Worn by American and European male sports stars and hip-hop artists, the classic four-leaf clover series of French luxury jewellery brand Van Cleef & Arpels has recently come into the trend spotlight, attracting attention from Chinese male consumers.
For the longest time, Van Cleef & Arpels was considered exclusive only to female customers, especially the brand’s classic four-leaf clover shape, which is closely associated with femininity due to its elegant and beautiful shape. In fact, the brand is so high-profile that it is now associated with style icons and royalty who have worn them such as Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Princess of Wales.
However, now with well-renowned athletes and singers going against the grain to break gender stereotypes in fashion, this luxury jewellery brand is beginning to catch on among men. Celebrities spotted sporting the timeless Van Cleef & Arpels lucky Alhambra necklaces and bracelets include American basketball player Lebron James and hip-hop artists Drake and A$AP Rocky.
What’s the appeal to Chinese men?
Perhaps one main reason as to why the luxury brand’s appearance on Western celebrities has gained traction among Chinese men is the boom in hip-hop music in China. What started out as a niche music genre boomed after the breakthrough premier of the 2017 TV Talent show, The Rap of China.
Apart from this love for hip-hop, Chinese men find the jewellery itself to fit their aesthetic like a glove. Not only does the brand carry a size large enough for men, but they can also pair it with their watches for an added sophisticated flair to their look. Moreover, as the four-leaf clover series comes in basic colours such as silver, black, blue, gold and green, some may even find it just the right amount of “pop” in colour for their wardrobe. Many Chinese men also appreciate the symbol of luck behind the four-leaf clover gemstones.
Moreover, given the uncertainty surrounding the world’s current economic environment, preserving wealth in a volatile market through luxury items such as watches and jewellery has become an important consideration for many consumers. As such, Van Cleef & Arpels tops the list in terms of luxury brands of preference for high-net-worth Chinese consumers.
Influence from the West: breaking gender stereotypes
In recent years in the West, many popular male stars, including Harry Styles, Jaden Smith, and Lil Nax X, have been wearing more and more women’s clothing. Even hip-hop artist A$AP Rocky has repeatedly shown donning on pearl necklaces with streetwear and formal wear, which has led to a wave of “Boy with Pearl” craze in the hip-hop music industry, attracting many Chinese young people who love hip-hop culture to follow suit. These experimental style male stars wearing women’s clothing also tend to choose jewellery with strong femininity to reflect the integration of the two genders.
The rising interest in this French jewellery brand by Chinese men is especially important as China underwent a crackdown on ‘effeminate’ aesthetics in entertainment shows in 2021. While the jewellery pieces themselves are not necessarily flamboyant and will most likely fly under the radar to the public eye, it is still a step in the right direction to adopting a more open mindset to what constitutes men’s fashion.
Of course, today’s fashion industry has undergone drastic changes, and traditional conservative jewellery brands have begun to follow. And with the new generation of consumers gradually becoming the main force of purchase, luxury brands are targeting the young market. Brands such as Cartier and Tiffany & Co. have been gradually shifting to targeting the young market, however Van Cleef & Arpels remains closely focused on its traditional image.
However, Van Cleef & Arpels has no intention of falling into the trap of youthfulness and fleeting trends. Even in a market like China, where young people lead luxury consumption, the French luxury jeweller still aims to lead consumers into the world of the brand through its rich narratives, rather than focusing on short-lived hype and changes in the market.
Is it Van Cleef & Arpels’ time to shine in China?
Without a doubt, the four-leaf lucky collection has become one of Van Cleef & Arpels’ most popular products and is considered by many Chinese consumers on social media to be among the most valuable pieces within the realm of high-end jewellery.
Compared to exaggerated patterns seen in other jewellery brands, Van Cleef & Arpels’ small and unassuming design is more likely to win the favour of the Chinese market. Moreover, the brand’s feminine elements can also highlight the wearer’s feminine and elegant character, which coincides with the aesthetic orientation of some Chinese consumers, male or female.
However, what people often overlook is that when more and more brands become homogenized because of the pursuit of young trends, a unique and stable brand image is still the basis of competitiveness. This focus not only strengthens its existing high-net-worth customer base for Van Cleef & Arpels but also attracts new consumer segments.
All in all, while it is still unclear whether or not the four-leaf clover jewellery brand will move beyond its reputation of royalty to something more streetwear in China, one thing is for certain: the influence of Western hip-hop in China is a great one and it is pushing the fashion debate about gender to new heights.