Top, from left to right, Anny Fan, Austin Li and Rita Wang. Bottom, from left to right, Liu Wen, Yu Zheng and Sherry Shen

Fashion houses have been courting Chinese celebrities and influencers to represent them in the region for some time. Picking the right person can make a great impact on the balance sheet, but recent events also demonstrate the damage they can cause.

Brands need to learn and respect China’s cultural and political sense and sensitivity. Tapestry and Capri Holdings learned that the hard way. Their shares plummeted after Liu Wen and Yang Mi distanced themselves from Coach and Versace, respectively, for mislabeling Hong Kong, Macau and the disputed region of Taiwan as separate countries on their T-shirts.

Yang is the most influential celebrity in China, in terms of fashion influence, according to Exane BNP Paribas. She was the face of Micheal Kors in China from 2017 and was appointed the first China ambassador for Versace on June 24. Capri Holdings was hoping she could boost Versace’s presence in China as she did for Michael Kors.

Coach is supposed to open its Tmall store for the third time in September, but now with Liu gone, its parent Tapestry may have to plan everything from scratch.

Liu Wen in a Coach campaign.

Liu Wen in a Coach campaign.  Courtesy

On top of understanding Beijing’s stance on geopolitical disputes, brands should also refresh their ideas about influencers in the market. There are more key opinion leaders to work with than just Gogoboi, Mr. Bags or Leaf Greener. A new wave of influencers is catching up quickly as social media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, Xiaohongshu and TikTok gravitate to different demographics and present content in their own ways.

The most searched hashtags, the equivalent of Twitter’s trending news, are becoming increasingly important in the Weibo ecosystem, as they hold a prominent place in the app and users can see whenever they turn to the search page.

One influencer, Fashionmodels, has capitalized on that to become a frequent collaborator with brands and media outlets to promote new products or cover launches. It has 9.45 million followers on Weibo and 16 million followings across all Chinese social media platforms.

Yu Zheng, the man behind the account, said he often creates hashtags that easily surpass 100 million impressions, and his top-performing post can reach 29 million reads.

“I see Weibo as my main platform, as my strength is exclusive content and news travel faster on a public space like Weibo. Xiahongshu is more friendly to female influencers and WeChat’s open rate has dropped significantly since they introduced a new layout design last year,” he said.

Ocean Wang, founder of the Weibo account Fashion_BangZ with 3.17 million followers, echoed Zheng’s opinion.

“You need a big team to run a WeChat account if you want to do engaging in-depth content, and the market is pretty saturated. Weibo, for me, is a better choice as I am relatively new to the industry and I post more of topical news and fashion editorials that I love,” he said.

Rita Wang is Xiaohongshu’s number-one fashion influencer with 3.5 million followers.  Courtesy Photo

Xiaohongshu also nurtures a new breed of influencers that have caught the attention of big fashion houses, although the Tencent and Alibaba-backed social commerce platform is under a lot of pressure. Apple and Android App stores have removed its application until the platform can fix its fake following and untagged product placement issues.

Rita Wang is the number-one fashion influencer on Xiaohongshu, with 3.5 million followers and 2 million likes. She believes her success on Xiaohongshu comes from forming a genuine connection with her followers.

“I post everything about me, about my life, to make my followers understand me more, a real me. Even my daily mood,” she earlier told WWD.

Wang also posts on Weibo, Instagram and Bilibili, a Chinese video site, but her content resonates the most with Xiaohongshu’s narrow psychographic and demographic concentration on young, internationally minded, fashion-forward females consumers.

Other major native fashion and beauty influencers on Xiaohongshu include Enru Lin, Coco Zhan, Baiyang Chen and Meiqi, with followings ranging from 1.28 million to 2.48 million. What they have in common is that they all have the girl-next-door vibe that Xiaohongshu’s users tend to gravitate toward.

Another of China’s social media inventions, TikTok, has no prominent native fashion influencer so far, but one beauty influencer, Austin Li, has become a sensation. He posts or live-streams his honest lipstick or skin-care product reviews on TikTok and millions buy into his recommendations.

LVMH China CEO Andrew Wu in conversation with TikTok beauty influencer Austin Li

LVMH China ceo Andrew Wu in conversation with TikTok beauty influencer Austin Li.  Courtesy Photo

Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma did a lipstick review contest with him, and LVMH’s China chief executive officer Andrew Wu hosted a talk with him for employees of LVMH Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy in China. His catchphrase “Oh, my God” has gone viral and many people now use it when they approve of a product they like.

While some have become the dominant forces in their respective channels, others want to rise above the platforms and establish a global presence. Anny Fan is a prime example. She is the first Chinese influencer to sign with The Society Management, a talent management company that specializes in fashion, beauty, pop culture and digital media. It also represents the likes of Adriana Lima, Liu Wen and Kendall Jenner.

“Keeping up with the latest Western fashion trends and news aside, I encourage my readers to have independent and critical thinking and hold an international and inclusive view toward beauty,” she said. Fan splits her time between Shanghai and New York in order to keep up with both worlds.

Her 300,000 WeChat and 4.92 million Weibo followers enjoy a good read, such as how Kim Kardashian and Kanye West tied the knot and started a family together.

Working with influencer status editors also is an option for brands. Sherry Shen, fashion director at Elle Men China; Yoyo Lu, editor in chief at Instyle China; Jojo Qian, fashion director at T Magazine China, and Tang Shuang, deputy publisher at Vogue China, are examples of people who combine their style with professional skills.

“I have been working in fashion for 10 years, but I think most people know me from street style pictures. I think their following is one form of acknowledgment to my editor identity,” Shen said. “I do work with brands, but only with a few that I truly love. My livelihood does not depend on them. “