Back in 2000, French fashion house Hermès introduced its first lipstick, inspired by the brand’s traditional scarves and leather goods. Twenty years on it has been widening its range, with new lipsticks priced at $67 each.
Li Jiaqi, 27 – a star of the livestreaming world (see WiC448) and the leading influencer in the beauty business – reviewed the new collection on his Taobao Live broadcast. And it didn’t go well – Li gave the new range a scathing review.
On the livestream, which attracted over 12 million viewers, he tried on the various colours, describing some of the range as “cheap looking”, “unsuitable for Asians”, and “as unflattering as an old mother’s shades”.
When his assistant reminded him that it took Hermès five years to develop the colours, he rolled his eyes. “And that is why they are colours that were popular five years ago,” he scoffed.
“Hermès lipstick designer, wake up: if you want to do business with Chinese people please make colours for Chinese people” was his final verdict.
Li’s dismissive review is yet another example of the power that China’s influencers hold over public opinion. Social media was soon flooded with comments from netizens saying they wouldn’t be buying the new Hermès lipsticks.
“After watching Li Jiaqi’s review I feel like I just saved a lot of money,” one netizen wrote. “Some of the colours are just ugly.”
“Thank you Li Jiaqi for clearing my mind. If it wasn’t for him, I may have ended up placing an order because of sheer vanity,” another claimed.
Some sceptics detected an ulterior motive in the review, saying that Li’s dismissal of the range was designed to position his personal brand as unbiased, so that his livestreamed recommendations come off as more convincing.
Li is one of the biggest money-makers on Taobao Live, with earnings coming from advertising and commissions.
Li gave Chanel’s latest make-up collection a negative review recently as well and the lipsticks that won his approval most last year were the local Chinese brands VNK and Perfect Diary.
That points to another trend: domestic producers being more attuned to what consumers want in China. “When it comes to hue, Li Jiaqi – and a lot of women – gravitate towards the colours red and orange red. That’s because these lipstick shades tend to satisfy Chinese women’s desire to appear fairer,” CBN explained.
The problem, CBN adds, is that the biggest beauty brands still do too much of their R&D outside China. “Even though the China market has become a critical one, their teams in China usually have little say in product design. However, complexions are very different between Chinese and European or American women, which is why the colours are usually off the spectrum. Domestic brands, on the other hand, develop products just for the home market so they can precisely target the colours that Chinese women reach for.”
Hermès is now rumoured to be widening its offering into a fuller range of blushers, eyeshadows and concealers. But some commentators are unconvinced about its prospects of winning a greater share of the Chinese cosmetics market.
“With the rise of the millennial generation, the era of Hermès making money with their eyes closed is no more,” summed up China Business Herald. “Nowadays, the major luxury brands need to continue to innovate to attract the younger generation. If Hermès wants to maintain its brand competitiveness, it needs to take heed.”
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