Here’s Why Fashion Magazines Are Thriving In China (Psst! They’re Celebrities)

Leon Chang, a Beijing-based feature film director working in fashion media, thinks this year has been a turning point for fashion media.

Growing up as a fan of couture and fashion, Chang charted his future from a young age. Even in high school, he knew he would one day be the editor of a fashion-focused publication.

Last May, he accepted an offer from a newly launched magazine, climbing to a managerial level after years of internships and, later, editorial work.

The publication, GLASS Review, is a British fashion title targeting a female audience. And although the title has been published on Queen’s Floor since 2009, it only launched a Chinese edition last March.

As a newcomer, A GLASS quickly gained recognition in the competitive field of fashion media.

“Here we have a special method of managing fashion magazines,” says Chang, explaining that the publication does business collaborations with brands to take advantage of creative content.

“The Chinese market is very special,” he adds. Specifically, Chang is referring to China’s lucrative celebrity economy, which thrives in the age of social media, making the magazine industry profitable.

As the print media industry experiences a decline in much of the Western world, it may surprise some to learn that fashion publications in China are booming.

In reality, A GLASS isn’t even the last to join the crowd of magazines vying for a place at the top.

Another British fashion magazine, ATTITUDE, was launched this month under the aegis of a new company founded by former Condé Nast China publisher Paco Tang. ATTITUDE published its first article in Chinese on the digital platform WeChat on November 18.

Additionally, the biannual British fashion magazine Schön! launched its Chinese version last month, while in June, the Spanish fashion magazine Metal also launched a Chinese edition.

Aside from international headlines, the Chinese market is also full of local fashion magazines, with several national publications launching this year including COSTS, XBlush, and PAUSE.

It looks like fashion magazines in China are, perhaps unexpectedly, thriving, with the domestic market opening new doors in an industry said to be dying.

More for readers

On September 20, 12 teams of the film The Battle of Changjin Lake gathered in Beijing for the Beijing International Film Festival. Hordes of directors, producers and film actors walked the red carpet, answering journalists’ questions.

The film crews also did something unusual – a fashion shoot in the cinema.

“Today, fashion magazines are more of a creative agency,” Chang explains. “In addition to The Battle of Changjin Lake, we also collaborated with another movie called Everything about my mother.

He explains to RADII that the way fashion magazines work today looks like Business-to-business (B2B) transactions, targeting commercial brands instead of regular readers.

“We offer fashion photo ops, interviews and magazine covers to our clients, and we have already done a lot of business projects with brands and films,” Chang says.

GLASS Chinafashion shoot for film The Battle of Changjin Lake. Image via Weibo

A great example of how magazines are turning to brand collaborations: September 27, GLASS Review job a video for the Italian fashion brand Max & Co on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging platform. The footage is less than a minute long and features an emerging actress Tan Songyun, which has over 23 million subscribers on Weibo.

“Back when I started working in fashion magazines, it was rare to see brands turn to fashion magazines for their advertising,” Chang says, “but that’s a good thing because the income is positive.

china fashion magazines

A selection of successful magazines on an online store on the Chinese shopping platform Taobao, among which the GQ China The October issue featuring pop idol Wang Yibo is the most popular. Screenshot via Taobao

This shift in focus highlights a startling truth: Chinese fashion magazines are abandoning readers.

“It’s all about celebrities, and the quality characteristics of fashion are diminishing,” says Maoheng Luo, a 19-year-old fashion magazine collector from Sichuan University.

Idols = Big Business

Another important component of the success of mainland Chinese fashion media is their ability to leverage celebrity popularity to tap into the culture of the country’s rabid fans.

“I borrowed a warehouse to store magazines. Go buy more guys! a celebrity fan posted on Weibo in March 2020, referring to actor Zhu Yilong’s appearance on the cover of SHEthe April issue.

And earlier this year, another celebrity fan shared records of purchases of Taobao, showing that she spent nearly 460,000 RMB to purchase more than 9,000 copies of the June 2021 issue of Vogue me, who staged it (now dishonored) idol Zhang zhehan. She bought the magazines with money raised by herself and other fans.

Clearly, fan culture in China has spiraled out of control in recent years on social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat, with many fans going to extreme financial efforts to support their idols.

This phenomenon can arguably be traced back to 2014, when Weibo launched a ranking called the ‘Star Power List‘as a benchmark for measuring the popularity of pop stars. However, the list took on new meaning for fans, as they fanatically invested money to push their idols to the top of the rankings.

Weibo has long been a major battleground for fans fighting for their idols. In August 2014, a single post from Luhan garnered over 13 million comments, beat a Guinness world record.

Luhan

Luhan was featured in the book Guinness World Record 2015. Image via Weibo

Fashion magazines have taken note of the opportunity offered by the extremely popular idols. In 2015, Harper’s Bazaar China Featured Kris wu on the cover for the first time, next to Xu Jinglei. In July of the same year, he became the first male pop star to appear on Vogue Chinaon the cover, alongside American model Kendall Jenner.

“It’s really something Chinese,” Chang says, “this relationship between fashion magazines and fans, and the fact that we run WeChat accounts instead of websites.”

In recent years, Chinese fashion magazines have started launching digital magazines through WeChat’s mini-program platform to further harness the power of the stars.

In 2018, Harper’s Bazaar China launched the very first digital magazine as a WeChat mini-program, featuring actors Bai Yu and Zhu Yilong from the bestselling boys love drama Guardian. The project sold more than 400,000 copies in three days.

The content of these digital fashion magazines focuses specifically on celebrities, and with prices ranging from 5-10 RMB per issue, they are much cheaper than the print editions.

Post-show repression

After a series of celebrity scandals this year, the Chinese government has took action to curb the country’s entertainment sector. Responding to these changes could lead to a period of evolution for the fashion industry.

“Everyone is trying new approaches,” Chang says. “But to be honest, young people don’t care about fashion magazines anymore. So, at the end of the day, the best way is to understand how fashion magazines can work with commercial brands, because fashion magazines always have the best fashion talent and sources.

“I’m sure there are changes [at fashion publications], because I see the publication of more locally relevant content [since the entertainment crackdown]”says PiPiJuiCe, a leading fashion blogger with over 1.7 million subscribers on Weibo.

But at the moment, it seems Chinese fashion magazines still can’t get rid of their need for celebrities. As long as international brands need it to expand into the Chinese market, fashion magazines will need it to appeal to customers.

“Obviously, celebrities make money,” says PiPiJuiCe. “Brands always choose stars and announce new ambassadors every day. “

He tells RADII that in addition to partnering with celebrities, Chinese fashion media companies can profit from purchasing copyrights to international titles. In fact, most of the recently launched fashion magazines in China are in fact international titles published by Chinese companies which have obtained the necessary rights.

Example: the French fashion magazine Jealous has been relaunched by China’s leading fandom platform Owhat in 2019. Although the fashion magazine has only published five issues so far, and according to Chinese media, its publication schedule has changed several times.

Jealous Zheng Shuang

The first cover of Jealous China starring actress Zheng Shuang, who has since been fined for alleged tax evasion. Image via Weibo

“People just want to make quick money” PiPiJuCe adds. “The most popular business model in fashion media is to contract with international titles and approach celebrities to work with brands. If the revenues can cover the costs, then they will survive; otherwise, they will die.

Cover image via Wang Junjie

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