TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY, 'RAT' IS THE QUESTION
In 2018, Dolce and Gabbana released a tone-deaf ad in which a Chinese model ate Italian food with a pair of chopsticks, surrounded by cliché, Orientalist objects like lanterns, ultimately mocking Chinese culture in a failed attempt to market to Chinese consumers. With Lunar New Year quickly approaching on January 25th, we’ve become hyper-aware of brands that cut corners in a greedy ploy to grab at capital gains from their Asian markets. While we appreciate thoughtful takes from Western brands, it’s important to note that “thoughtfulness” requires more than repackaging existing bestsellers (or worse, excess inventory) in red and gold colors. The Lunar New Year is an important holiday for many Asian communities, representing new beginnings, family bonding, and generations of traditions.
While many fashion and beauty brands have released LNY collections, only some brands have successfully showcased the holiday’s cultural significance, while others revealed only a superficial, clichéd understanding of Asian heritage.
Tl;dr: if you want our money, you’ll have to work harder for it.
KEEP DOING YOU (TO BUY):
Nike honors the Year of the Rat with designs inspired by the traditional Chinese art form of paper cutting. You can find red paper-cut designs pasted all over homes and shops, as a symbol of good luck and happiness, especially during the new year. Nike employs this symbol to illustrate its history with China and represent milestone moments. One of the designs symbolizes the year China earned its first Olympic gold medal and Nike began to sponsor the Chinese track and field team.
Rather than resorting to an internal designer, Vans has teamed up with contemporary Chinese artist Zhao Zhao for their “Year of the Rat” collection. Through his collaboration with Vans, Zhao Zhao has brought new life to the shoes, creating a series of four sneakers that tell the story of a rat and its journey through underground tunnels. The shoes feature a gray and pink color palette, with even the “Off the Wall” heel stamp shaping a rat’s tail to mimic the image of a rat. Van’s collaboration with Zhao Zhao perfectly captures the skater spirit of Vans combined with the spirit of a rat. In the Chinese Zodiac, the rat is seen as quick-witted and diligent. By showcasing the rat as one that breaks boundaries and explores the underground, Zhao Zhao allows the wearer of his Vans to also embrace those qualities.
Longchamp has teamed up with one of China’s top fashion influencers, Mr. Bags, to create a playful capsule inspired by the Chinese concept of “Chihuo,” or being a foodie. Longchamp’s collection compares our love of food to the same food-loving quality of a rat, honoring the zodiac symbol with a bright yellow cheese pattern. Rather than sticking to traditional Chinese designs, Longchamp honors the new year with a whimsical illustration of cheese. By collaborating with a Chinese fashion blogger, Longchamp succeeds in tapping into the popularity of digital influencers and gives the spotlight to someone who represents the intersection between modern and traditional culture in fashion.
Chloé’s Lunar New Year collection helps reclaim the symbolism of the rat, erasing the contemporary taboo of a rat being dirty and unattractive, with a beautiful, watercolor image of a rat. The Chloé rat is painted using various pink, blue, and yellow colors and holds onto its own Chloé purse, positioned in an adorable stance. The items that do not feature the rat imagery are created using light pink, red, and white, creating an abstracted representation of a rat. The Chinese zodiac is integral to Chinese culture, with people still practicing zodiac superstitions and using it to understand personality traits. In beautifying the rat, Chloé helps properly honor the first animal in the Chinese zodiac.
Instead of focusing on the rat, Herschel centers the often overlooked Chinese symbol of clouds, which represent luck and fortune in Chinese culture and are often used in traditional Chinese paintings. The backpacks also have the saying “吉祥如意,” meaning good luck and happiness, embroidered on them. Combined with the cloud pattern, the Herschel collection honors an important value of the lunar new year— the hope that the new year will be even more auspicious than the year before. To celebrate the lunar new year, people practice rituals such as wearing red as a symbol of luck and cleaning their homes to get rid of any existing bad luck. Herschel’s collection helps capture the integral value of bringing good luck into the new year with its red clouds and embroidered wish of prosperity.
Prada’s Lunar New Year collection stands out, not for its products, but for its touching and accurate homage to familial bonds. The collection’s ad campaign, titled “Coming Home,” stars Chinese model Chun Jin and her family members, showing their journey back to her hometown for Chinese New year. In the ad, Chun is seen reminiscing on childhood memories, such as playing on a swing, as she spends time with her loved ones. Prada dedicates their collection to the physical and emotional journey that is made to get home, an integral aspect of Chinese New Year and Chinese culture.
Featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse printed sweatshirts and warm red sweaters, H&M’s collection is versatile and wearable beyond the holiday season. To celebrate this collection, H&M did a feature on the famous Chinese couple Zhao Liying and Feng Shaofeng, a relevant nod to Asian pop culture. In highlighting love as an important part of the holiday, H&M moves past the most commonly focused-on trait of luck during the new year.
NAH (NOT TO BUY)
NARS’ lack of effort in trying to gain an understanding of Asian culture is apparent through their LNY collection. The products are decorated using the stereotypical gold and red palette, but what makes them especially distasteful are the names of the products. For example, the eyeshadow quad is named “Singapore,” which reveals a lazy attempt in trying to identify with the Asian community. Rather than trying to dig into Asian tradition or culture to find something actually relevant to the Lunar New Year holiday, NARS cops out by choosing the name of an Asian country. Similarly, their Lip Balm shade “Nights of China” reveals the same shallow understanding of the Asian community.
MAC Cosmetics’ Lunar New Year collection, titled “Lunar Illusions,” also lacks much thought. While 2020 is the Year of the Rat, MAC’s collection simply focuses on the fact that it is a lunar new year— thus the collection is applicable to any new year. Instead of creating new, limited-edition products, the collection’s products are all existing shades of their cosmetics. MAC has just simply repackaged its products to be decorated with Asian-inspired floral motifs. Meanwhile, the highlighter of the collection features a large dragon, sticking to all the stereotypical and Westernized symbols of Asian identity. How disappointing.