Until recently Han Huohuo was just a 20-something Chinese fashion blogger. Today he enjoys front-row seats at European catwalk shows and rubs shoulders with the editor of Chinese Vogue.
More than a million people now follow the wildly famous fashion blogger on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, and a leading website recently listed him among the country’s top 20 movers and shakers in the industry.
The 28-year-old’s flamboyant style – he favours women’s clutches, skintight black pants and the occasional high heel – and passion for the industry have won him fame in a country where fashion icons are just starting to emerge.
Experts say his rapid rise to fame over the past four years was propelled by international brands eager to latch onto anyone who holds sway in China – set to become the world’s largest luxury market by 2015, according to a Boston Consulting Group forecast.
“You’ve got so many luxury brands throwing money at China and they are grabbing people who have some sort of influence,” said Chloe Reuter, who runs a luxury communications agency in Shanghai, Reuter PR.
“It’s extraordinary what kind of stuff they get given. They fly first class and have chauffeurs.
“Because everything is very new, people are basically being catapulted into A-list segments – something that might take a lot longer anywhere else.”
Han’s unconventional style would stand out anywhere, but in China, it is particularly unusual.
His microblog – set against a leopard-print background – features a stream of portraits of himself stalking city streets in leather pants, designer purses, fur-lined coats and gold bracelets.
Part of his head is shaved, while what hair he has is long and swept back like a mane.
Not everyone likes his look, with some scorning his feminine style as “abnormal” and “evil”.
“It’s just like Lady Gaga,” Han said, referring to the pop star known for extravagant outfits. “A lot of people criticise her but many are also praising her because she did what others didn’t dare to do.
“The reason I got attention is that I did what others didn’t dare to do,” he added. “I think I encouraged a lot of people.”
Han launched his blog in 2008 but since then his microblog, which he began in 2009, has become his main outlet for expression.
He is now so well-known that he says he sometimes dresses down when he goes out to avoid being pestered for photos.
Han entered fashion early – and almost by accident.
Bored with university, he left to work as a travel writer for a Beijing magazine that decided to launch a fashion section. The management tapped Han to run the new venture simply because he was the youngest person in the office.
From there he became an editor at the Chinese version of Marie Claire magazine, where he built up his fashion knowledge and network, leaving four years later in 2010 to start his own projects.
Now his fame extends to the upper crust of the fashion world, including the editor of Chinese Vogue, Angelica Cheung.
Cheung says bloggers like Han are “very good in terms of influencing this younger generation of consumers”, but cautions that they could lose their position as quickly as they won it if they only post uninformed or unoriginal views.
“I think certainly these fashion bloggers create a lot of celebrities out of nothing,” she said. “The only ones who will remain are the ones who have real knowledge and insight into the fashion industry.
“Even with Han Huohuo, he’s still young. There’s still a lot to learn.”
And other fashion voices are cropping up as well – not only online personas such as “Dipsy” (270,000 followers) and Leaf Greener (30,000) but also artists including Yi Zhou, models like Du Juan and editors such as Cheung, said Reuter.
As he seeks to establish himself beyond his blog, Han has worked with labels including Hong Kong-based Linea Rosa to design shoes and clothing, compiled a fashion photography book and appeared as a judge on a Chinese fashion design television show.
He says his style has evolved into plainer clothing like T-shirts, although bold accessories – especially women’s purses – are still a must.
“Accessories must stand out,” he said. “I really like women’s clutches because I think men’s accessories are too ugly … They’re impossible to use.
“I don’t care what people say. I figure, I like them, and that’s the most important thing.”