What do Chinese fashion influencers think of the royal wedding?
Wedding fashions in China felt the influence of Prince William and Kate Middleton marrying in 2011. Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle, however, has barely registered. We find out what people in China really think
Long gone are the days when Chinese factories swiftly copied Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen wedding dress and wealthy couples enamoured with the royal family went to great lengths to mimic British customs at their own ceremonies.
The royal couple no doubt turned heads in China, but seven years later, and Harry and Meghan’s upcoming celebration seems to be being met with not much more than a shrug.
It’s a far cry from the interest the pair are garnering in the United States and the United Kingdom, where infatuation with Markle’s every fashion move has been benefiting retailers, with brands like Mother and Strathberry selling out almost as soon as she gets close to them.
In China, where Markle was virtually unknown last year and Harry is just another prince, manufacturers of wedding souvenirs have been disappointed with the lack of buzz surrounding the couple.
“They’re not that popular in China – Meghan is less well known compared to Kate,” says Yiteng Shi, a 30-year-old Beijing-based marketing professional who admits she follows the royal wedding. “I was studying in the UK and I found they were crazy about it, so I follow it just for fun.”
She doesn’t think the couple have much influence on China’s growing and maturing fashion industry.
Sara Jane Ho, a Hong Kong-based businesswoman and founder of finishing school Institute Sarita in Beijing and Shanghai, has a similar viewpoint. “There is respect and admiration for the royal family, but their influence on consumer trends is lessening in China,” she says.
When Ho launched her etiquette classes in 2013, she named Middleton as an ideal role model for her wealthy female clientele. She even has recently wooed them with access to gowns by Dhela, a favourite designer of the Duchess of Cambridge.
Markle, on the other hand, had to attend finishing school herself to prepare for her future role, while making a wardrobe transition from Hollywood glam-casual to royal elegance. This in particular has provided fodder for fashion bloggers, even in China.
A fashion blogger and one of WeChat’s leading influencers, Becky Li, has been generating tens of thousands of views and comments on her WeChat blog Life and Style with posts on the royal wedding. In one post, the blogger demonstrates Markle’s shift from a Hollywood star into a member of the British royal family thanks to the help of Kate and friend, Canadian fashion stylist Jessica Mulroney, noting the conservative switch to longer skirts, elegant handbags, and tailored trench coats.
Another blog, Fantastic Bags, listed the styles, brands, and prices of Markle’s favourite handbags before the transformation and after, such as the move from a casual, bulky Mulberry tote bag to a more compact design by Scotland’s Strathberry.
“Chinese will definitely buy British designers because of Markle,” says Li’s representative, adding that their posts do not directly generate revenue for the bloggers or brands themselves. “For example, I know many of our followers bought Mulberry and Strathberry bags because of her wearing them.”
“Royal weddings, or any celebrity weddings, are of great interest to the public, but the best thing about Meghan is that her bags and clothing are quite affordable and accessible.”
Many of Li’s followers are part of a growing market of young female professionals seeking fashion advice for everyday wear and staples for the workplace that won’t break the bank.
It’s easy to see why Markle’s style evolution from fun and flirty items to more appropriate attire for upcoming role as a member of the royal family resonates with Li’s readers, like one thirty-something lawyer who pointed out that J. Crew’s preppy, yet feminine style isn’t just suitable for a public appearance with a prince – it’s also great for the office.
Arguably, Markle’s influence here is more coincidental, and her overall sway (or lack thereof) in China begs the question for marketers: in a country where an outfit Fan Bingbing wears immediately flies off the shelves, do Western stars still have any pull?
“There are Western celebrities that influence Chinese fashion and the purchasing decisions of Chinese millennials, but I don’t think it’s Meghan Markle,” Ho says. “I see it more as Kendall Jenner – these kind of cool, young influencers.”
Local celebrities are no doubt growing in importance, but that hasn’t changed the steady use of Hollywood names in endorsements, says Martin Patmore, the China president of FansTang, a digital content company that uses Western celebrities and sports stars to drive growth for brands in China.
“We need to be extremely selective when identifying effective celebrity endorsements,” Patmore says. “The talent has to be right for the brand and vice versa … But particularly with local Chinese brands, having an international celebrity endorsing their products builds a lot of basic core values, like trust and reassurance. It gives the brand stature and gravitas and an international flavour.”
Sometimes the “right” celebrity can be unexpected and even lesser known in the West, but much of the time they’re well-known faces who have established a presence over a number of years.
While the journey to royalty seemingly isn’t enough to make influencers out of Prince Harry and a virtually unknown TV star in China, there’s still time to see what happens after the wedding on May 19.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Meghan’s look after the marriage,” says one fashion enthusiast and commenter on Life and Style. “Seeing the skills of the British royal stylist is still worth the wait.”