Peng Liyuan

First lady Peng Liyuan spurs boom in demand for home-grown labels

Peng Liyuan's clothing choices abroad spurs demand for home-grown designers and labels

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 10:58am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 8:53am

First lady Peng Liyuan's choice of home-grown designer brands on her maiden overseas trip with President Xi Jinping has been hailed as a boon for China's fashion industry, yearning for its own "Jason Wu moment".

Wu is the Taiwanese-Canadian designer who shot to fame after US first lady Michelle Obama wore one of his designs.

Peng, 50, who is making her first public appearances in state visits to Russia and Africa, has become a fashion icon in China, as people flock to snap up coats, scarfs and handbags similar to those she has been seen wearing.

Images of her stepping off a plane with her husband in Moscow on Friday have circulated widely on the Chinese internet, prompting praise for her understated yet sophisticated style.

Stocks of mainland high-end clothing firms surged yesterday on the expectation that "the first-lady effect" would be big boost for the domestic fashion sector.

Eagle-eyed fashion-savvy bloggers identified the leather handbag and smart, double-breasted black trench coat she wore as items from Guangzhou-based label Exception. The brand has been described as one of China's leading independent labels whose simple but unique designs stand out in an industry dominated by Western copycats.

"Big luxury brands in Europe or America are often the first choice for many rich Chinese consumers when they dress up," said Hong Dongni, an adviser with Golden Wisdom Fashion Brands Management Consulting Centre in Beijing.

"But I believe top local fashion brands will draw much more attention among buyers at home in the future after Peng showed her elegance and confidence in wearing home-grown labels.

"Peng's exposure has greatly raised the profile of local brands, just like what US first lady Michelle Obama did for designer Jason Wu."

Exception was founded in Guangzhou by Mao Jihong and Ma Ke in 1996, as confirmed by Guangzhou's Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine last Friday. It has 60 shops across the country.

During the past few days, the trench coat and leather handbag worn by the first lady when she arrived in Moscow are the most sought-after items in the stores.

In a Beijing branch of Exception, customers keep asking for items Peng had worn. "What Ms Peng wore is supposed to be tailor-made for her. Now we only have some similar collections," the saleswoman said.

In an Exception store in Chengdu, sales staff said all the handbags in a similar style had sold out and the company needed to deliver more goods from Guangzhou to meet demand, local media Sichuan Online reported. Handbags in the store are priced at 5,000 yuan (HK$6,200) each.

The "first-lady effect" drove up the share price of other domestic clothing brands yesterday. High-end labels such as women's wear firm Lancy Company and suits brand Trands both rose 10 per cent in Shenzhen and Shanghai trading respectively, while leather goods maker Kaiser (China) Holdings increased more than 3 per cent in Shenzhen.

Commentators in China's fashion world are celebrating. "It's the first time China's first lady appears like a modern woman. She dresses very well, with taste and confidence," said Zhang Yu, editor of China's Vogue magazine. "After so many years, we finally have a first lady who can represent us so appropriately. It is a landmark event."

Additional reporting by Associated Press