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Peng gives China its own 'Jason Wu moment'

It is no longer Michelle Obama’s “privilege” to be the “First Lady of Fashion”, whose choice of “designer duds” boost designers and “budget-friendly pieces subsequently fly off the shelves”. Peng Liyuan, referred to by many Chinese web users as Diyi Furen (第一夫人, first lady), has started the “Peng effect” in China, in a similar vein as “Kate Middleton effect”. Not only did she create quite a fashion frenzy amongst the Chinese, she also sent the stock price of Chinese domestic fashion brands up by 0.5% the very next day following her eye-catching international debut with her husband Xi Jinping on his first state visit as China’s president. The apparel stocks continues to perform well ever since in China's stock market.

A mashup of Peng in her various fashionable gowns and suits during her overseas trip as China's First Lady posted by fans on Weibo. Photo: weibo.com

Peng Liyuan, praised by the western media as “graceful” and “glamorous”, was popular with the Chinese public even before she became China’s First Lady because of her celebrated singing and performing career as well as her support for social causes as Chinese Health Ministry's Ambassador for HIV/AIDS Prevention and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Her elegant international debut was an instant hit with the Chinese who, as always, managed to figure out that the brand of Peng’s black leather bag and her “smart, double-breasted black trenchcoat” are the works of a Guangzhou-based label “Exception de MIXMIND”, despite the official hush-hush over such personal details of the Chinese leaders and their family.

Overnight, “exception” became a hot word on the Chinese Internet. Almost immediately after Xi and Peng’s Moscow images hit the news, on taobao.com, an Ebay-like popular Chinese on-line shopping website, same-style coats as Peng’s were put on sale with Peng inadvertently serving as the model with the picture of her waving from the plane in Moscow posted to promote sales. The coat was sold at 499 yuan (roughly $81).

Tight Internet censorship followed suit. The ads featuring similar items to Peng's handbag and coat were soon deleted by the "skittish" taobao.com for fear that they might spell trouble due to the "sensitivity" of the subject- Peng Liyuan.

One of the ads that was deleted on taobao.com selling same-style coats as Peng Liyuan's seen in the picture. Photo: weibo.com

Weibo, China's twitter equivalence was also abuzz with pictures and talks about the fashionable and refined First Lady, who the users think represents China well. Probably due to the overwhelmingly positive reactions, Peng's full name and the word "First Lady" appear not to have been blocked on Weibo's search function. However, searches for "Peng Liyuan same design" and "First Lady same design" were blocked.

The Internet frenzy was only a tip of the iceberg that is the "Peng Effect", which is spreading across the country. Multiple reports have surfaced about customers scrambling to Exception's retail stores for similar items to Peng's debut attire and accessory. Exception’s website, which apparently couldn’t stand the sudden surge of visitors, crashed on March 26 and recovered a day later. Mao Jihong (毛继鸿), founder of Exception, was reportedly planning to "disappear" for a certain period because too many people were looking for him.

Peng Liyuan shares a toast with South Africa's first lady during an official lunch hosted by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma and his wife. What else is she going to share with the world as China's First Lady? Photo: Reuters

Peng's deliberate choice of domestic brands has been called "Peng Liyuan Style" by the Chinese netizens, which is seen by some China media as an encouragement to the homegrown fashion businesses and has raised hope that it will "change people's mind about made-in-China products at least in the short term". Many people have taken this opportunity to clamor for the rejuvenation of the Chinese national brands. Peng, with her ever-growing popularity and profile, is gradually taking up the role of the "First Lady" in the same way as her western counterparts do. The world is watching what changes she could help to bring to China.


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