Who is the Target for Chinese New Year Luxury Capsules?

February 16, 2018 marks the beginning of the Year of the Dog on the lunar calendar, and the world’s luxury houses are responding with capsule collections of dog-themed gift items that might appeal to canine parents the world over, in addition to those actually celebrating Chinese New Year (CNY). Which raises an interesting question: who are these collections actually for, especially this year?

It has become an annual Thing in global luxury: right about now, luxury watch, apparel, accessory and beauty companies deliver limited-edition items employing the sign of the zodiac for the upcoming lunar year. The annual capsules almost always showcase the color red and the number 8, both considered to be auspicious in Chinese culture.

But interestingly in the past two years, increasingly sophisticated consumers in China have vociferously protested when these CNY-themed items arrive with a less-than-refined sensibility. Local reports have covered the reaction of luxury consumers to several newly-released items that have been deemed too literal: childish, cheap, or easily knocked off. There’s a mini-backlash brewing against the Western luxury brands who don’t appear to be investing the time to understand the nuances and subtleties of color and the symbolic meaning of some of the animals in the zodiac (last year’s Rooster was a particularly difficult one to get right).

Jing Daily reports on the popularity of decorating Western luxury brand lipsticks like Givenchy with decorative tapes sold at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing – they feature traditional Chinese elements, such as famous calligraphy works, seals, paintings, and a variety of patterns inspired by flowers, porcelain, and furniture. The publication notes: “The combination of luxury goods with Chinese elements received very positive feedback on the internet, as a lot of Weibo and WeChat users found the final product to be very aesthetically pleasing.

The publication also shares a cautionary tale about the perils of not fully researching the meaning of Chinese letters and phrases: “Nike’s 2016 special edition trainers featured a Chinese character sewn on [each shoe] . . . the left shoe had the character fa (發) which colloquially can mean ‘to become wealthy.’ The right shoe featured fu (福) which means ‘fortune.’ However, when the two characters are combined, the meaning drastically changes and euphemistically means ‘to get fat.’” Oops.

The message to Western luxury brands from consumers in China seems to be: get it right, or don’t do it at all. Otherwise, the offerings become the equivalent of Ugly Christmas Sweaters to the people actually celebrating the New Year. And that would just be unfortunate all around.

Some brands may have taken this advice to heart. Although Balenciaga’s final words when he closed his couture house in 1968 are reputed to have been, “It’s a dog’s life,” so far, the luxury brand doesn’t seem to be issuing a new CNY handbag in 2018.

But what about Western consumers as a potential market? As you may have heard, lots of people in the West love dogs. So this year, it becomes important to assess the offerings of the leading global luxury brands with an eye to understanding whether for this year at least, the target audience isn’t celebrants of CNY at all, or at least not primarily – it’s luxury consumers who love dogs the world over. Here’s an overview of the most publicized CNY capsules, and our take on who they’re really for.

Targeted at the “West,” not the “East:”

Gucci. Bosco and Orso, the Boston Terriers of designer Alessandro Michele, grace a collection of 63 limited edition ready-to-wear items designed in collaboration with artist Helen Downie, aka Unskilled Worker. The capsule includes the GG Supreme Bosco tote -$1,350 and backpack – $1,450; an iPhone case – $350; an adorable watch -$890; bomber jackets -$3,900; and Ace sneakers – $670. Our take? These are going to sell really well in the West, and probably not so well in China (based on what we’ve read so far, at least). We think they’re adorable and good goofy fun. But we can see why they might not be such a hit as a serious and respectful CNY gift.

Louis Vuitton. Ditto. We found it interesting that this year’s LV offerings of patchwork canvas and leather puppies for $511-$1,170 are apparently being received as “juvenile” in China, but happily received in the West as “cute.” Both cultures might give them to children – it’s just that those in the West won’t find them insulting.

Likely to appeal to neither East nor West:

Sadly, some of the 2018 offerings we’ve seen seem likely to fall short among luxury consumers in both the East and West. Not to be cranky, but the Estée Lauder and Armani cosmetics compacts read as being just too much bling paired with too little sophistication. The dog-print Dolce & Gabbana ready-to-wear apparel is just not our thing, no matter what year it is. The print is just too on-the-nose for an expensive luxury item.

Likely winners in both East and West:

Fine watch manufacturers have generally done a nice job this year. Vacheron Constantin’s “Legend of the Chinese Zodiac” watch features a hand-crafted dial with a sculptured three-dimensional dog at the center in either bronze or white gold. It comes in two color-ways: The pink gold version with a dark brown leather strap is $103,000 and the platinum version with a blue dial and black leather strap is $125,000. Only 12 of each will be manufactured. Swiss watch-maker Jaquet Droze has released its Petite Heure for Chinese New Year in two versions – the Minute and the Minute Relief.  Panerai’s watch is a limited edition Luminor 1950 Sealand 3 Days Automatic Acciaio. Only 88 will be made (remember 8 is good luck), and they’ll only be sold in the brand’s Canton Road store – the price is about $30,000. Chopard‘s  L.U.C XP Urushi Year of the Dog watch was created in collaboration with Japanese master craftsman Minori Koizumi, who crafted the urushi lacquering, one of the rarest finishing techniques in watch-making, on the dial. The production of these will also be limited to 88 total, and the price is about $25,000. If we had to choose, we’d go with the Constantin (and not just because of the price – it’s a really striking piece).

We also love Chantecaille‘s Limited-Edition Year of the Dog Poudre Lumière for $42, soon to be available at Bergdorf Goodman. Lots of beauty sites and bloggers are raving about it.

Cigar connoisseurs the world over will appreciate the classic look and fragrance of the limited edition line of Davidoff  Year of the Dog cigars.

And we think Maison Caran d’Ache‘s limited edition Year of the Dog fountain pen is a lovely heirloom keepsake for any household; its limited to 888 pieces – $3,650.

Finally, the great cultural unifier might very well be experiences over objects. The luxury hotels of the world are offering swanky and indulgent services for CNY (and Valentine’s Day, for those with time for a longer visit): the Waldorf Beverly Hills, the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and many others all sound quite appealing. Also universally appealing and respectful of culture? The current exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Celebrating the Year of the Dog, which runs from January 19-July 4, 2018. It features works of all kinds from the museum’s permanent collection, with careful regard to the role that dogs have played in traditional Chinese culture.

There will probably be additional items announced in the coming days – jeweler Harry Winston and Dior high jewelry almost always offer a limited edition watch for Chinese New Year. We’ll update this post as the big day approaches.  In the meantime, Happy New Year, all.

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