Luxury brands about the power of the rabbit – and the return of Chinese consumers


Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A version of this story appeared in CNN’s While in China Newsletter, a three-times-weekly update exploring what you need to know about the country’s development and how it will fare in the world. Register here.
In the Jade Emperor’s “Great Race”, a traditional tale that describes the order of the Chinese zodiac animals, the rabbit received an unexpected stroke of good fortune. Clinging to a log in the fast-flowing river, the helpless creature is helped by the dragon, who uses a powerful breath to propel him across the finish line.

As this Sunday marks the start of the Lunar New Year, the West’s major fashion houses – like the bunnies emblazoned on handbags, shoes and clothing to mark the occasion – are also hoping for an unexpected boost during the festive season. Season.

The symbolic dragon in this tale is Chinese consumers, who will spend 821 billion yuan ($121 billion) on dining and shopping during the 2021 holiday season. And as the country emerges from three years of strict zero-covid measures that include mass testing, rapid lockdowns and travel restrictions – most of which were lifted without notice in December – accounts are hoping spending will resume after the cold year of the tiger.
The country’s luxury sector has recovered quickly from the initial Covid-19 outbreak. According to consulting firm Bain & Company, sales of personal luxury goods will nearly double in the two years starting in 2020. But the past year has been challenging. Full or partial lockdowns in cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen have affected sales, and year-on-year rational (or non-essential) spending fell by 3.1% between January and November, according to the latest figures from management consultancy Oliver Wyman.

“In 2021, all the luxury brands were winning, but 2022 was a very difficult year – a real roller coaster for all brands with lockdowns… and very low consumer sentiment,” said Hong Kong-based Emke Waters. “There are still brands that are doing very well, but not many that are doing well, especially at the end of (last) year,” said Oliver Wyman-based partner, in a video call.

Mulberry's Lunar New Year collection features Dutch cartoon bunny Miffy.

Mulberry’s Lunar New Year collection features Dutch cartoon bunny Miffy. Credit: Mercedes BV

The arrival of the Year of the Rabbit may herald a change in fortune. Long-standing holiday traditions include buying new clothes, often in red, to ensure a fresh and exciting start to the year. Over the past decade, sporting zodiac animal-themed items have also emerged as a trend. Brands have sometimes been happy to oblige with high-priced labels, from Burberry’s $1,290 rabbit-ear beanie hat to Gucci’s $2,850 rabbit-themed jacquard sweater. Other high-end labels are also getting in on the annual ritual, with watches and jewelry or Davidoff’s limited-edition rabbit-themed cigars selling out before the holidays even begin.
Demand for travel has also increased in China – albeit from a lower level – bookings for trips during the holidays increased by 540% last year, according to data from Chinese site Trip.com. In turn, regional shopping destinations such as Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong have seen shopfronts filled with rabbit-themed decorations in anticipation of shoppers from mainland China. Share prices of luxury groups including LVMH and Kering jumped as Covid-related curbs were lifted.
Mannequins wearing rabbit heads in the window of a Lowe's store on New Bond Street in London, United Kingdom.

Mannequins wearing rabbit heads in the window of a Lowe’s store on New Bond Street in London, United Kingdom. Credit: Jose Sarmento Matos/Bloomberg/Getty Images

But a recent report from Oliver Wyman found that despite the upheaval, 19 percent of Chinese people still plan to travel during the holidays. Of these, 88% do so domestically and half travel to visit family, not for leisure.

The slow return of travel could also eat into disposable income for fashion. According to Waters, Of the 1.5 million people who spent money on luxury goods in China in 2021, half will do so for the first time. One of the reasons is, “Because they are. does not Travel” meaning that they now “have to make the same trade-off” between travel and marketing.

Stay or go?

However, the long-term question is not necessarily That is Chinese consumers are starting to buy again – it is. where They do.

