Thursday, 27 January 2011

Prada's Chinese dilemma

Milan Show 2011 (Above) ; Beijing Show 2011 (Below)

I read an interesting quote from Miuccia Prada in an article (paywall) in the Times this week. She was talking about Prada's new show in Beijing- the first of its kind. She discussed how she had to remake some of her pieces for the show, as she didn't want to offend or alienate her Chinese hosts.

“We — my husband especially — wanted to do some special pieces. Especially as this season I ended up designing a collection entirely in cotton. Everyone told me, the Chinese hate cottons. They hate uniforms. The collection we showed in Milan had really plain suits, everything was in cotton, although very expensive cotton, but it had a humble effect. I was also told that anything that reminds the Chinese of the past is not wanted. "

She decided to rework the collection to make it more suitable for the Chinese audience- sequins & fur to add a touch of luxury as opposed to plain cotton suits in the original 2011 Milan show. This was apparently a great success, the new collection is already in stores in China and some pieces were even available to buy the following day.

Prada's comments indicate that she, like many others, perhaps don't know all that much about China. The article makes the point that the Chinese now have money to spend on fashion, but no distinct style of their own. They are in fact trying to find their own style and have generally looked to established Western designer brands for inspiration. They may have less of a view on cottons than Prada has been advised. My view on the cotton point is that so long as Prada are not targeting 70 year olds and above, she would have been fine with the outfits she showed in Milan.

Chinese consumers have proven willing and able to buy Prada products designed for Western consumers. Why does this have to change simply because it was their first show in Beijing? It might have been easier for Prada to have just designed what she liked- as opposed to tweaking her collection- and let Prada's local merchandisers do their job in stocking their 14 Chinese stores.

If a brand like Prada is willing to adapt to what they have been told about a market like China then they run the risk of being overtaken in future. The new generation of Asian designers currently studying in the West will bring back their knowledge of Western technologies and combine it with their native understanding of local markets. The chances are that, soon they can do the job of the Pradas of this world, only quicker and better.