Shoppers wait in line to enter a Guccio Gucci SpA store at Harbour City shopping mall, operated by Wharf Holdings Ltd., in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Gucci Strikes China Gold, Thanks to ‘Moonlight Clans’ Who Spend It All

(Bloomberg) -- Gucci’s brand is worth more than ever—thanks in part to young, spendthrift shoppers in China eager to shell out everything they earn on $2,900 velvet clutches or $1,400 crystal-studded sunglasses.

The value of Gucci’s label jumped a whopping 66 percent, to $22.4 billion, in 2018, according to a report by Kantar Millward Brown. It helped that the Italian fashion house had its best-ever year. In fact, the top 10 luxury labels rose in value by 28 percent over the past 12 months, compared with a 4 percent jump the year prior, according to the consulting firm. 

Much of Gucci’s growth was driven by a phenomenon among Chinese consumers that sounds more like a biker gang than a shopping demographic. “Moonlight clans” are groups of millennial shoppers bent on spending everything they earn on luxury goods, said Elspeth Cheung, global valuation director at Kantar’s BrandZ division. This new breed of spender represents a major cultural shift away from a more conservative consumer landscape in China. Now, as younger Chinese acclimate to President Xi Jinping’s vision of a nation with both abundance and opportunity, they’re beginning to react—and spend—accordingly. 

“The China Dream message was one of a stronger nation, with more equality, increasing income levels,” said Cheung. “It gave assurance to consumers that the future is bright.”

Gucci Strikes China Gold, Thanks to ‘Moonlight Clans’ Who Spend It All

That optimism is driving a tremendous rise in luxury brand value, both in Asia and all across the world—and not just for Gucci. French fashion house Dior saw the second-fastest growth, up 54 percent, while brand values slipped slightly for Prada and Chanel, according to the report. Hermès, Burberry, Rolex, and Cartier also saw substantial growth. Saint Laurent, owned by Gucci’s parent company Kering SA, was a newcomer to the top 10. Louis Vuitton, meanwhile, remains the most valuable luxury label at $41.1 billion.

Yet no brand may be cashing in more than Gucci. Sales spiked 42 percent in fiscal 2017, to $7.2 billion, with growth spread across all categories—from satchels and clutches to sneakers and moccasins. In fact, Kering rode the success of Gucci and Saint Laurent to its most profitable year ever. And Gucci’s momentum hasn’t stopped, with growth in the last quarter reaching 49 percent. 

China was Kering’s second-fastest-growing market across all its brands last year, up 18 percent at comparable exchange rates. The company said in March that it had benefited from “renewed consumer confidence and supportive government policies.”

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for more than a third of Gucci’s annual revenue. It launched its new online shop in China last summer, and in October held a celebrity laden party in Shanghai that transformed the courtyard of a historical villa into a lantern-adorned garden. In January, Gucci released a special collection before Chinese New Year celebrations: a line of totes, sweaters and jackets inspired by the year of the dog.

Gucci Strikes China Gold, Thanks to ‘Moonlight Clans’ Who Spend It All

Gucci’s renaissance, however, began back in 2015 and had little to do with China. When fashion designer Alessandro Michele replaced Frida Giannini as creative director, he set aside the neat lines, functionality and dash of flair expected of an Italian house of couture. Designs were instead filled with vivacious color and audacious prints. Dresses and pants were covered by ornate embroidery or evocative floral patterns. Everything was younger, bolder and embracing gender ambiguity. In a world that had come to be dominated by a ruthless minimalism, Gucci ran off in the opposite direction. And it worked.

Suddenly, the brand stood out in the endless churn of fashion cycles. Yes, the styles were risky, but wearing Gucci meant you were chic and confident enough to take a risk. And when you post your look online, it pops.

“The trust level in the brand has risen significantly, along with the brand value,” said Cheung. “With the rise of social media—with WeChat and Instagram being so important for fashion—if you want to stand out, you need to wear something that’s different.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.