The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has always had its eyes on China, whether it’s through pop-up exhibitions such as 2020’s the Art Deco-themed “Grand Time Hotel” in Shanghai, a comprehensive IP licensing strategy, or touring its blockbusters like the recent Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser at the UCCA in Beijing.

Now, the British institution is partnering with Hong Kong-based commercial properties corporation Swire Properties to bring its luxury-themed exhibition, Bags: Inside Out, to Chinese consumers in a traveling exhibition.

What’s happening

The 2020 exhibition is making its first international tour in China, stopping over in cities including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Image: Installation view of Bags: Inside Out at the V&A Museum

Bags: Inside Out originally debuted at the V&A in December 2020, making this China trip the exhibition’s first international tour. The exhibition will debut at the Taikoo Li Sanlitun shopping mall in Beijing between April 28 and May 27, later traveling to Swire Properties’ retail centers in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, and finally Hong Kong. All exhibitions will be free for the public to attend, with exclusive local programming designed for each city. 

Curated by Lucia Savi, the exhibition explores the individual, cultural, and societal impact of handbags. More than 240 objects are featured in the exhibition, ranging from 16th-century objets d’arts to modern handbags, including designer creations by Hermès, Dior, and Fendi, and handbags associated with pop culture icons like Tang Wei, Paris Hilton, Jackie Kennedy, and Chinese KOL, Mr. Bags.

Why it matters

In 2021, the exhibition was promoted to Chinese consumers with the help of local digital influencer, Mr. Bags. Image: V&A Museum on WeChat

As mentioned, the V&A has long been establishing relationships with China and Chinese consumers, with this latest effort to tour Bags: Inside Out tapping the country’s cultural appetite as much as its luxury market, what with the exhibition’s format and subject matter. As reported by Bain & Company, Chinese consumers spent $73.6 billion on luxury in 2021, a 36 percent increase from 2020. Based on the consultant group’s projections, China will be the world’s leading luxury market by 2025.

And as V&A’s Head of Licensing and Business Development, Lauren Sizeland, told Jing Culture & Commerce in 2021, “China is a country with thousands of years of history, and one of great energy and enterprise,” hence the museum’s continued bid to make local connections. In 2021, Bags was promoted across WeChat in collaboration with Chinese KOLs, including Mr. Bags, thus laying the groundwork for the upcoming touring exhibition. By doing so, the V&A offers an example of how Western institutions can build and maintain Chinese cultural relationships, especially when faced with growing nationalism, by materializing China-centered and China-aware consumer content.

What they said

“This inspirational V&A exhibition, which explores the cultural nuances behind the art of bag design, is part of our decades-long effort to make the arts a part of everyday life.” — Tim Blackburn, Chief Executive, Swire Properties


Jing Culture & Commerce