Angelababy at the Dior flagship opening in Shanghai on Wednesday. Photograph by VCG for Getty Images.

Dior Defends Chinese Brand Ambassador Angelababy: “She Is Not a Baby”

Rachel Tashjian

Rachel Tashjian

In China, a luxury brand ambassador is nothing to shrug at.

Angelababy at the Dior flagship opening in Shanghai on Wednesday. Photograph by VCG for Getty Images.

At the reopening of Dior's Shanghai flagship on Wednesday, Dior C.E.O. Sidney Toledano had a strongly worded defense of the brand's controversial Chinese ambassador, the model and actress Angelababy. "Angelababy, frankly I think she is a good ambassador, she is not a baby, actually she is a mother, and she has the elegance, the allure that will appeal to customers," Toledano told WWD at the event. "When we do partnerships with someone, it's not about the number of followers, not about the number of Millennials she can capture or not. We're good at having ambassadors that have the kind of elegance that we like."

His protective tone might seem surprising—in America, luxury brand ambassadors are met with little more than a delighted shrug and flights of fancy about how they'll look in the designer's runway gowns on the red carpet. But the role of a brand ambassador is taken much more seriously in China, where consumers expect the values of a celebrity's personal brand to align seamlessly with those of the luxury label she is being paid to represent. When Dior announced on April 28 of this year that Angelababy, who is sometimes called the "Kim Kardashian of China," would be a face of the brand, the reaction online was swift and overwhelmingly negative.

"Why did Dior decide to destroy its high-end public image?" wrote a user name "William sabixi" on the social media platform Weibo, according to Jing Daily. Wrote "BETTERemma": "Does Dior really believe Angelababy can boost its sales? The brand should really do more market research when making decisions like this one." Another commenter said, "It's time for me to say goodbye to the brand that I've loved for more than 10 years." (Dior & I? More like Dior or I!)

"By the time of this publication," wrote Jing Daily, which ran its story a week after the announcement, "the number of comments under the original Weibo post topped 50,000 (and it's been reposted more than 750,000 times), dwarfing Dior's average Weibo engagement."

Angelababy's claims to fame reveal the nuance with which Chinese consumers view their celebrities. She became a household name in 2014 as a star of a reality TV game show called Hurry Up, Brother (in one episode, according to Wikipedia, she was paired up with another cast member "to jokingly spite the rest of the male members for being unattractive and being unwelcoming"). Her wedding cost $31 million. (Um: cool.) In 2014, she was crowned both Weibo Goddess and Weibo Queen, and has over 80 million fans on the platform.

But those huge numbers don't translate to likability: "Even though she is certainly very well known in China, especially among youth and teenagers, her influence is not 100 percent positive," Jing Daily's Yiling Pan told Business of Fashion in June. "In fact, we tend to see her create online buzz that is more negative than positive."

In the United States, certain "popular" celebrities may be seen as un-aspirational—Kim Kardashian's struggle for acceptance in the fashion industry prior to her 2014 Vogue cover comes to mind—but the possibility to change the public's mind with a new stylist, a humanizing film role or interview, or simply a retreat from the public eye, always lingers. You align with a brand that reflects the values you'd prefer to be associated with (that's called a rebrand, baby!). Is it possible that by partnering with Dior, Angelababy might elevate her own brand in addition to giving the French luxury house a youthful edge?

"We want young people to dream about the brand," Toledano told WWD. According to a report released this past summer by RTG Consulting Group, Dior is the most relevant luxury label among Chinese consumers ages 15-24, which also happens to be Angelababy's fanbase. Sounds like the brand's found their dream girl.