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The new year on the traditional Chinese calendar starts today.

Each year, fashion labels seeking to cash in on the coming Lunar New Year turn to the corresponding zodiac animal for cutesy designs. They've made doggy denim jackets, tiny pig charms, monkey necklaces and rooster handbags. But this time, designers don't have an adorable rabbit or fiery dragon to work with.

No, 2020 is the Year of the Rat.

Of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs -- which also include goats, tigers, oxen and snakes -- the rat is perhaps the least appealing. That's a problem for apparel and luxury retailers that have increasingly latched onto the holiday and turned it into a global shopping event. In Paris, New York and beyond, stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's splash their shops in vivid red and hang the paper lanterns that symbolize wishes for a bright future.

There's a lot at stake: Chinese consumers are expected to contribute almost two-thirds of global growth in luxury spending heading into 2025, according to consulting firm McKinsey. And the impact extends well beyond China itself. The Lunar New Year is celebrated all over the world, especially in countries with large Chinese populations like Singapore and Indonesia. In the U.S., the party kicked off this week with parades in Los Angeles and New York.

These overseas shoppers are so crucial to companies that a lull in Chinese tourism over the past year sent ripples across the industry and caused stock declines at companies like Tiffany & Co. and Coach parent Tapestry Inc. Both companies responded by making plans to expand in China in order to reach shoppers on their home turf.

Adding to the problem is the new coronavirus that's gripping China as hundreds of millions of people travel for the Lunar New Year -- traditionally a time when revelers spend on goods from the top luxury brands. People wanting to avoid the risk of catching the virus will likely curtail anything but the most necessary travel, and avoid crowded areas, with shopping malls among them.

Meanwhile, luxury goods companies are taking differing approaches to tackling the rat issue. Some brands, like Longchamp, didn't even put an actual rat on their merchandise, opting for a more abstract rodent-adjacent alternative: cheese.

Fendi is selling leather goods with its logo print and a little polygonal rat with a yellow face and red body. The silk scarves and bandeau's in Salvatore Ferragamo sneaks mice into the floral prints in its New Year's collection Burberry integrated a rat wearing a pearl necklace onto its monogram. Mansur Gavriel released a line of bucket bags with a red rat motif. Coach designed a little rat charm that looks like an animal skeleton puzzle, while Marc Jacobs teamed with fashion label Stray Rats on a set of hoodies, tees and knitwear with rat silhouettes emblazoned across the chest.

Watchmakers and jewelers are on board too. A bright red Harry Winston watch in rose gold sets the silhouette of a rat against a mother-of-pearl dial. Faberge is selling a $9,500 red enamel egg locket with 17 round white diamonds set in yellow gold. There's a gold rat with diamond eyes hiding inside. They're calling it a "rat surprise."

Information for this article was contributed by Andrea Felsted of Bloomberg News.

Business on 01/25/2020

Print Headline: Rats center of fashion for Lunar New Year

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