Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Fashion houses’ rooster bling craze needs wake-up call

Luxury retailers’ rush to put red and yellow roosters on everything from bags to underwear amuses and in some cases annoys Chinese shoppers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 8:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 12:53am

Gold dragons, blue phoenixes and here come red roosters flying on people’s bags, shoes and underwear.

With the Year of the Rooster less than a month away, the likes of Calvin Klein, Estee Lauder, and Dolce & Gabbana have all raced to roll out special-edition Chinoiserie pieces to cosy up to Chinese shoppers.

Many of the country’s millennials are giving them the cold shoulder, however.

Men’s fashion: Kenzo’s Lunar New Year capsule collection; leather notepad wallets from Moynat

Born and raised in a modernised China, they said all these dragons, phoenixes and chickens are deemed outdated symbols of China back to their grandma’s era, and are already out-of-touch today.

The most recent reactions came after the Chinese elements-peppered annual fanfare of Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in Paris.

It is not only about a record number of Chinese angels walking this year’s show.

People see lingerie-clad Elsa Hosk sport an orange dragon wrap on her elaborate bikini outfit, Adriana Lima strut down the catwalk with embroidered yellow stiletto boots, and Kendall Jenner carry blue phoenix wings on her back.

The audacious mix of these Chinese cultural references – perhaps most commonly seen overseas in the Lunar New Year season decoration of Chinatown blocks – soon went spiral online, impressing, and amusing some but being ridiculed by others.

“Even the world’s most beautiful bodies are not going to save these rustic and passe Chinese-themed outfits,” wrote a Chinese web user with the handle TanziAPP on Sina Weibo, the country’s equivalent of Twitter.

“It feels like they are hosting Dragon Parades and Lion Dances,” it added.

Cherish Deng, a 25 year-old physician in Guangzhou, said the designers had misinterpreted the Chinese aesthetics with much-too generic motifs.

“Why are they always choosing the red and yellow palette, and dragons and phoenixes? That only reminds me of the embroideries on my grandma’s static cotton-padded jacket,” she said.

In Chinese culture, the colours red and yellow point to auspiciousness and prosperity, while dragons and phoenixes symbolise power and prestige.

For millennials and baby boomers who were born in the aftermath of Maoist China and deeply Westernised over the past three decades of the reform and opening up, the symbols evoke memories of the far distant past of imperial China.

The two colours often receive unflattering comments when they appear alongside each other as inspiration for clothes, for instance, for China’s 2016 Olympic uniforms.

“People joked they resembled the popular local dish stir-fried tomatoes and eggs,” said Jack Chuang, partner with OC&C strategy consultants.

Victoria’s Secret is among an array of upmarket Western fashion labels trying to entice the world’s largest group of luxury buyers by giving a nod to Chinese “exitics” but only stirring up controversies.

When Burberry last year launched its “regional-exclusive edition” signature US$925 cashmere scarf featuring embroidery of the red Chinese calligraphy character fu () – meaning good fortune, many Chinese fashionistas questioned the taste levels of the British luxury mogul, saying “it looks as cheap as those selling in hypermarkets”.

Earlier this year, Dior also came under fire, as the cartoonish red monkeys on its “Diorelita” red rope bracelets – a limited edition reserved for the Year of the Monkey – were likened by internet users to chimpanzees with exceptionally big mouths.

Now fashion houses seek to add poultry touches for their Lunar New Year specials with the Year of the Rooster around the corner.

United States cosmetics giant Estee Lauder crafted a golden rooster on its limited edition “Year of the Rooster” power compact, while premium apparel label D&G raised eyebrows after unveiling five sequined roosters on its latest releases of navy satin bomber jacket that sells for US$2,195.

Calvin Klein celebrated the festive season in a simpler fashion, printing two golden roosters on its October offerings of bright red men’s underwear.

Experts pointed out a wide gap between Western designers’ perspective of the Chinese fashion – often acquired through stereotype-driven Hollywood movies and literatures that portray China as a mysterious Middle Kingdom in the Far East – and that of evolving modern Chinese shoppers.

Tang Xiaotang, founder of luxury retail consultancy, noted that fashion houses ought to carry out profound research before they decide to use any Chinese elements,” otherwise, it is better not to have any at all”.

“Some Western brands do have a very good sense, but many others still have a very shallow understanding of Chinese culture,”said Zhou Ting, a director with Fortune Character Institute.

“After all, Chinese consumers are falling for Western brands for their Western appeal, while Chinese understand Chinese better.”