Time magazine cover June 2006

How now brown Mao?

 Currently, I am reading a great book called The Cult of the Luxury Brand by Radha Chadha & Paul Husband. Although they discuss at length the relationship of Asia with luxury brands, the book really touches upon the roots and semiotics of Asian consumer society. At the heart of his revolution is of course China which has the potential to not just be the largest luxury brand market in the world, but to potentially change the structure and players within the industry. Here is an interview with the authors from That's BJ. 

Ambitious in its scope, the book features substantial sections on China and India – two developing nations – where the near-insatiable craving for luxury goods is expected to overtake more developed countries in the region in the near future. Already, more than 70 percent of the luxury goods sold in Hong Kong are purchased by consumers from the Chinese mainland.

In fact, the book singles China out as the ideal market for luxury goods manufacturers. The social and cultural peculiarities such as guanxi and mianzi create a perfect environment for the acquisition of status symbols. In the opinion of Chadha and Husband, Asia’s collective mentality has created a receptive market for luxury brand penetration: buying brand products precisely because everyone else knows exactly how much they cost.

“It’s all new money in Asia,” says Chadha, in a talk at Shanghai’s Glamour Bar in November. “And that means high price equals luxury. Asians need a modern set of symbols to define who they are. Which means you are what you wear.”

The last part of the book seems to indicate that the new luxury fashion will be mobile technologies and gadgets. After all, one laptop can cost as much as the priciest LV bag so why not?

Okay, that book can explain the rise of the luxury brands but how about the fascination of cute characters and animation within Asia. The trend is region wide and it shows no sign of dissipation in China either. I recommend reading Hello Kitty: the remarkeable story of Sanrio and the Billion dollar feline phenomenon as a great book to help put all this kawaii in context. (disclaimer: I'm quoted in this book).

The only thing missing now is for someone to write a good book explaining the rise of Asian street fashion and toys which is relatively new. If you go to Beijing's Gulou Street you will see the rise of sneaker and hoodie stores everywhere. Although derived from Tokyo, New York and London styles, the movement morphed in Hong Kong and will most likey mutate again in China.

Fashion doesn't always have to mean clothes. One trend that I do notice among Beijing's business elite seems to be the need to portray themselves or other senior officers as avid 4 Wheel Drive explorers or even better, mountain climbers. This of course has led to an industry where luxury 4WD caravans are arranged with all the logisics and luxuries for up and coming Beijing business people. It seems the fashion now that founders should also be outdoorsman complete with a photo opportunity in the mountains or in the deserts of China - even if they ride in the comfort of their all terrain Porsche or Lexus SUV.

-frank yu