China’s emerging luxury brands look to recover traditions lost in communist revolution
Chinese are quick to boast about their 5,000-year legacy of culture and learning. Yet history is often the missing element for would-be Chinese luxury brands now seeking a piece of their own market.
Long tradition has been a mainstay for internationally recognized luxury products, and the Chinese market is no exception. About 40% of wealthy Chinese surveyed by Hurun and Industrial Bank rated “long history” as an important characteristic for top-end brands.
Yet few Chinese luxury products survived the period between communist takeover and the country’s reform and opening, a span of roughly 30 years ending in the late 1970s. The lone survivors of the orthodox communist years, such as the liquor Moutai, have translated officially condoned prestige into hugely successful domestic businesses.
Other Chinese companies, mostly clothing designers, are attempting to bridge the gap by reaching into the early years of the 20th Century for style inspiration with Chinese characteristics. Results have been mixed, however; some Chinese companies are inching toward the prestige of brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, but many others fall short.
Spirit of the People
Moutai, a type of strong, sorghumbased spirit known as baijiu, can often be spotted in dusty black and white photos of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, two of China’s immortal leaders. Kweichow Moutai has become the market leader for sales of the traditional Chinese spirit, as well as one of the most highly valued companies on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.
Moutai refers to a city in Guizhou province where the product is made, and the name has taken on brandlike qualities of its own. In a survey on China’s luxury gift market earlier this year, the Hurun Report found that Moutai rated fifth on a list of 10 upscale brands, higher than Dior, Prada and Armani.
A bottle of Kweichow can sell for as much as US$2,000. One 1958 vintage of the spirit was auctioned for nearly US$230,000 in 2010.