China Consumer

She’s in fashion

First Lady’s clothes choices lead to sales bonanza

Peng in Exception de Mixmind

On the day that Kate Middleton got engaged to Prince William she wore a sapphire silk wrap, designed by Issa London. The dress was an instant sellout. Two years on, the fashion label is still struggling to fill orders for the wrap.

“It absolutely sky-rocketed the brand on a global scale,” says owner Camilla Al Fayed, daughter of former Harrods owner Mohamed.

Chinese clothing brand Exception de Mixmind is now experiencing a ‘Kate Middleton moment’ of its own. Since late March the company has been deluged by demand for an overcoat worn by Peng Liyuan during her first official visit to Moscow with husband, President Xi Jinping, as well as a leather handbag she took on the same trip.

Shop assistants at Exception de Mixmind told 21CN Business Herald that the coat and handbag had completely sold out and the company’s website also crashed under the intense online demand. But no matter, a flurry of copycat designs were soon appearing on Taobao, China’s largest consumer site. One vendor was offering a copy of the coat that Peng was seen wearing for just Rmb499 ($80.44).

For Exception de Mixmind, Peng’s endorsement is a great boost. WiC first profiled the brand back in 2009 (see Red Star in issue 39). The company, founded by designer Ma Ke in Guangzhou, is one of the most commercially successful labels with nearly 100 stores and retail counters in China.

“First ladies are ambassadors of culture and design and of the soft power of a country. I’m glad that she chose to wear Chinese outfits and take up that role of spokesperson for Chinese design,” wrote Hong Huang, a popular weibo personality.

Investors are also taking heed. Exception de Mixmind is privately held but many speculate that Peng’s clothing choices could herald a new era for domestic labels – an idea which led to a surge in the stock prices of many domestic apparel firms. Dayang Trands, a menswear label, saw its own stock surge so rapidly (in hope that Peng’s husband might opt for a sartorial makeover, perhaps?) that market regulators capped its price rise (Warren Buffett is also a fan of the Chinese brand, see WiC32).

Others warn that investors shouldn’t get too excited. “This definitely presents an opportunity but it’s not that clear. I think at the end of the day local clothing brands need to pay more attention to their designs. At the moment many brands have very similar styles, and this is not conducive to their development,” says Ma Gang, a prominent commentator.

The vibrant discussion surrounding Peng’s fashion choices also seem to have created a little unease in Beijing. On Taobao, advertisements for black handbags like the one Peng carried off the plane in Moscow were quickly deleted even though “Peng Liyuan handbag” was one of the most searched terms on the site. A similar ad for a black coat in Peng style was also deleted.

Analysts speculate that some of the more conservative members of the government may be frowning at the early commercialisation of Peng’s image. The wives of other senior officials have traditionally kept a low profile. Liu Yongqing, who was married to former President Hu Jintao, rarely appeared in public. Her predecessor Wang Yeping also chose to avoid the limelight.

Li Kai-fu, a widely followed tech guru on weibo, then urged that Peng should be judged by her accomplishments rather than her fashion choices. “The greatest First Lady in American hearts is not the most beautiful one – Mrs Kennedy – but [rather] Mrs Roosevelt,” he suggested, somewhat piously. “She fought for women’s civil rights… participated in the establishment of the United Nations, served as a diplomat and led the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Perhaps he’s right. But even the saintly Eleanor Roosevelt got a sales discount for posing in clothes from one New York department store.

Peng Liyuan should take note…


© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Exclusively sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.