Home Nike items Racing for China’s Lunar New Year spending craze, fashion embraces the Year of the Tiger

Racing for China’s Lunar New Year spending craze, fashion embraces the Year of the Tiger

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Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A version of this story appeared in CNN’s news bulletin Meanwhile in China, a tri-weekly update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and its impact on the world. Register here.
An estimated 2 billion people – in Asia and beyond – will celebrate the Lunar New Year on February 1. For many, that means welcoming one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals (this year, the tiger), their sequence following the order in which they completed the Jade Emperor’s great folk race, from rat to pig.

Astrologers claim that each creature portends different fortunes for the months to come. In the world’s major fashion houses, however, the exercise remains the same every year: releasing animal-themed collections in search of the most important Chinese buyers.

For 2022, Burberry returned its signature monogram in beige and orange, giving trench coats, pleated skirts and woven jackets an elegant tiger look. Kenzo’s capsule collection meanwhile includes a $565 windbreaker featuring a fearsome tiger graphic. Even brands that traditionally eschew fleeting trends in the name of sustainability have joined us, with Stella McCartney launching a pair of luxe striped bags.

A promotional image from Burberry’s Lunar New Year 2022 campaign. Credit: Feng Li/© Courtesy of Burberry

These zodiac campaigns may now be as much a part of the holiday in some parts of China as wearing red or eating dumplings, but they are a relatively recent phenomenon. The last time the Year of the Tiger took place, in 2010, China accounted for just 12% of luxury spending. For high-end brands, the country was either an enigma or an afterthought – or both.
Prada was among the few luxury brands to experiment that year, vying for a slice of New Year’s spending with simple tiger-themed accessories, including tote bags, phone straps and wallets. keys. But the Lunar New Year novelty market was largely left to activewear brands like Nike, Reebok and Converse, all of which released tiger sneakers that year.
What a difference 12 years makes. With China expected to account for 40% of luxury spending by 2025, according to consultancy McKinsey & Company, the number of labels ignoring this annual business opportunity is now extremely low. And with holiday spending in China reaching 821 billion yuan ($128 billion) last Lunar New Year, who can blame them?

The annual shopping spree

As fun as they are, the resulting novelty fashion items are often unlikely to live beyond the annual cycle, drawing the ire of environmental critics who see excessive holiday shopping as wasteful and unnecessary. The past few years have seen a flourish of whimsical, literal designs – from a gold pig-shaped handbag to a sweater featuring New York’s infamous Pizza Rat and a pair of loafers covered in cow’s heads.

This year’s collections, on the other hand, could enjoy surprising longevity.

After a succession of decidedly unglamorous animals – the pig, the rat and, last year, the ox – the revolving zodiac has finally landed on a more familiar muse. Big cat designs were popular among fashion designers long before executives started chasing Chinese money, and brands seem quite comfortable with this year’s theme.

Take Italian brand Valentino, which drew on its own history of tiger prints to produce a tasteful range based on one of its late 1960s collections (pictured top). Or Balenciaga, who stuck to classic items like track jackets and twist dresses but simply reinvented them with black-on-orange-and-taupe stripes.

Moschino celebrates the Year of the Tiger with a capsule collection featuring Tony the Tiger.

Moschino celebrates the Year of the Tiger with a capsule collection featuring Tony the Tiger. Credit: Moschino

Of course, there was room for whimsical designs. Italian brand Marni printed a cute childish tiger design on sweaters and bags, and Moschino, as always, took a pop culture twist, this time bringing in “everyone’s favorite breakfast icon. in the world of Italian luxury” (in other words: models dressed in Tony the Tiger caps, hoodies and t-shirts, dipping into life-size Frosted Flakes in campaign footage). In a playful imagination, Gucci “invited” real-life tigers to an afternoon tea with its models, although some campaigners criticized the campaign for “glorifying” the keeping of wild animals in captivity. The Italian brand responded by saying it supports an animal welfare charity and that the tigers were superimposed on its campaign imagery.
A promotional image from Gucci's festive Lunar New Year campaign.

A promotional image from Gucci’s festive Lunar New Year campaign. Credit: Angelo Pennetta/Gucci

Others, however, took a more subtle approach approach. Salvatore Ferragamo, for example, invited Beijing artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu to create a striking bag inspired by traditional Chinese paintings. Meanwhile, Prada – showing how far it’s strayed from 2010’s basic accessories – is using its low-key campaign to raise awareness of the plight of real-life tigers, promising to donate money to conservation efforts at the China Green Foundation .

Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo invited artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu to create a unique print inspired by the zodiac tiger.

Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo invited artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu to create a unique print inspired by the zodiac tiger. Credit: Salvatore Ferragamo

Whether or not these designs are timeless enough to wear when the tiger rises again in 2034 remains to be seen. But the position of animals in Chinese folklore may help.

Admired for its prowess and strength, the tiger is considered one of China’s favorite zodiac animals (possibly behind the dragon). The stripes on the creatures’ foreheads are said to resemble the written character “wang”, which means “king”, and therefore were often associated with power and royalty in ancient times. They have also been a common motif in Chinese historical art, design and even clothing, with “tiger head” shoes – with toecaps decorated to look like tigers – once widely worn by children to ward off evil spirits and protection from illness or misfortune.

As such, there’s a good chance that this year’s holiday gifts will live a little longer in the wardrobe than recent efforts. The question, then, may be: will the bunny theme of 2023 prompt a return to the cheesy, wasteful methods of yesteryear?

A tiger may not be able to change its stripes, but maybe fashion can.

Top image: A promotional image of the Lunar New Year collection from Maison Valentino.