Asia’s A-listers take their seats on fashion’s front row

by Helen Rowe

AFP-JIJI

Arriving at a Christian Dior fashion show in Paris surrounded by a gaggle of photographers and minders, Korean star Gianna Jun quickly eclipsed the already seated Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence.

One of the best-known faces in Asia following a string of box-office smashes, the actress is among an elite group of its bankable names attracting the attention of the fashion world.

Designers have long looked to Hollywood stars to help sell their collections — but as the spending power of consumers in countries such as China and South Korea grows, it’s now the turn of Asia’s A-listers.

Taiwanese model and actress Lin Chi-ling, who was also in Paris for the couture shows, was given the red-carpet treatment at Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel show.

At a time when couture houses are increasingly winning new customers in countries from China to Singapore, Lagerfeld underscored the East’s importance with a show contrasting the “crumbling” old world with a new world represented by a futuristic imaginary Asian city.

Raf Simons’ multicultural show for Christian Dior, meanwhile, was also a clear pitch to customers in new markets.

The Belgian designer, who notably put models from all corners of the globe on the catwalk, said the collection showed Dior “not just being about Paris and France, but about the rest of the world” too.

Brian Buchwald, CEO of Bomoda, a website providing information for Chinese luxury-goods consumers, said tapping into the wants and desires of Chinese shoppers was now the “overriding opportunity for Western companies.”

“The rising role of the Chinese consumer is driving their business,” Buchwald said from New York, adding that last year they were “responsible for 60 percent of all luxury-goods purchases in Europe.”

Such stark economic realities are the reason Paris fashion can expect to see many more Asian celebrities on its front rows in coming years.

One of the highest-profile Asian stars is Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who has attended Paris fashion shows as well as the Cannes Film Festival, where she was photographed wearing Valentino, Elie Saab and Laurence Xu. Known in the marketing world as a KOL (Key Opinion Leader), Buchwald says Fan’s appeal to designers and luxury-goods companies comes from “her beauty, her sense of fashion and her ability to reach and move the Chinese consumer.”

“She is a risk-taker, she breaks the mold. She makes her own fashion choices … she’s very aspirational for (Chinese women),” he said.

According to Buchwald, the Chinese consumer is heavily influenced by celebrities.

“So if Fan is a fashion icon in China, then Chinese women will buy what she wears in a way that is much more qualitative than we see with Western celebrities and Western luxury consumers,” he added.

And it’s not just fashion and luxury goods using celebrities to harness Asian spending power. In the world of film, the makers of “Iron Man 3″ made sure their movie had maximum appeal to audiences in China by specially creating a role for Fan in the Chinese version.

“She wasn’t necessarily essential to the film to the point where they could literally cut her out — but they put her in to make the product more appealing to the Chinese consumer,” Buchwald said.

“It was almost a naked drive for that Chinese consumer, basically saying ‘we’ll do what it takes,’ ” he added.