With more and more wealthy customers cropping up in China’s luxury market each year, the demand for brand education outpaces the country’s exponential financial growth. Educating the public is one of Angelica Cheung’s missions as editor of Vogue China. Cheung sees her job as not just catering to Chinese luxury tastes but refining that taste and training luxury consumer wannabee’s.
“I feel there is a certain sweetness in this lack of knowledge,” Cheung says of China’s new luxury customers. “They were probably working in fields or mines just a few years ago and I feel that the attitude should be to help them, to guide them, let them experience and then they will know better what suits them. If they don’t have that entry point to experiment, they will never know. You don’t sneer at these people. You help them and through including them, you educate them better and they will become more sophisticated.”
Vogue China serves as the tome for those who seek to learn the ins-and-outs of fashion. It debuted in September 2005 with an initial run of 300,000. Those sold out so fast that a second printing was ordered. Known as “the fashion bible,” Vogue China runs at 300 editorial pages each month, triple the size of Vogue in the United States. And just who’s devouring the magazine at such a rapid rate?
“Our readership is relatively young,” explains Cheung. “Our target readership is mainly from 20-40, and our average age reader is about 30, and most of these are women. Obviously you have the top tier – rich men’s wives and daughters – but there is a large chunk of women who have made their own fortune. These are entrepreneurs, senior executives – there are a lot of working women in our readership portfolio. And then there’s the third tier: students. Unlike the other 17 Vogues in the world, we have quite a big chunk of younger readers who are not in that consumption bracket yet – meaning they don’t have the money to buy Chanel every day – but they aspire to that kind of lifestyle.”
China’s up-and-coming fashionistas have spent the first phase of the luxury boom gobbling up high prestige brands — Vuitton bags and Chanel shoes. Frederic Godart, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, asserts, “Chinese consumers see luxury goods as a way to express status more than their own style and identity,” he says, “though there are signs this could change in the next decade or so as customers get more acquainted with luxury products.”
Cheung predicts the “second phase” of luxury consumption in China, when buyers use luxury goods to shape their identities, will allow for homegrown brands to earn a greater foothold in the Chinese market. Labels like Uma Wang and Zou You have already appeared in Milan to great acclaim.
The diligent Cheung is taking notice. “We need to anticipate what the consumers will become in ten years’ time when they already have everything. So I think the planning needs to start now,” she insists.