Givenchy’s Spring/Summer 2016 runway show in New York was certainly notable. The brand, which normally shows in Paris, descended upon New York to stage its womenswear, menswear and couture collections on September 11th. In attendance: Everyone from LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault and his 22-year old son Alexandre, and Dior CEO Sidney Toledano to Julia Roberts, Steven Tyler, and Courtney Love. As for who had one of the biggest entourages – including a team of her own, a gaggle of photographers in tow and a significant handful of PR girls to ensure that she found her seat without any problems – that was not Anna Wintour or Kim and Kanye. No, it was 31-year old Li Yuchun, who is better known, in the West, at least, as Chris Lee. If anything is to be gauged from the size of her arrival party, it is that she was an important guest that evening.
Chris Lee, a Chinese pop singer and actress, who achieved fame when she won the nationwide singing contest Super Girl in China in 2005 and subsequently released something like 40 top singles, is one of the recent faces of Givenchy. You saw her in the brand’s Autumn/Winter 2015 campaign. She may have caught your eye on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year; she wore quite a bit of Givenchy for that. And still, you may have also seen her in concert in any of her Givenchy couture stage costumes. Tickets for her “Why Me” concert, for which Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci created a set of five looks — including a couture organza cape and hand-embroidered skirt worn over tuxedo pants — sold out instantly. And her concert tickets are not the only things in very real demand. In Asia, there is something of a Chris Lee effect; namely, almost everything she wears also sells out immediately. To put her level of fame in perspective, she has been said to have a fan base that outnumbers Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus combined, several times over.
According to BoF, Lee’s “success has drawn a significant amount of interest from the commercial world, signing deals with the likes of Coca-Cola and L’Oreal Paris.” She has also appeared in a campaign for Tiffany & Co. – the video advertisement garnered roughly 500,000 views upon its debut on Chinese video site, Youku. The Chinese style also served as a brand ambassador for Italian design house, Versace, some time ago. Her appeal to these brands is not surprising, since the hottest accessory for brands right now is a celebrity with massive selling power. Moreover, her androgynous look has also been a source of appeal for many fashion houses, including Givenchy.
As a brand ambassador of sorts for Givenchy (we are not entirely sure of her exact role and what it entails), she has likely been enlisted to support the design house in a number of capacitates. Aside from the ad campaign, she is probably contractually obligated to wear a certain amount of Givenchy garments to red carpet occasions. She also appears at brand events, such as fashion shows and the opening of the Givenchy store in ShenZhen. But as indicated by a number of her red carpet appearances this year alone, which have seen her wearing looks by Jean Paul Gaultier, Versace, Chanel, and of course, Givenchy, her deal with Givenchy is not exclusive.
We know she has selling power, but so do a lot of celebrities. Why the Chris Lee x Givenchy partnership, in particular? Well, she’s huge in China and Givenchy, which has been actively seeking out new ground for growth, needs to penetrate that market. As you may know, in 2013, the Paris-based design house, welcomed a new CEO, Sebastian Suhl, who joined the Paris-based design house after leaving Prada. (He has since left for fellow LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand, Marc Jacobs, to help prepare the NYC-based house for its impending IPO). Under Suhl’s watch, Givenchy dramatically expanded its retail footprint. The brand has opened a slew of brick and mortar boutiques, including ones in Paris, New York, London, Rome, Milan, Las Vegas, Miami, Tokyo, and Beijing (among other Chinese locales), of course. The house started focusing its attention on Asia a number of years before Suhl’s arrival, though. For instance, in 2011, Givenchy’s then-CEO Fabrizio Malverdi reported that the brand was planning to open ten new stores across Asia that year, six of which would be be in China. As of 2013, company’s business in China accounted for 18 percent of its total revenue.
A year into his tenure, Suhl told the South China Morning Post that the fashion brand would speed up its bold expansion plan by increasing the number of outlets to 30 from about 10 in major cities, such as Shanghai and Tianjin. He noted that Givenchy boutiques on the Chinese mainland had shown “high single-digit” growth in revenue and earnings in 2014, as Chinese shoppers began to increasingly favor lesser-known luxury brands like Givenchy over labels like Gucci and Louis Vuitton that have been in the country for years.
As Chinese demand for luxury goods continues to slow in reaction to the national anticorruption drive, decelerating economic growth and increasingly discerning shoppers, tapping coveted names like Lee to front ad campaigns and appear at Givenchy events may be just what the brand needs to weather the storm.