At last year's first Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Florence, Vogue China editor Angelica Cheung explained the shift in the Chinese consumer's behaviour with such eloquence and aplomb that the hard-luxury CEOs in the audience had challenging food for thought. Telling the crowd about the importance of understanding the emerging "Millennial" market, a year later she has practised what she preached and returned armed with the successful launch of Vogue Me, aimed at the all-important Millennial (the tech-savvy generation born between the early 1980s and early 2000s).
"About a year ago I noticed a sharp shift in the youth culture of China. They never experienced hardship. They are single-child families, with money, education, and attitude," said Cheung of her targeted readership. It's a generation that is particularly influenced by social media, proof of which can be found in the impressive statistics for the new publication — it has reached 500 million people across China (half the population) — through Vogue China's own channels of social media alone. It is, as Cheung said, the result of understanding effective means of communication. "To communicate with the new Millennials, authority is not enough," she said. "We need to be their friend and to understand who they are influenced by."
Social influence is — as in every 21st-century domain — critical, something welcomed by Wim Pijbes, General Director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (a top tourist destination for travelling Chinese tourists). He believes that by operating something on "an open house" model — where visitors are free to take photographs of everything they see — it will bridge the gap between traditional and modern means of consumption. "I have no fear [of social media]," said Pijbes. "I strongly believe in the power of authenticity and the power of the real experience. Real art has the ability to move people, open minds, connect old and new, East and West and, in my view, museums are the gateway."
Meanwhile, Erwan Rambourg — Global Head of Consumer and Retail Research at HSBC and author of The Bling Dynasty — reiterated Cheung's points about the Chinese consumer, identifying the largest demographic of luxury consumers as "diverse, young, and predominantly female". He also agreed with her that in order to attract their custom, brands must first understand how they communicate. "Chinese consumers are younger than their European and American peers. They're used to ordering products differently, communicating differently."
"The travelling Chinese have completely transformed the industry that we're in, but we're still at a stage of massive discovery," he continued. "The Chinese consumer is dominant, responsible for 35 per cent of sales now, to a predicted half of sales in 10 years' time. 10 years ago it was the Japanese who were the dominant consumers. There will be a limited growth with the Japanese and American consumer in the near future, but the luxury market will double in the next 10 years."
By Scarlett Conlon, reporting live from the second Condé Nast International Conference in Seoul