Before the pandemic, 70% of the country’s luxury spending was done overseas. In addition to the prestige associated with picking up goods in cities like Paris and Milan, travel was also a way to avoid domestic prices caused by high income taxes in China.

But in the year Tariff cuts in 2018 and 2019 have reduced the incentive to trade overseas, according to Reuters. Handbags are now 10% to 20% more expensive in China than abroad (compared to 50% or more marks in previous decades). A recent push to gravitate to southern China’s duty-free island of Hainan, meanwhile, has offered a more favorable domestic option.
Prada's sister brand Miu Miu eschews the traditional color red this year, a color that has previously dominated luxury labels' Lunar New Year campaigns.

Prada’s sister brand Miu Miu eschews the traditional color red this year, a color that has previously dominated luxury labels’ Lunar New Year campaigns. Credit: Miu Miu

There are fundamental changes in the way both Chinese consumers and labels operate. While much of China’s luxury spending has shifted to mainstream stores amid the pandemic, Western brands have spent the past three years investing in mainland boutiques.

“The offering in mainland China has improved significantly in terms of the in-store experience,” Waters said, adding that the amount of luxury spending overseas, not domestic, will never go back. “

Brands were finding new ways to connect with customers and host fashion shows locally. In the year In August 2020, when Louis Vuitton normally unveils its spring-summer collection at Paris Men’s Fashion Week, the French brand instead hosted a star-studded show on the banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai. The likes of Dior and Prada have hosted major shows in the country since the outbreak began.

Cultural awareness

According to Bohan Qiu of Shanghai-based creative agency Boh Project, which works with fashion brands and mainstream consumers, this year’s collections reflect the fact that labels are increasingly catering to a Chinese audience.

“For many years, all the brands have come out with these big animal zodiac prints and everything is in red,” he said by phone from France, where he is attending Paris Fashion Week. It’s not “wrong” but I feel that it’s not very modern anymore. I don’t know anyone, including myself, that I saw buying an animal zodiac (luxury item) for the year.

A promo shot for an undisclosed Lunar New Year campaign from Prada; "Beautiful memories."

Promotional footage from Prada’s Untold Lunar New Year campaign, “Memories of Beauty.” Credit: Prada

“If you put a really obvious animal print on things, in addition to designs that are a little more whimsical or whimsical, it feels like lazy marketing these days,” he added.

Several brands have turned to cartoon bunnies, with Moschino and Hugo Boss pushing Bugs Bunny, Tommy Hilfiger and Mulberry pushing products, Miffy and Versace opting for shoes with its own Biggie Bunny, full sunglasses, big heels and noisy sneakers. But many have taken a less direct approach by looking at traditional crafts or collaborating with Chinese innovations.
Take, for example, Bottega Veneta’s holiday campaign, in which Chinese director Jess Jing Zhu showed a short film featuring models returning home by train, boat or car across the country’s various landscapes. Elsewhere, Prada’s “Beauty Remembrance” campaign is completely rabbit-free, while Sister named Miu Miu’s capsule collection, which eschews the traditional color red altogether.
The Bottega Veneta campaign focuses on the theme of coming home.  A train painted in the signature green color of the Italian label will travel throughout China with the message "On the roads leading home, Happy New Year."

The Bottega Veneta campaign focuses on the theme of coming home. A train painted in Italy’s signature green paint will travel across China with the message “On the way home, Happy New Year”. Credit: Bottega Veneta

Not only are relatively timeless designs more likely to transcend the annual fashion cycle, but they also demonstrate a better understanding of what today’s luxury consumers want, Qiu said.

“People want more authenticity, and people want brands to really understand cultural differences and do something that doesn’t look too obvious,” said Spain’s Lowe’s, referring to the country’s traditional Chinese monochrome collection. Like leather goods – an example of effective engagement with primary consumers.

“The culture is still important, but how do we look at it in modern ways?”

Top Image: Campaign image for Gucci’s Year of the Rabbit capsule collection.



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