It’s been a big week for Elite. Not only is the modeling agency celebrating the 28th edition of its annual Model Look Contest in Shanghai, it has also just announced the launch of its first Chinese branch in the same city.
This will encourage local shoots, boost Chinese models’ careers worldwide, and add Asia onto Western models’ radars, explained Elite World’s president Vick Mihaci.
This is hardly a surprising move considering China is the world’s second largest luxury consumer while production costs remain remarkably low. Efforts by big western brands to target the local market are endless, ranging from the soaring number of Western mags’ Chinese editions (including the local-only Elle Man or Harper’s Bazaar Art, to Hermès’ China-only brand Shang Xia, to big brands like Burberry, Chanel putting on shows in Shanghai or Prada putting on a show in Beijing.
But Elite's new venture is a two-pronged effort: “Chinese people are extremely proud of their country, and like to see Chinese models in campaigns and fashion shows,” said Mihaci. In other words, it’s become obvious to luxury brands that they need to target Chinese customers where they shop, i.e. Europe. Forget the secondary, unspoken campaigns you see when traveling to Moscow, Qatar, or Beijing, featuring a local celebrity. Elite China will mean a more unified marketing effort between East and West, which means representing Chinese models for major international campaigns, as well as pairing Chinese brands with foreign models.
So is Shanghai about to become the fifth fashion capital? According to Mihaci, the country still has to do a lot of work on its production quality, and Elite “will set some standards,” by introducing “regulations on the working hours, the conditions, image rights--which are things that haven’t been established here yet.” This will set up universal standards, as Elite’s laws, fees, are the same from country to country, he added.
Yet not all seem to agree: “We know what we’re doing, thank you very much!” says Yi Guo, Vogue China’s style editor, “I mean, come on, we’re bailing you guys out of a recession, who’s learning from whom?” She added, "Any foreign company trying to break into China should get acquainted with the culture of business here...a local production company put on the Fendi show on the Great Wall for example, the politics of which was nearly impossible. The quality is here, you just have to look."
Photos: Paul Morel