In race for China’s Lunar New Year spending spree, fashion embraces Year of the Tiger

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A version of this story appeared in the CNN China Meanwhile newsletter, an update three times a week that explores what you need to know about the country’s rise and its impact on the world. Sign up here.
An estimated 2 billion people – in Asia and beyond – will celebrate the Lunar New Year on February 1. For many, this means welcoming one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (this year the tiger), whose sequence follows the order in which they finished the folkloric Great Race of the Jade Emperor, from mouse to pig.

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

For 2022, Burberry made its signature monogram in beige and orange, giving trench coats, pleated skirts, and woven jackets an elegant, tiger-like look. Kenzo’s capsule collection meanwhile includes a $ 565 windbreaker decorated with a fearsome tiger graphic. Brands that traditionally shun fleeting trends in the name of sustainability have also teamed up, with Stella McCartney releasing a pair of luxurious striped bags.

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

These zodiac campaigns may now seem as much a part of holidays in some parts of China as wearing red dumplings 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 only 12% of luxury spending. For high-end brands, the country was a conundrum or an afterthought, or both.
Prada was among the few luxury labels to experiment that year, vying for a slice of New Year’s Eve to spend with simple tiger-themed accessories, including tote bags, phone straps and key chains. But the Lunar New Year novelty market was largely left to sportswear brands like Nike, Reebok, and Converse, all of which released the tiger sneakers that year.
What a difference 12 years make. 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 vanishing. And with vacation spending in China surging to 821 billion yuan ($ 128 billion) last Lunar New Year, who can blame them?

Annual shopping binge

As fun as they are, the resulting new fashion pieces are unlikely to live beyond the annual cycle, drawing the ire of environmental critics who consider Christmas shopping binges wasteful and unnecessary. The past few years have seen deceptive and literal designs flourish: from a gold pig-shaped handbag to a sweater featuring the infamous New York Pizza Rat and a pair of moccasins covered in cow’s heads.

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

After a succession of decidedly unattractive animals – the pig, the mouse and, last year, the ox – the rotating zodiac has finally landed on a more familiar muse. Big cat motifs were popular with stylists long before executives started chasing Chinese money, and brands seem very comfortable with this year’s theme.

Take Italian brand Valentino, which has delved into their tiger print history to produce a tasteful range based on one of their collections from the late 1960s (pictured above). Or Balenciaga, who stopped with classic pieces like tracksuit jackets and braided dresses, but simply reinvented them with black on orange and taupe stripes.

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

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

Of course, there was room for extravagant designs. The Italian brand Marni printed a cute tiger-like scribble like a child on sweaters and bags and Moschino, as always, looked to pop culture, this time bringing “the icon of everyone’s favorite childhood breakfast in the world of luxury. Italian “(in other words: models dressed in Tony the Tiger caps, sweatshirts and t-shirts, diving into full-size Frosted Flakes in the campaign images). In a playful imagination, Gucci “invited” real-life tigers to afternoon tea with its models, though some activists have criticized the campaign for “glorifying” wild animals in captivity. The Italian brand responded by stating that it supported an animal welfare charity and that the tigers had been superimposed on images from its campaign.
A promotional image from Gucci's Lunar New Year festive campaign.

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

Others, on the other hand, took a more subtle look 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 is from 2010’s staple accessories, is using its understated campaign to raise awareness of the plight of tigers in real life, promising to donate money to the China Green Foundation’s conservation efforts.

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

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

Whether these designs are timeless enough to wear when the tiger raises its head again in 2034 remains to be seen. But the position of the animals in Chinese folklore can help.

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

Therefore, there’s a good chance this year’s holiday gifts will live a little longer in the closet than recent efforts. The question, then, may be: will the 2023 rabbit theme require a return to the old tacky and wasteful ways?

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

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


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