For big fashion houses like Gucci, Prada and Yves Saint Laurent, male heartthrobs are not the only crucial part of a successful marketing campaign. Female Chinese influencers are also essential to the celebrity-driven luxury goods market, and they are often used to advertise beauty products, handbags, and many high-end fashion products.
But choosing the right celebrity can be a difficult task. And with top Chinese brand ambassadors now making upwards of US$146,800 (1 million yuan) for a single promotional post, fashion houses need to avoid mistakes.
Some international brands have taken criticism in the past for choosing the “wrong” representatives for their Chinese campaigns. Nars Cosmetics recently came under fire from Chinese netizens for inviting the infamous weed-smoking celeb Jaycee Chan (Jackie Chan’s son) to a product launch, and last October, Dior took heat for choosing the young 28-year-old starlet Angelababy as an ambassador for their time-honoured brand.
Despite controversies like these, many influencers have had undeniable growth effects for brands in China. Younger Chinese consumers are increasingly drawn to internationally minded celebrities known for attracting their fans with exotic pictures of faraway lands – and the luxury brands that exist in them. Therefore, Chinese celebrities who have a presence on Instagram present a bigger, more global opportunity for international luxury brands.
So here, from Jing Daily, are six of the top Chinese female influencers that you need to start following now.
If you are looking for China’s answer to the Kardashians, look no further than Angelababy and her family, which includes her superstar husband Huang Xiaoming and their baby son (who was born last year and now has the nickname “little sponge”). In 2015, the couple tied the knot with a tab of US$20 million, making Kim and Kanye’s reported US$2.8 million wedding look like small change.
Thanks to Angelababy’s 87 million followers on the Chinese social media site Weibo and her 6.6 million on Instagram, it is potentially easier to list the brands the Chinese actress, model, and singer has not represented. Born in Shanghai, Angelababy began stealing hearts on the catwalk with her classic, feminine style at just 14 years old.
Today, the 29-year-old star is still a favourite of luxury brands, and she has worked as a brand ambassador for the likes of Dior, Tag Heuer and UGG, while modelling for top brands like Gucci and Givenchy.
2. Fan Bingbing
Hot on the designer heels of Angelababy is the action movie star Fan Bingbing. The Chinese luxury brand darling initially found fame in the Chinese film industry, but in recent years has taken star turns in Hollywood blockbusters like Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Fan topped last year’s Forbes list of best paid Chinese celebrities with earnings estimated at US$45 million, and the actress has accrued more than 3.8 million followers on Instagram, not to mention a cool 62 million on Weibo.
Her Instagram regularly features images of luxurious red carpet gowns, including garments from her collaborators Louis Vuitton and Valentino. In 2017, Fan Bingbing earned a prestigious spot as a member of the jury for the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival, and images of the event could be found all over her Instagram. This year, the actress attended Cannes promoting her latest spy thriller movie, 355, with co-stars Jessica Chastain and Penelope Cruz.
In March of this year, Fan launched her own beauty brand called Fan Beauty, which will be exclusively available on Alibaba’s Tmall. Alibaba Group is the owner of the South China Morning Post. Probably not coincidentally, Fan checked in as the fourth most influential Chinese celebrity driving luxury spending according to a report by Alibaba Research Institute from last October.
Fan’s 17-year-old brother, Fan Chengcheng, is even getting in on the act, recently having made it to the final line-up of the winning group in the reality talent competition Idol Producer.
3. Yang Mi
The number one influencer driving luxury spending in that same Alibaba report was Chinese actress and singer-songwriter Yang Mi. Alongside her successful music career, Yang has worked with high-profile brands that include Adidas, Estée Lauder and Mulberry, while also becoming a Michael Kors brand ambassador last year.
Despite being less well-known in the West (the star has a “measly” 555,000 Instagram followers), Yang is a huge star in her home nation, having collected over 83 million followers on Weibo. A savvy choice by the American brand Kors, Yang’s Instagram regularly features homages to the designer, including pictures from her appearance at last year’s killer Kors party in Shanghai.
At the 2017 Met Gala in New York, the star garnered high praise from Vogue for her Michael Kors twist on the “nearly-naked dress”.
More recently, however, the star got caught up in a couple of online scandals, demonstrating the unpredictable nature of an influencer’s effect. Yang is suing her former associate Li Meng for defamation after Li accused the Chinese actress of failing to deliver on her promise to donate equipment for visually impaired people after playing a blind woman in her 2015 movie The Witness. On top of that, Weibo users have slammed Yang for “forgetting about her three-year-old daughter” after paparazzi spotted her having fun with a male friend in Tokyo in April. Gulp.
4. Ming Xi
Ming Xi is also no stranger to PR hardships. Despite tripping and falling in Victoria’s Secret’s last fashion show – the first one in her home nation of China, no less – Ming responded with grace and a smile that gained her even more global recognition in the process.
Previously understated in the West, the fall catapulted the model into the international fashion spotlight overnight – despite this being her 5th year taking part in the famous Victoria’s Secret show. Ming also previously modelled for Givenchy and Michael Kors, and Karl Lagerfeld selected Ming to star in his 2017 campaign for his label alongside Kendall Jenner.
After the incident, Ming turned to her 1.1 million followers on Instagram, with a heartfelt post – in English – saying, “It was no doubt one of the hardest moments I have ever had to go through in my career, especially since the show was taking place in my hometown, in front of my mother’s and my people’s eyes. However, the support I received from everyone yesterday was incredible and I am truly grateful to everyone who was there for me.”
Her humble and personable post drew nearly 400,000 likes and almost 20,000 messages of support. Ming’s recent Instagram posts include promotions for L’Oreal Paris’ latest make-up line and photos of her at both Cannes and the 2018 Met Gala.
5. Liu Wen
Another Victoria’s Secret alum, Chinese model Liu Wen, has also collected a colossal following thanks to her endearing personality, approachability and sense of humour.
Liu has previously worked with Coach, Fendi, Estee Lauder, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co., among others. In 2017, she became the first Chinese model to appear on the cover of American Vogue alongside supermodels like Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and Ashley Graham.
The star was also the first Asian model to ever make Forbes’ list of highest-paid supermodels in 2013 when she earned a reported US$4.3 million.
Liu’s international fame may have come at a cost, though, as Chinese fans accused her of “betraying her Chinese heritage” when she wished fans a “Happy Lunar New Year” on Instagram in February of this year. Liu quickly changed the message to “Happy Chinese New Year”.
Her popular Instagram account has over 4 million followers and includes artistic shots of her global travels (notching an average of 80,000 likes per post).
6. Li Yuchun
Usually referred to by her stage name Chris Lee, the singer/songwriter-turned-fashion influencer Li Yuchun has luxury brands begging for the chance to work with her. She became famous when she won the Chinese reality talent show Super Voice Girls in 2005, which drew 400 million viewers for its final episode.
Known for her unique, androgynous style, Lee has led a new wave of feminist icons in China. As the face of Gucci in Asia, the brand ambassador for Diesel, and the “unofficial muse” of Givenchy, Lee has almost single-handedly brought gender-neutral style to China.
Despite Lee’s 2016 album, Growing Wild, outselling Beyoncé’s Lemonade in the first 16 days of its release, her international presence has been slow to take effect. She has now reached 1.5 million followers on her artistically crafted Instagram, due in no small part to her popularity with China’s booming millennial market.
And though Instagram is not allowed on the mainland, rebellious youngsters are finding more ways to bypass the country’s Great internet Firewall and connect with their local icons as they take the world stage.