The Year of the Rat 2020 is fast descending upon us, and as the saying goes, “out with the old, in with the new.” Big brands have capitalized on that idea (and China’s newfound spending power) by launching new zodiac animal-themed products with each Lunar New Year.
The problem: rats aren’t exactly as glamorous as, say, a dragon or a tiger — see Moschino’s terrifying “Mickey Rat” line for what we mean — which poses a design challenge to brands looking to capitalize on this year’s holiday.
That’s probably why sneaker giants like Nike, which drops a range of exclusive designs every year for the occasion, turned instead to traditional Chinese culture for inspiration, with more abstract, colorful iterations of their Air Max 1, Kyrie 6, and Air Force 1 Low sneakers emblazoned with paper cut-style illustrations.
Adidas, meanwhile, went the embroidery route and released six limited edition designs, some of which contain no references to rats at all (like the Ultra Boost DNA pictured below, decorated with flowers and a tiger).
The challenge also prompted some brands to team up with some existing famous mice. Some, like Kate Spade, released a capsule collection with Tom & Jerry…
…while Gucci and Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning both went with the perhaps more obvious Mickey Mouse. The former just released an entire collection with Disney in time for “Year of the Mouse 2020” (complete with a campaign shot by director Harmony Korine).
Fellow luxury label Longchamp teamed up with Chinese online influencer Mr. Bags for a much cheesier collaboration: seven handbags and a T-shirt adorned with big, yellow slabs of Swiss cheese, a more tongue-in-cheek reference to the zodiac animal.
Speaking of luxury labels, China has become one of their biggest target markets — thanks in part to the country’s explosive industry of daigou, or overseas buyers — which has influenced how much more often brands release these New Year-exclusive products in the past several years.
It’s little surprise then that a slew of high-end jewelry and watchmakers, like Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, Blancpain, Swatch, and Louis Vuitton, have released rat-themed accessories this year. Chopard released a watch with this (rather adorable) image of a mouse, with the help of a Japanese studio that specializes in urushi, a lacquer painting technique.
Swarovski, meanwhile, released a set of their signature glitzy jewelry: aquamarine-colored earring and bracelet versions of mice, along with red earrings and watches decorated with the character “fu” (福) or “good fortune,” in collaboration with Beijing’s Palace Museum.
Not every brand nailed it for 2020, however. Luxury brand Chloé released a line of accessories decorated by Julie Verhoeven, whose illustrations were received as either “adorable” or “amateur-looking,” depending on which netizen you talk to.
And alongside the zodiac animal products, we mustn’t forget the advertisements that go with them. Though we haven’t yet seen the serious advertising screw-ups of years past, China’s lead-up to 2020 has still been generating plenty of chatter, with ads featuring gay couples, “China’s Beyoncé,” and a “red envelope” battle.
Header image: Nike “Year of the Rat” Air Max 1
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