During her first official visit abroad to Russia on Friday, Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, sparked a surge of interest in domestic clothing brands.
Even though the temperature in Russia was -18 C, China's first lady was still able to dress in an elegant fashion, with a navy blue overcoat that was simple but well-tailored. It immediately aroused domestic consumers' curiosity.
"Is it made by some famous foreign designer?" "What's the brand?" "Where could I buy the same kind of overcoat?" These were some of the questions asked by netizens following the news and pictures of China's first lady.
Peng's handbag also drew attention and some speculated that it was made by a foreign designer. But various domestic industry insiders revealed on their Weibo accounts that the handbag and overcoat were both designed and made by Guangzhou-based brand Exception de Mixmind.
This was verified by the Guangzhou Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision Monday, but the brand's parent company, Mixmind Art & Design Co, refused to comment when contacted by the Global Times Monday.
Despite the company's silence, Exception de Mixmind has gained new fame around the country and is being seen as the next Micheal Kors, a US brand that was boosted by its popularity with US first lady Michelle Obama.
Rush of interest
At noon on Monday, the Exception de Mixmind store in the China World Mall in Beijing's Chaoyang district was crowded with young white-collar workers.
The five salespeople were busy dealing with all the customers, and one of them said the number of visitors to the store in the past two days had been twice the average amount.
According to a staff member from another of the brand's stores in Beijing, in shopping center Shin Kong Place, many customers want to buy the same kind of overcoat and handbag that Peng had. They couldn't get them, however, as the two items were individually customized and not mass-produced.
The only similar handbag, priced at more than 5,000 yuan ($805), has already sold out, said the staff member.
It was the same in the brand's other stores around the country. According to domestic media reports, the similar handbag has sold out both in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province and Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Inspired by such heated demand, some domestic firms have begun to advertise on taobao.com, China's largest C2C e-commerce platform, that they can tailor an overcoat, handbag and even shoes similar to those worn by Peng, for a total price of nearly 10,000 yuan.
One Taobao vendor told the Global Times Sunday on condition of anonymity that after placing such an advertisement Saturday, they received many inquiries about the products.
"Before it was worn by Peng Liyuan, I had never heard of this brand. I still cannot believe that a local brand could be as fashionable and well-designed as the famous global brands, like Louis Vuitton or Chanel, as well as being much cheaper. I plan to shift my focus to similar domestic brands," a Beijing-based luxury consumer, surnamed Pei, told the Global Times Monday.
Exception de Mixmind is one of China's first designer brands, and was jointly founded by Mao Jihong and Ma Ke in 1996.
The price of clothes in its latest spring collection reaches up to 2,500 yuan and its handbags are priced up to 5,000 yuan, compared to an average price for Louis Vuitton handbags of around 10,000 yuan in China.
The company rarely launches marketing promotions and never offers discounts, but it has successfully cultivated a group of loyal and affluent customers, a Mixmind designer surnamed Jiang told the Global Times Monday.
"We pursue special design and have clear product positioning, with refined clothing and bags for knowledgeable and independent ladies," she said.
A few years after opening business and having established its design style, the company opened five franchises and began to expand. Now there are 94 Exception de Mixmind stores nationwide, according to the firm's website.
Ji Jing, a Jiangsu-based designer, raised the concern that with increasing fame and exposure, Mixmind's future designs may become less unique.
"I hope that Mixmind's designers can treat their sudden popularity with a humble attitude and continue keeping a low profile and focusing on product quality, not fame," said Ji.
But Ji is still happy to see the surge in public interest in the company, as it means that more consumers will see the merits of domestic brands.
Peng's patronage of Exception de Mixmind will boost the development of brands created by domestic designers, Xiao Mingchao, general research executive at Beijing-based consultancy Sinomonitor International, told the Global Times Monday.
Many domestic brands saw a sharp increase in their share prices Monday, with Dalian-based men's clothes brand Trand seeing a jump of 10.01 percent in its shares.
Kai-Fu Lee, the former president of Google China, said on his Weibo Monday that Peng had set a good example for other government officials and their wives.
Inspired by Peng's example, more medium- and high-end consumers will choose clothing or tailoring services from domestic brands, Liu Yingmei, a Beijing-based clothing designer, told the Global Times Monday.
She noted that tailoring services are becoming more popular at the high end of the market and it is an area where domestic brands can succeed.
But it doesn't necessarily promise a boom for China's overall tailoring industry, as the people who can afford such services are still in the minority, she said.
Liang Jialing also contributed to this story.