In March, the Summer Palace in Beijing launched a range of ‘Empress’ lipsticks which promptly sold out on Tmall within 24 hours.
The collection was a partnership between the UNESCO world heritage site and local cosmetics brand Catkin.
Selling national pride
Matthieu Rochette-Schneider, Greater China and Southeast Asia General Manager of design agency centdegrés said the success of this collection was expected due to the popularity of the Palace Museum lipsticks range, which was launched last December.
The Palace Museum, a national museum housed in the Forbidden City in Beijing sold over 100,000 lipsticks within four days of its launch.
The craze for such historically-inspired cosmetics is driven by the Chinese consumers’ desire to explore their own heritage and culture.
This sudden surge of national pride among the Chinese is due, to a certain extent, the economic success of China, said Rochette-Schneider.
“We have gone from ‘made-in-China’, which has a negative connotation that reminds us of mass production factories, to ‘created-in-China’,” said Rochette-Schneider.
“This makes Chinese consumers think about companies such as Alibaba, Xiaomi, Baidu and Tencent – local companies that have gone on to compete with big Western companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. The rise of these companies helps Chinese feel proud of their culture.”
Rochette-Schneider added that millennials were playing a huge role in contributing to the interest in China’s heritage.
“Millennials have a desire to explore their own cultural heritage. They didn’t live through the past difficulties in China and this ‘clean slate’ makes it easier for them to feel proud of their culture.”
A tribute to Chinese culture
Centdegrés believes the industry is witnessing the beginning of products inspired by China’s storied past.
The interest in imperial China is fuelled by the popularity of Chinese period dramas such as ‘Story of Yanxi Palace’.
“We really think that this is only the beginning and we are seeing a lot of foreign brands that are using heritage to resonate with the Chinese consumer,” said Rochette-Schneider.
For foreign brands hoping to capitalise on the trend, Rochette-Schneider cautioned that it has to be tasteful and respectful.
“Story-telling about Chinese culture is welcomed by consumers but culture can be a sensitive topic and it needs to be done in an honest way. A foreign brand has to show it is a tribute to the Chinese culture.”
For instance, the Palace Museum and Summer Palace collections took inspiration from real ancient pieces, such as Empress Cixi’s very own the embroidered screen.
The piece inspired the packaging of the Summer Palace lipstick and was printed using 3D-printing technology to give it the texture of embroidery.
He added that colour was also a key element to the success of the products.
“Colour is a really important element. For the Palace Museum lipsticks what’s important is that the colours were picked really well. They were inspired by real ancient pieces in the museum and modernised.”