How Kris Wu became one of luxury's leading faces
Guangzhou native Kris Wu has gone from being a fledgling K-pop star to a fully-fledged celebrity in a few short years. The 26-year-old’s face can be seen on billboards and magazine covers, in pop videos and commercials, and increasingly on the big screen. He boasts more than 22 million followers on Weibo, and close to 5 million on Instagram.
Wu’s showbiz career began in 2012 when he played a leading role in the South Korean-Chinese K-pop boy band Exo. At the time, Dazed magazine claimed they were, “bigger than One Direction”. Wu left the group in 2014 after an acrimonious bust-up with his management agency, S.M. Entertainment. He launched a successful solo career, his first single "Time Boils the Rain" reportedly exceeded 1 million plays on Weibo in 3 hours 25 minutes, faster than any song before it.
Kris mania caught on; he was the youngest star to be recreated in wax at Madame Tussauds Shanghai. He was also chosen by Vogue China to attend the 2015 Met Gala – the first male Chinese star to stride that red carpet.
None of this has happened by accident: Wu works extremely hard. A typical day might involve a press event in Shanghai followed by an appearance on set, a flight to Beijing, a couple of hours in the recording studio, a shoot, another press event – topped off by an opening ceremony.
Or it might be a star turn in a gala: Wu made a recent appearance at Sands Cotai Arena to take part in the 17 Happy Gathering – LEXUS 2017 JSTV New Year’s Eve Concert. The event featured a huge cast of pop idols – but all eyes were on Wu as he turned in an electric performance with a full crew of backing dancers.
With all these commitments, it can be hard to make sense of the apparent chaos. But the three constant themes in Wu's career have been music, film and fashion. And though he started out in music and has made inroads into the movie industry, fashion is the bridge he has used to traverse those disciplines.
“I’m really interested in it,” he says. “I keep track of fashion news and trends and observe the field seriously. When I was small and just starting to learn about fashion, I tried to imitate some style icons. But as I grow older, my fashion sense has matured.”
His fashion savvy has enabled Wu to negotiate his way around the lucrative world of luxury product endorsements. Such endorsements can pay huge dividends for star and brand. Wu has reached a point where, he says, “I’ve been following my own way”.
Wu’s success is a case study in how companies and celebrities enhance each other’s visibility. Social media-savvy brands don’t just get stars to model their wares: in 2016 Burberry asked Wu – its first non-British ambassador – to curate a series of looks: “The Kris Wu Edit”, developed with Christopher Bailey (Wu says Bailey gave him “a lot of freedom and greatly respected my opinions”). Wu also closed Burberry’s January 2016 menswear show in London, and appeared at their September 2016 event.
The soaring success of Wu/Burberry’s partnership convinced Barclays’ luxury goods analyst Julian Easthope to suggest Wu’s “brand heat” was partially responsible for Burberry’s improved financial performance in the last quarter of 2016 – specifically a 2 per cent like-for-like increase in sales.
“I keep an eye on global fashion trends by following social media and searching the web,” says Wu, who recently starred in Stephen Chow’s Lunar New Year record-breaker Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back. “I also have a lot of friends who love fashion; I get a lot of inspiration from daily life, and I integrate this into my own ideas to keep things fresh and interesting.”
Wu’s golden touch has attracted other fashion houses. Last year, he also became Bulgari’s brand ambassador in China, the media fanfare accompanied by dark, cinematic commercials directed by Eugenio Recuenco depicting a rebellious Wu, dressing up (or down) and stalking through a stately home. “I’ve just followed my own character. To me, style is about searching for your own direction and expressing it.”
So why Bulgari? “Bulgari has always been one of my favourite brands,” Wu says. “The designs are so beautiful, graceful, elegant. It matches my style. So I was very happy to get the chance to work with them.”
Wu says there is no danger of him growing complacent. “I dare not say that I’m very successful - I’m still learning and growing. I just hope I can make better work in all sorts of aspects in the future.”
Kris Wu on the big screen
Wu made his film debut in February 2015 in Xu Jinglei’s romantic drama Somewhere Only We Know. An instant hit, it debuted at No 1 at the Chinese box office.
Appearances in Hu Guan’s Mr. Six in 2015 and Stephen Chow’s 2016 box-office smash hit The Mermaid established his big-screen presence within a short time.
In January 2017, Wu appeared in his first English-speaking role in a major movie, in extreme-action blaster XXX: The Return of Xander Cage. Wu stars alongside Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson and Donnie Yen as Nicks, an uber-cool, streetwise DJ.
Also in January, Wu appeared in the role of the monk Tang Seng (also known as Tripitaka), in Tsui Hark’s outrageous Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, a retelling of the most famous of Chinese fantasies.
He’s due to appear in a succession of major movies this year, including Jingle Ma’s Europe Raiders, alongside Tony Leung Chiu-wai, and the science-fiction space adventure Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, directed by legendary French filmmaker Luc Besson.