Let’s take a look at the cultural reasons why Gucci failed, from my Taiwanese perspective.
Credit: All editorial photographs belong to Gucci.
I fully support the notion that there are no rules when it comes to fashion design and creativity, since it is very clear that fashion brands are releasing CNY collections aimed at the grand Asia region /Chinese market; so why is Chinese #socialmedia disliking Gucci’s Year of the Pig collection in particular?
Gucci wanted to embrace the Chinese Year of the Pig thematically, while keeping the collection based in the mindset of western/European structure, which theoretically could have been a good idea.
The collection we see right now, however, gives mixed signals and uncertain feelings to the culturally Chinese people who examine it.
‘Something is stuck in between, I am not sure how to like it, to like it from which aspect?’
Ideally, there should have been at least one culturally Chinese person in the design department to consult with when Gucci decided to rely heavily on pigs throughout the collection if they wanted their products to sell.
It is easy to just criticize Gucci’s attempt as purely ‘ugly design’, but there are more nuanced reasons behind its failure.
There are 3 key factors Gucci should have learned about how the Chinese New Year versus animal signs work, before they, or any fashion tycoons, approached designing them.
1. Each Chinese animal sign carries a unique positive meaning.
During CNY, the beginning of the lunar year, it is strictly positive words and deeds that should be said and done.
Chinese have a wide proverb book describing these meanings for each of the 12 animal signs; for example: Dragon is praised for its holiness and sublimity; Rabbit is favorited by its agility and docility.
2. In the Year of the Pig, the pig symbolizes prosperity, wealth, fertility, fattiness, ease, relaxation.
Skinny pigs are clearly against the correct interpretation of these symbols.
If the skinny pigs were printed on CNY decorations or red envelopes, they would never sell; if people received skinny pig printed gift boxes, they might not have the desired impression of prosperity and easy life.
To older generations and some more sensitive people, it could be an insult, or an unkind curse to invite bad luck.
‘How fat do the pigs look to you?’ ‘Not fat enough.’
3. ‘Zhu’ 豬 (pig) sounds exactly the same as ‘Zhu’ 諸 (entirety) and ‘Zhu’ 珠 (pearl, jewel), therefore a bunch of blessing proverbs that include the Chinese characters “entirety” and “pearl” are replaced with the character for “pig”.
「諸」事大吉 → 「豬」事大吉 (auspiciousness in everything)
「珠」圓玉潤 → 「豬」圓玉潤 (rounded like pearl and sleek like jade, used to describe someone fine and smooth in their voice, writing skills or body shape.)
We now understand what the Year of the Pig symbolizes to Chinese based on the 3 key factors explained above, and if you want Chinese customers to buy your pigs, they’d better convey these meanings.
But Gucci chose the wrong representatives — The Three Little Pigs, an English fable that warns against sloppiness and maybe to Chinese minds, the importance of collaborations.
Even more egregious than the Three Little Pigs reference, there are flying pigs, too. The flying pigs give a very direct implication to Christianity, Catholicism, flying horses and angel wings; all reflecting strong western/European cognition.
Maybe that’s what Gucci wanted to do?
They believed they had found an exquisite correlation between a Chinese animal sign with a widely known Western tale!
In my opinion, an elementary school student would be just as excited to discover he could put The Three Little Pigs tale in his Year of the Pig themed homework
Another thing worth pointing out is that in Gucci’s photo campaign, if you take out the explicitly Asian elements in it, it could be just any Western country house!
Look at the obviously English sandwiches, pastry stands, and tea cup sets (okay, those are historically Chinese in origin), the furniture, the wall paper…wow! There’s really nothing dedicated to Chinese New Year spirit, unfortunately.
You can’t just squeeze in two Asian models, two pigs, and wrongly themed pigs on shirts and call it a day!
That’s the point; Gucci did not convert the true joyful spirit behind the Year of the Pig’s meaning into a salable, profound, modern style.
Chinese customers are such a humongous group, some may assume that everyone is attracted by the theme of pigs because it is so culturally ingrained in us to love and esteem pigs on the eve of its namesake year.
Western fashion brands should take caution starting now, people in China and the grand Asian market who purchase luxuries do it because of good design sense and quality, they know what looks good and what is just pandering to them.
Undeniably, there are still parvenus or those who blindly buy luxury brands for the brands’ identity, but the critiques Gucci now currently faces on Chinese platforms illustrates that fashion brands should consider digging deeper than just the surface when it comes to symbols in their designs in order to please specific audiences in the future.
Here’s my favorite photo from Gucci’s Chinese New Year of the Pig Collection, and (ironically) there is no #Gucci in it.