- It is time to highlight other strategic cities in China beyond Beijing and Shanghai, said Emmanuelle Boutet, Communications Vice President of Louis Vuitton China.
- Locals in new first-tier cities are expecting to see more global luxury brand events.
- The free-of-charge, interactive, and succinct exhibition is making Louis Vuitton accessible to aspirational consumers.
It’s a dark and rainy night in Wuhan, China, but the hundreds of people waiting outside the Wuhan International Plaza, a popular luxury mall, could not care less. They’ve been in line to catch a glimpse of their idol, the Chinese actor Zhu Yilong, a Wuhan-native and a freshly minted Louis Vuitton ambassador. It’s the opening night of an exhibition being held in, of all places, the former epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic — a location few global luxury brands would use to launch a glamorous new initiative.
The month-long, free-of-charge exhibition, which runs from October 31 through December 6 to the public, marks the first leg of Louis Vuitton’s traveling exhibition See LV. In short, while being a primer for the brand’s illustrious history to potential new consumers, it also serves as a refresher for Wuhan’s dedicated local following. Through seven main themes, the immersive tour charts a 160 years of history of the famed house, from the founder Louis Vuitton’s humble background, to the brand’s four recent and current designers — Marc Jacobs, Kim Jones, Nicolas Ghesquière, and Virgil Abloh — as well as the history of classic bag models such as Keepall and Dauphine to Love Lock Charms Twist. Moreover, through showcasing the brand’s transformation, the exhibition hopes to give a glimpse into the future Louis Vuitton in China.
“It’s rather rare to see luxury exhibitions in Wuhan,” said Chang Xuwen, a local branding executive who often sports a Louis Vuitton Keepall bag for traveling. She first saw the giant See LV banners in the subway tunnels on the way to shopping at the mall, she said. Then her friends also invited her to go together. “I’m a big fan of the event and I hope to see more like this in the future!”
The Rising Power of New First-Tier Cities
Once a little known second-tier city in China, COVID-19 has forever made Wuhan a household name. As the city that suffered the first outbreak in January, its 11 million inhabitants were under a strict lockdown for 76 days. Now, some ten months later, Wuhan has re-emerged as the Chinese city that has hosted the most tourists during the country’s national holiday in early October.
As a global luxury brand that knows how to grab the limelight and create social traffic, Louis Vuitton is celebrating Wuhan’s bounce back, and the promises behind new first-tier cities, a concept that was first brought up by Chinese business publication CBN Weekly. Wuhan has been on the list since its inception in 2013, and in 2020, it was placed right after Chengdu, Chongqing, and Hangzhou. “The commercial districts in populous cities in Central China, such as Wuhan, could attract over one million of traffic on a daily basis,” the publication wrote in this year’s report in May.
As one of the first global luxury brands in China, Louis Vuitton made its debut in 1992, a golden year of entrepreneurship and foreign investment, in Beijing’s bustling Wangfujing shopping street. The house has seen China’s gross domestic product value take off 33 times from $426 billion to $14.4 trillion in 2019. A widely cited report from global consultancy McKinsey & Company in 2019 states that China is expected to contribute 65 percent of global luxury spending by 2025.
If, for the first two decades, Louis Vuitton has been growing its roots in first-tier cities. In 2020, it is trying to establish a new set of game rules. “We have staged all of our events mainly in Beijing and Shanghai in the last 15 years,” said Emmanuelle Boutet, Communications Vice President of Louis Vuitton China. “But it is time to give importance to other strategic cities in China. The second phase of our China development is about regionalization and reaching out to different regional cultures.”
Hopefully, See LV will also help locals see the craftsmanship and transformation the brand embodies. While many aspiring consumers are intimidated by the grandiose façade of luxury boutiques and white-gloved shop assistants, the interactive and succinct exhibition is making Louis Vuitton accessible, so much so that people may find it less intimidating to check out the new collections at their flagship store next door.
The visitors might see that the people behind one of the best known luxury brands in China, from the founder Louis Vuitton himself, who began as a trunk-maker, to a young apprentice with curly hair and acne at the brand’s shoemaking workshop in Venice, Italy, who happily admit that he has never missed a Louis Vuitton fashion show. Through a stack of television sets in the space called “Where the Magic Happens,” visitors can watch employees at Louis Vuitton’s four core European workshops face to face. The staff are not just imaginary artisans; they are dedicated craftsman who love their decades-long careers.
Now, the era when luxury was put on a pedestal is over. Everything about the exhibition exudes a yearning to connect: the location, the artist collaboration, and local celebrity guests, such as Zhu Yilong and the actor couple Yuan Hong and Zhang Xinyi. The space called “Evolution Gallery” features the Wuhan artist He An’s light sculptures. He previously collaborated with Louis Vuitton for its 2018 Volez, Voguez, Voyagez exhibition in Shanghai and is known to explore the taboos of contemporary Chinese culture.
Experts and sales figures in luxury retail all continue to point to China as the future. Financial analysts jump at the opportunity during every earnings call of Louis Vuitton’s owner, LVMH, to inquire about Chinese consumers. In the group’s third-quarter 2020 report that was released on Oct. 15, Asia (excluding Japan) is the only region that has delivered organic growth in the quarter. When asked about fastest growth by consumers’ nationality, Jean-Jacques Guiony, LVMH’s chief financial officer, said that the group has seen great growth generated by Chinese consumers for Louis Vuitton.
In addition to a strong commercial momentum, Louis Vuitton has been committed to elevate Chinese creative talents to a global stage. In the just-passed Men’s Spring 2021 show in Shanghai, other than singer and actor Kris Wu’s headlining, all other 59 looks were presented by new Chinese faces, who would go on to enjoy a career boost with the show’s more than 100 million views worldwide and the house’s name on their resume.
Louis Vuitton is an historic fashion house, and it’s making a stand as it marches toward a new era in luxury — an accessible and local one. “Louis Vuitton has always created and evolved hand-in-hand with changes in times, travel, lifestyle,” Boutet said. “And now our shows travel to people.”