Scenes from China’s Consumerist Revolution

A precarious economic outlook and efforts to stem officials’ conspicuous consumption have prompted fears for the health of China’s luxury market. Sales of prestigious Moutai liquor have indeed drooped, but Hermes and Remy Cointreau both insisted last month that they had seen no slowdown in China, and while prices of cheaper jade products have tumbled, the high end has held steady. At New York magazine’s The Cut, April Rabkin recounts a series of encounters with some of the luxury shoppers tirelessly battling to keep the bauble rolling.

“I like luxury goods; I love to consume,” he says. “I have money; I gotta spend it.” He is wearing Ferragamo shoes, an Armani polo, and Kiton pants. The wallet is from Bottega Veneta, the socks from Prada. The underwear? He says I have to accompany him to the hot springs to find out, but he assures me that they cost more than 800 yuan, or $125.

“We all used to wear plastic slippers,” a young man named Wu Ruiqi says while sipping Champagne. “There wasn’t fashion before. Everyone wore the same thing. Now there are two kinds of shoppers: fashion-forward, and clichéd customers who all buy whatever brand just for the logo, like a swarm of bees.”

“I don’t have any other hobbies,” she says. “My only hobby is shopping.” She is wearing a white-lace dress and a diamond Dior monogram necklace, the same one that a girl who walked out of Chanel a few minutes before her was wearing. “Beijing girls, they all buy the same luxury items,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if it takes a month’s worth of salary. Chinese people are blind followers. Some people say they hate rich people, but it’s just sour grapes. If they had money they would buy it too.“

The article also includes an illustrated guide to fashion jargon, from 暴发户 to 自拍.

The broader retail sector has cooled both in China and elsewhere in Asia, and CNBC recently reported that middle class Chinese are increasingly shunning luxury goods in favour of foreign travel. But with prices abroad far lower than in China, the two often go hand in hand. Hubei TV reporter Tong Li wrote in Global Times this month that colleagues covering the London Olympics had descended in a “shopping frenzy” on the nearby Bicester Village outlet centre. At The New Yorker last year, Evan Osnos described a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe with a coachload of bargain hunting Chinese tourists.


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