So the Prada IPO in Hong Kong was a bust. Their bet that the Chinese love of expensive handbags would pay off in stocks didn’t work. This got me thinking why the high-end Chinese consumer persists in a love of rather obvious luxury Italian brands while other (and in this diarist’s humble opinion, far better) Italian brands are either weak or not present in China. Lambretta scooters are beloved of many nations but rarely seen in China (import issues, I’ve long been told). Shanghai’s streets are choked, but where is the unbelievably cute re-designed Fiat 500? Why does China remain at least three years behind in sunglasses fashions with those bug-eyed things circa 2007, while Persol steals the hearts of many Europeans and Americans? Why has the excellent Campo Marzio designer stationery business not done better (and why does everyone buy overpriced, poorly-made-in-China Moleskine notebooks despite the fact that their quality has collapsed)? The obvious brands of Prada and Gucci predominate while Italy’s genuinely cool brands languish. It’s enough to make you cry into your Gaggia-made coffee and smash your biscotti in frustration.
Architects in Europe and China who like building really tall dominating structures seem to be having rather a lot of conferences in China at the moment. Perhaps this is because the European architects only feel loved in the height-obsessed PRC these days? London is currently in the midst of a long overdue backlash against soaring skyscrapers – the ugly Shard building is particularly unpopular at present. Skyscrapers may remain popular in China because this is a country run by a clique of aged males – and the public gets the architecture that its leaders decree. I can’t think of a prominent Chinese female architect. They must be around, but their male colleagues invariably steal all the glory. Like the leaders, they’re all male and past their prime so perhaps rather overly impressed by tall, thrusting things with angry little sharp tips! Just a thought.
The current buzzword in China is definitely “smart.” It seems everything is getting “smart” at the moment: transportation systems, power grids, medical treatment, logistics, housing sectors. But closer inspection indicates a wee bit of vocabulary inflation is going on – smart housing turns out to be just swipe-card-operated security doors, smart logistics are the old-fashioned RFID tags, smart medical treatment turns out to be those old remote alarm systems round the necks of seniors that go off when they take a tumble. The most egregious misuse of the word “smart” I’ve seen in China comes from the appliance guys Gree and telecom giant China Mobile, which are jointly marketing a “smart” air conditioner. According to their bumf: “If the temperature in a room drops below a certain threshold, or sensors in other parts of the building notice any temperature change, the air conditioning units will switch on or off accordingly.” Don’t all air conditioners do that anyway once you set the temperature? It turns out 2011’s “smart” is more like yesterday’s “average.”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that academics don’t get out much. Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine in Southern California, for example, are amazed that obese Chinese teens are eating lots of veggies in addition to their pre-packaged snacks. Note to the Keck researchers: everyone in Shanghai is eating veggies – it’s just that they’re deep fried!
Paul French is chief China representative of Access Asia