Whether aiming to reach new consumers in the Far East or working to catch up after years of neglecting the web (à la Prada, which must “put its marketing focus on China, in order to avoid losing more ground,” per Chinese fashion blogger Yang Dong), there was a trend in many of the major front rows this season. Big brands are increasingly looking to Asian influencers for relevance and the recent runway show seasons have served as no exception.
High fashion has been putting forth efforts to romance the East for some time. K-pop stars have been sitting front row at Chanel, for instance, for years now. And considering that this market – and China, in particular (which accounts for close to a third of all global luxury sales) – comprises a huge portion of brands’ annual revenue figures, it only makes sense that a China-specific focus is high up on brands’ list of endeavors.
Fashion brands are looking to a whole array of influencers – from Korean pop stars (South Korea exported a total of $145.3 billion in products in 2014 to China, in light of the rising popularity of South Korean culture) to Chinese bloggers, such as the uber-influential Mr. Bags – to help them find favor in the Eastern market.
As such, here is an alphabetical look at some of the individuals who were front and center in recent seasons …
CHANYEOL – When Tommy Hilfiger descended upon London for its Spring/Summer 2018 See Now-Buy Now affair, “it” models Gigi and Bella Hadid may have been on the runway but no shortage of eyes were on the front row, where EXO's Chanyeol was perched. Chanyeol is one of the most heavily-followed members of EXO, the South Korean-Chinese boy band, formed by S.M. Entertainment in April 2012 and broken into two subgroups, EXO-K and EXO-M, promoting in South Korea and China separately.
CHRIS LEE – Chinese pop singer and actress, Chris Lee, achieved fame when she won the nationwide singing contest, Super Girl, in China in 2005 and subsequently released something like 40 top singles. She has since gone on to become a brand ambassador for Gucci and so, of course, she was in attendance at the brand’s Spring/Summer 2018 show.
As one of the Florentine house’s brand ambassadors to Asia and the face of Gucci Timepieces and Jewelry, Lee stars in Asia-specific Gucci campaigns and attends an array of brand events.
FAN BINGBING – Woven into a front row of everyone from Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, and Rooney Mara to Fergie and Haim, who were all on hand for Clare Waight Keller's Givenchy debut: Fan Bingbing. The Chinese film superstar is one of a small handful of the most influential figures in Eastern markets.
Yes, Bingbing falls within a group of Chinese key opinion leaders - or “KOLs” - as they have been coined, that have positioned themselves as reliable and trustworthy avenues through whom companies can engage with their consumers, particularly as traditional advertising formats continue to fall out of favor. As noted by Forbes’ Joe Escobedo recently, “Like the Kardashians, these KOLs wield a lot of influence in the country."
One of the most influential of this entire group: Fan Bingbing, who according to a report by online retail giant Alibaba’s Taobao, Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing has generated $74 million USD in e-commerce revenue.
G-DRAGON – One of the biggest K-pop stars of all was in attendance at Chanel's Spring/Summer 2018. Kwon Ji Yong, who is better known as G-Dragon, is not just one of the biggest names in Korea, thanks to his membership in boy band, Big Bang. In addition to selling out arena in the East and the U.S., G-Dragon is something of a bona fide street style star and fashion force. More recently,
You’ll see him on websites like Vogue, Le-21eme, NY Magazine, and TFL. You can find his as a front row fixture at just about every Chanel show (he is a Chanel ambassador, after all), and Saint Laurent, Lanvin, and Rick Owens, among others, too. And as you can likely discern from his music videos (think: head to toe Chanel, Thom Browne, etc.), he’s a major fashion fan. Not surprisingly, he has been gaining traction as a fashion industry insider for the past several years, with an increasing number of designers and publications taking notice.
HOONY & MINO – The two Winner bandmates began making headlines as soon as they touched down in London decked out in head-to-toe Burberry ahead of the brand’s Spring/Summer 2018show.
Not up on Winner? The boyband – which, along with G-Dragon’s BigBang, falls under the umbrella of YG Entertainment – has seen major success thus far in 2017 after returning from a year-long hiatus. The group revamped after losing lead vocalist Nam Tae Hyun, and as Billboard recently put it, “has quickly picked up momentum as one of Korea's most promising boy bands between the four singles they released on ‘Our Twenty Four’ and ‘April’s Fate Number Four,’ which featured ‘Really Really’ and the ballad ‘Fool.’”
And still yet, the group’s members have been making their marks in the fashion industry from the outset. In 2014, the group took home Style Icon Asia’s “New Icons” award, followed by the “Awesome K-Style” award in 2016. They have made waves with editorials in magazines, including InStyle, Elle, W, Nylon, Marie Claire, and GQ, thanks to their penchant for personal style; their looks often consist of brands ranging from established names like Gucci, Loewe, Louis Vuitton, and Saint Laurent to more street-inspired wares such as those from Gosha Rubchinskiy, Supreme, Off-White, and Alyx.
KRIS WU – After walking for Burberry in January 2016, former EXO band member Kris Wu turned up in the brand’s front row this season. In case you missed it: He is one of the British brand's ambassadors now.
The fashion industry has taken a particular liking to Wu, who has graced the covers of Vogue Me, Vogue China, Cosmo, and L'Officiel, among others – but not more than his most dedicated fans, such as those who – as noted by SCMP – lined up outside of Burberry’s September 2017 show venue more than three hours in advance to catch a glimpse of their idol.
TAO LIANG – aka Mr. Bags – As noted by Reuters, Chinese luxury buyers tend to be younger than just about anywhere else and so, online influencers carry real clout. One of the biggest names that immediately comes to mind? Tao Liang, the China-born, New York-based 24-year old, who is best known by his hordes of online fans as “Mr. Bags."
To put Liang’s selling power in perceptive: In furtherance of a collaboration with Givenchy this past February, Liang, who boasts more than 1.28 million followers on Weibo and WeChat, helped the Paris-based brand sell 1.2 million RMB (nearly $200,000) worth of bags in 12 minutes after encouraging his followers to shop.
He has teamed up with Stella McCartney, Saks Fifth Avenue, Galeries Lafayette, and several other big brands and department stores. And it seems Prada wants in on his expansive relevance. As noted by Reuters, “At Prada’s Spring/Summer 2018 show in Milan last week in a warehouse papered with giant pop-art comic strips, one name in the coveted front row stood out: Tao Liang, otherwise known as Chinese blogger ‘Mr Bags.’ His presence alongside Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Italian influencer Chiara Ferragni is a sign of Prada’s efforts to turn around its business with a focus on the digital sphere – where it has lost ground to rivals including Kering’s Gucci.”
ZHOU DONGYU – Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu was among some of the other famous young faces on hand for Burberry. The actress is not just in-demand when it comes to the big screen, she is increasingly being tapped by Western brands to help them drive demand among Eastern audiences.
In July, alone, Dongyu appeared in ads for Nike and Lancome, the latter of which swept social media and left Chinese consumers scrambling for the specific shade of lipstick that she was endorsing. Such fan fury should come as little surprise, though, given that Dongyu is, as Vogue put it, one of China’s “most-followed trendsetters and avidly watched boldface names.”