The new, enhanced / advanced quiet luxury language of pèihuò 配货

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"Pèihuò 配货" is not a new term to me.  I knew it quite a while ago as it is used in supply chain studies with the meaning of "distribution; prepare goods for delivery according to an order"), as in the expression "pèihuò zhōngxīn 配货中心" ("distribution center").  Now, though, it has morphed into something altogether different.   if you Google "配货" today, it's all about this:

"‘Quiet luxury’ trend gets a fresh spin in China"

The stealth-wealth look has come to signify a new form of status

By Annachiara Biondi, Financial Times (8/14/23)

When 32-year-old Diane Luo bought a Loro Piana Extra Pocket L19 bag in Shanghai last year she didn’t need to do much apart from paying the pouch’s £1,910 price tag. This year, however, the popularity of the mini bag has surged so much that, Luo says, she would need to build a relationship with the sales staff before getting access to the coveted accessory, a trade-off known in Chinese as “pei huo”, which means buying some other goods to get the one that you really want.

“I care more about design than brand, and I don’t like items full of logos very much,” says Luo, who works in finance. “Loro Piana fits into the quiet and normcore style that has become trendy in the last two years. It’s simple and elegant.”

With its classical aesthetic, muted colour palette and focus on premium materials, LVMH-owned Loro Piana has been one of the beneficiaries of the “quiet luxury” trend — a preference for subtle and elegant designs that is currently popular among fashionable urbanites. In China, the trend is best known as “old money style”, a hashtag that currently has 53mn views on social platform Xiaohongshu, where influencers give tips on how to nail “nobility” through clothing.

In June and July, the Extra Pocket bag, which was launched in autumn/winter 2019, reached the second spot in Chinese luxury handbag KOL (an abbreviation used to describe a “key opinion leader”, or influencer, in China) Mr Bags’ list of “Top 30 trendiest bags”, the result of a monthly survey across the influencer’s following of more than 7mn across social platforms Weibo, Xiaohongshu and WeChat. Other understated accessories, such as the Hermès mini Lindy, the Loewe Paseo bag and the Margaux tote from American brand The Row made the cut. In a recent Weibo video titled “Old money bags 🔥 Which one is the most worth buying?”, Mr Bags sums up the trend as “elegance that doesn’t show off, a quiet style that bewitches people”.

The FT article goes on and on for many more paragraphs, with lots of name-dropping and mindboggling statistics about how much money is being spent on these understated but overrated bags by the ultra rich urban elite.  It closes with some sobering / disheartening thoughts from someone whom I would not have expected to utter them:

“Today’s trends reflect more of a continuing widening of wealth disparities than a quest for common prosperity,” Pooky Lee, fashion curator and co-director of Shanghai-based creative agency Poptag, writes via email. “The polarisation of the local market perfectly reflects this: people either buy high-end luxury goods or buy Uniqlo. There’s less and less room for others.”

Another confessional admission of what the revamped term pèihuò 配货 means from someone in the business appeared last year (11/02/22) in Chinese (available here; see also here), with a photograph of the coveted bags:

[VHM:  translation by GT; I have added quotation marks to "distribution" when it is the translation for "pèihuò 配货" in the current sense of the term]

To put it bluntly, "distribution" is a mandatory bundled sale. You want to buy this item. I'm sorry, but if you don't buy a certain amount of other items, I won't sell it to you. Although this sounds too domineering, I will not say these words outright. It's "If you don't order the goods, then the things you want to buy will always be out of stock. If you make orders, the things you want to buy will naturally be available tomorrow." In the most typical field of luxury goods, "distribution" has become an unspoken rule between users and sales. Logically speaking, no one would pay for this kind of strong buying and selling business, but luxury goods are not only selling well, there are also people who specialize in "distribution" strategies and share how to make the most cost-effective "distribution".

A lexical item soars from the mundane to the sublime.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf]


  1. Thomas Hutcheson said,

    August 14, 2023 @ 2:02 pm

    Bundling can make sense when the elasticities of demand for the items are different for different people. Essentially, it is a way to price discriminate which benefits both buyers and sellers.

  2. Shimon Edelman said,

    August 14, 2023 @ 3:00 pm

    Back in the old USSR, this was a common method employed by the management of state-run stores to help fulfill the sales plan (itself a consequence of the manufacturing plan). You want a desirable but hard-to-get or "deficit" (трудно достать / дефицитный) item? Buy some of the stuff that nobody wants but is overproduced — нагрузка (literally "extra weight" or "ballast") — and we just might throw in the thing that you desire.

  3. Jerry Packard said,

    August 14, 2023 @ 6:58 pm

    Then how do they say ‘fulfillment center?’

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