China’s first lady makes made-in-China designer goods cool overnight

“Peng Liyuan, who are you wearing?”
“Peng Liyuan, who are you wearing?”
Image: AP Photo / Ivan Sekretarev
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Chinese media were ablaze over the weekend with photos of Xi Jinping’s glamorous wife Peng Liyuan during the couple’s diplomatic visit to Russia last week. Turns out, Jing Daily reports, a handome black bag that Peng carried was not made by the Italian luxury brand Tod’s as some had thought, but by a Chinese fashion company based in Guangzhou called Exception de Mixmind. The navy wool coat Peng paired with the bag was also made by the company.

A close of up of Peng’s handbag.
A close of up of Peng’s handbag.
Image: Jing Daily

This is unlikely to have been an accident. Peng’s public appearance is something of a novelty in China’s history of invisible first ladies (with a few exceptions like Mao Zedong’s third wife) and there is evidence, as we reported before, that China’s new leadership is deploying Peng, a folk music icon who is in many ways more famous than her husband, in a projection of Chinese “soft power”.

But Peng may have been doing more than just promoting a Chinese fashion line in a domestic and global luxury market dominated by foreign brands. (Copycats of the bag, which can retail for between 3,000 and 4,000 yuan (link in Chinese), $483-$644, were selling online, marketed as “first lady purses,” for as little as 49 yuan.) With a new leadership just having taken over, Peng seems to be appealing to the public’s sense of nationalism. Today, another photo of Peng, this time in Tanzania wearing a traditional Chinese dress associated with the early days of the People’s Republic, was circulating on Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo:

Image for article titled China’s first lady makes made-in-China designer goods cool overnight
Image: Sina Weibo

As Chinese bloggers and media gush over Peng’s style and poise (“America has Michelle, we have Peng Liyuan,” one blogger wrote), her focus on Chinese pride seems to be working. Some bloggers compared her to Song Qingling, the wife of Sun Yat Sen, the Chinese revolutionary who is considered the father of modern China. Another blogger wrote, ”I like this outfit. It’s not only dignified, but has Chinese character to it.”