Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

First lady in 'Kate' fashion frenzy

Chinese President Xi Jinping's wife Peng Liyuan smiles after arriving at the government airport Vnukovo II, outside Moscow (AP)
China's president Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan (AP)

China's new first lady Peng Liyuan's choice of attire has sparked a Duchess of Cambridge-style flurry of excitement over an independent homegrown label.

The fashion frenzy is an unusual phenomenon in a country where political figures are more frumpy than fashionable and wives usually shy away from the spotlight.

Images of Mrs Peng, 50, stepping off a plane arm-in-arm with her husband President Xi Jinping in Moscow on Friday have circulated widely on the Chinese internet, prompting praise of her style as understated and sophisticated.

Eagle-eyed fashion-savvy bloggers identified the leather handbag she carried and smart, double-breasted black trenchcoat she wore as items designed by Guangzhou-based label Exception. The brand has been described as one of China's leading independent labels whose simple but unique designs stand out in an industry dominated by Western copycats.

"First ladies are ambassadors of the culture and the design and of the soft power of a country. I'm glad that she chose to wear Chinese and take up that role of spokesperson for Chinese design here," said Hong Huang, publisher of the fashion magazine iLook and one of the most popular microbloggers in China.

Ms Hong said it was too early to tell if Mrs Peng's high-profile public appearance signalled that she would be playing a more significant role in Chinese politics than her predecessors, who - unlike many of their Western counterparts - have been largely unseen.

"It's good that finally China has a very pretty, very beautiful first lady and she can hopefully speak up for a lot more and complement whatever Xi wants to say, in a way, like all first ladies do," she said.

Online retailers have sought to associate their products with what news portals are terming the "Peng Liyuan style", with searches for those key words resulting in lists of handbags and trench coats, many of which did not even resemble the items she wore. Heavy online traffic to Exception's website has caused it to crash since Friday, with it loading only sporadically yesterday.

The impact Mrs Peng, a celebrated performer on state television, is having on fashion bears some similarity to trends sparked by the former Kate Middleton, who helped bring Brazilian-born designer Issa to the world's attention before her marriage to Prince William.

American first lady Michelle Obama has also lent cachet to designer Jason Wu by wearing a gown he custom-made to last month's inauguration.

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