Brand, the recent collections by Chanel and others that are both Chinese in spirit and desperately sought after in China beg the question: are China's more sophisticated luxury shoppers ready to embrace Asian-inflected design? Is Jacobs wrong to think the new LV menswear collection won't be snapped up by China's "he fashion" devotees?