Last September, Valentino painted Qinhuangdao’s Aranya district fuchsia as part of its Pink PP Fall 2022-23 campaign. Just six months later, the Italian luxury brand presents a more restrained mood, but it’s no less showstopping.
The Unboxing Valentino Spring/Summer 2023 collection taps the zeitgeist of the post-pandemic era. Its ethos is that “by removing the inessential, essence is revealed.” With minimal silhouettes and neutral tones interspersed with pops of color, the collection encourages a sense of pure freedom and individuality, feelings that vibe with young Chinese consumers. These same qualities are brought to life in a creative China campaign in partnership with Sleep No More, which sits at the cutting-edge of immersive theater and fashion.
A fashionable twist on Sleep No More’s immersive theater experience
Co-produced by Punchdrunk International and China’s SMG Live, Sleep No More is an off-shoot of the New York show that opened in Shanghai in December 2016. Maison Valentino first partnered with the Shanghai-based theatrical team in September 2021, for an immersive experience inspired by the Valentino Act Collection. This time, Valentino is deepening its collaboration by becoming the exclusive fashion partner of Sleep No More Shanghai and co-creating its first full-length immersive theater production, titled The Box.
Cast members of Sleep No More performed in new-season Valentino looks (swipe left). Photo: Valentino
Sleep No More scriptwriters and artists created an original script, sets and choreography inspired by Unboxing Valentino concepts and dedicated to the collection. The show’s cast of actors, dancers and musicians performed in new-season Valentino looks across five stories of the purpose-built McKinnon Hotel. The one-night only performance premiered on April 11, 2023.
At a time when immersive experiences and personal connections are vital in establishing brand loyalty, Valentino is hoping to respond to the desires of young Chinese consumers while also reflecting the Maison’s values of inclusivity and humanism.
Sleep No More’s original theater model invites the audience to engage in the moment, on their own terms. The choice of an offline theatrical setting with human interaction feels even more personal and connected in an increasingly digitalized world, where immersive marketing often relates to virtual reality and other modern technologies. The intimacy of the experience, like the collection itself, reveals true luxury.
An experimental intersection of theater and fashion
Described as “mind-bending and addictive,” the immersive theater production invites the audience to move freely through the performance, creating their own film noir journey. Driven by demand from young Chinese theatergoers who enjoy live performances as an expression of their urban lifestyle, it has become one of the longest-running shows in Shanghai theater history and sparked a nationwide fascination with immersive plays.
According to Mintel’s Global Consumer Trends 2023 report, which cited the “Me Mentality” as the top trend: “Consumers are eager to re-focus on themselves and brands can help them take center stage.” Valentino explores this quite literally by inviting guests to join them as protagonists on stage. Combining fashion with theatrical art forms such as dance and drama enables the audience to experience the collection come to life in fresh contexts. Importantly, it shines a spotlight on the brand’s VICs (very important clients) and KOLs themselves. As of publication, the hashtag “Valentino” on Xiaohongshu has racked up over 150 million searches and views.
Celebrity Cheng Duling and Zeng Li at the one-night only special edition of Sleep No More (swipe left). Photo: Valentino
Celebrating localization as part of a “Global Unboxing”
The total revenue of China’s performing arts market reached about 20 billion RMB ($2.82 billion) in 2019, an increase of 7.29 percent year on year. This was fueled by young Chinese showing a growing willingness to spend money on live performances as part of their lifestyle — a record 55 percent of audience members are born after 1990.
The market has already robustly recovered following the end of COVID-19 restrictions in 2023. More than 3.2 million people attended some 9,400 performances across China over the seven-day Spring Festival in 2023, an increase of 22.5 percent compared with 2019’s Spring Festival, according to the China Association of Performing Arts.
Valentino places a strong emphasis on its cultural localization strategy around the world. The collaboration with Sleep No More is an example of the Italian maison exploring local consumer insights in China and tapping young Chinese urbanites’ growing passion for the theater. Indulging this desire for vivid, interactive cultural experiences through a bespoke synopsis set in 1930s Shanghai, adds a deeper resonance to the interpretation of Unboxing Valentino for the local market.
Localized immersion carries over into the shopping experience, too. The Maison commissioned Chinese celebrity stylist Mix Wei to curate the window front of Valentino’s Shanghai IFC boutique.
Shanghai is one of eight global cities — along with Paris, New York, London, Milan, Tokyo, Seoul and Dubai — to unveil local stylist window activations as part of the “Global Unboxing” campaign. A ninth “destination” exists online, offering exclusive digital experiences with celebrity stylists and the ability for online customers to purchase looks directly through an interactive video.
China’s luxury sector is forecast to grow between 9-14 percent in 2023, according to McKinsey’s The State of Fashion 2023 report. Previously under-represented in the China market, Valentino has expanded rapidly in the country and re-positioned its image at the top end of the luxury fashion business since CEO Jacopo Venturini came on board in 2020.
The appointment of Janice Lam as CEO for Greater China in 2022 and store reopenings planned for this year signal its commitment to further push into the market. Whether making gregarious statements in hot-pink or theatrically unboxing concepts that define our times, Valentino has bold visions for the Chinese market and is proving that it is a brand to watch.