Year of the Dragon: Fashion Elite Focus on China’s Wealthy during Dragon Week

  @cavanshays on January 27 2012 10:27 AM

Celebrants around the world commemorated Chinese New Year with fantastical fetes, welcoming the Year of the Dragon. Revelers from Hong Kong to Mexico rang in the Year of the Dragon, which symbolizes good fortune and power.  In China, families clean their home, hang red banners with messages of good luck, pay respects to ancestors and begin to plan and prepare meals for Jan. 23. Many families will cover their homes with red paper lanterns and decorations signifying good fortune, wealth, longevity and happiness.

However, in New York City, a different sort of celebration was held. For the fashion elite, the Year of the Dragon marked a special inaugural festivity - Dragon Week. Dragon Week, created by Affinity China, was a week-long luxury trip designed specifically for wealthy Chinese travelers. 

Dragon Week Extravaganza 

Dragon Week began in New York City on Sunday with a cocktail party at Yue-Sai Kan's Sutton Square townhouse. On Monday morning, guests were treated to a tour of J. Mendel's atelier by Gilles Mendel followed by a performance by internationally renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang. On Tuesday, Bergdorf Goodman held a private fashion show emceed by Linda Fargo, senior vice president of the fashion office and store presentation. The show featured Spring/Summer 2012 collections from designers such as Christian Louboutin, Givenchy and YSL. Afterwards, guests attended a cocktail party and dinner, hobnobbing alongside the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Zac Posen, Diane Von Furstenberg, Georgina Chapman and Naeem Khan.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg made an appearance at a gala held at the Empire State Building, where guests assembled on the 80th floor to watch the building's top light up in colors of gold and red to celebrate Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dragon. Ralph Lauren, Piaget and Coach held private shopping events for the group. Aerin Lauder, Estee Lauder's style and image director, gave a tour of its world headquarters. Luo Zilin, Miss China and the fourth runner-up in the 2011 Miss Universe pageant, graced many of the events.

This was our kickoff for our strategy, and I think it was absolutely the right thing to do, Bergdorf Goodman general manager Bill Brobston told WWD. I think we will continue to get good press here and in China. We made a lot of friends, and that is a very important start for an area of the world we are just not that familiar with. I think it was great.

Designers used Dragon Week as both a social and business opportunity. It is intriguing for me to understand the prospects of the business [in China] and for them to understand who I am and what I do, said designer Naeem Khan at the Bergdorf cocktail party. The media and the press will carry this forward from today's event that there is a Naeem Khan that exists and who does these kind of things. I just believe that is how I build my brand.

Guests sipped on champagne and munched on caviar while they glided from one stylish hot-spot to another, celebrating the commencement of the Year of the Dragon in style. 

Affinity China Tailors Experiences for China's Wealthy 

Christine Lu, a co-founder of Affinity China, was behind the preparation of the trip. Affinity China is a private network of invited guests, offering exclusive luxury lifestyle events and unique travel opportunities to individuals who venture beyond China. 

It was never about how many sales you can bring in for us, Lu told WWD. It was about how can [brands] position themselves to a demographic that is starting to travel the world, who are coming into stores and brands don't know how to reach them. Word of mouth is going to get out. Honestly many of the Chinese did not know who these brands are. No one had heard of J.Mendel. No one had heard of Bergdorf Goodman. 

We are extraordinarily happy, Chris Noble, president and co-founder of Affinity, told IBTimes. It's very rare that you are going to have week a like this, with Mayor Bloomberg attending your Empire State Building event. Also, to recognize this market and to make preparations for this kind of Chinese tourist. I was very, very pleased. Certainly, we received great attention from executives at the luxury and fashion brands we worked with.

Noble said that Affinity adheres to customization and tailoring. It is similar to when, in the 1950s, American Express grew from a wave of Americans traveling around the world and products and services were catered to them. Affinity gives Chinese travelers the comfort of home, combined with luxurious, memorable experiences is of the utmost importance. 

We have hundreds of thousands of Chinese who are going to be traveling in the next few years who have all the financial capital that they need to have these kinds of experiences, but might not know how to make those connections. Affinity uses its small private network of elite Chinese businesses and brands to find the perfect members. Dragon Week was just the beginning. 

With this event behind us, the thing for us to do next is to start preparing distribution in China of companies that want to resell our membership. Or, in many cases, those business that want to give one of memberships to one of their best clients or customers as an incentive or award, said Noble. Affinity has plans to come back to New York in October, as well as other dazzling cities around the world.

Affinity also understands the interests of Chinese travelers. Those motivated to vacation to the U.S. come for five reasons, said Noble: wine, golf, shopping, education and real estate. The education one if one you will see us developing more and more this year, doing college tours and boarding tours, he said. 

Maiden Voyage a Success 

A PR representative for the company told IBTimes that guests were thrilled with the outcome. Guests gave us very positive comments on how detail-oriented our efforts were this week, said the PR exec.  

I like the fact that they served champagne in the stores. I have never experienced that before, Lina Li, a 36-year-old from Wuhan, a city in inland China, told WWD. Li learned of the trip from a posting on Facebook. 

I think in the future, when I tell my rich Chinese friends, I will have a lot of rich friends who want to come and will be interested in this kind of event, she said. They want to feel good. I am going to tell them if you want to experience a new lifestyle and feel privileged and experience some local culture and have someone to take care of you but not like a regular tour, then this will be the best thing to do.

As this was the maiden trip, there were some snafus. Of the 300 access cards given out, some brands capped their events at 20 or 40 guests. A few invitees denied the invitation completely, choosing to stay in Mainland China to celebrate Chinese New Year with family. Many of the guests who attended were already living in the U.S., like second-generation Chinese studying at American colleges.

It was a learning experience for everyone, said Christine Lu, a co-founder of Affinity China, the company that organized the trip, which began in New York on Sunday. The story is not finished yet. Affinity is already planning similar trips for 2012, to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. 

However, at the end of the day, Affinity is focused on the people and cultivated an extraordinary experience. This market isn't just one mainland Chinese individual. It is the international traveler who has been around the world one hundred times. It is the businessman who sold his factory and is leaving China for the first time. Plus their children, said Noble.    

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