Gown Abroad

As mar­riage rates de­cline, a pho­tog­ra­phy mar­ket is boom­ing as young cou­ples seek au­then­tic­ity and con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion over­seas 为什么中国人喜欢海外旅拍婚纱照?

The World of Chinese - - Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter - BY HATTY LIU

对于热爱婚纱照的新人们,全世界都是拍摄地 Mar­riage rates may be de­clin­ing, but China's wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phy in­dus­try is boom­ing, partly thanks to a new fad: pack­age Euro­pean hol­i­days of­fer­ing daily photo shoots—gown rental and ro­man­tic swans in­cluded

GOWN ABROAD

Ms. Wu started every morn­ing of her two-day va­ca­tion in Prague with 4 a.m. wake-up calls. Be­fore noon, Wu and her hus­band had held hands on the Charles Bridge, sat with swans by the Vl­tava River, and kissed on the Prague Cas­tle grounds. In their rented white gown and tuxedo, they smiled again and again for be­mused tourists— and two pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers hired to doc­u­ment every mo­ment.

Around 11 a.m., Wu’s reg­i­men was forced to pause for the mid­day light and grow­ing crowds, be­fore re­sum­ing from late af­ter­noon to sun­down (which is as late as 9 p.m. in some ar­eas of Europe dur­ing sum­mer). The sched­ule left the Sichuan na­tive with lit­tle time for sight­see­ing or re­lax­ation, but Wu has no re­grets. “I liked the back­ground of red-roofed houses,” she tells TWOC. “It’s what we wanted for our wed­ding pho­tos.”

An authen­tic Bo­hemian back­ground doesn’t come cheap for new­ly­weds like Wu, who asked only to be iden­ti­fied by her sur­name (and de­clined to state ex­actly how much she paid for her en­tourage.) A search of list­ings on Taobao re­veals prices from 20,000 to 100,000 RMB for

“wed­ding gown travel pho­tog­ra­phy,” or hun­sha lü­pai (婚纱旅拍), in Prague. The Czech cap­i­tal is one of the top des­ti­na­tions for such photo shoots on the Pin­ter­est-like so­cial me­dia plat­form, Lit­tle Red Book.

Wu and her hus­band met up with their Chi­nese pho­tog­ra­phers and makeup artist lo­cally, but some cou­ples pay more to bring along their own pho­tog­ra­pher or videog­ra­pher on a cus­tom multi-city itin­er­ary. Oth­ers splurge on an all-in­clu­sive tour: trans­porta­tion, ho­tel, cos­tume rental, lan­guage as­sis­tance, and a lo­cal guide.

Des­ti­na­tion pho­to­shoots may be one rea­son that China’s wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phy mar­ket is still grow­ing at a steady rate of 1-2 per­cent per year, although mar­riage rates have de­clined since 2013. By 2023, the in­dus­try is ex­pected to be worth 63.7 bil­lion Rmb—even though, by then, it’s es­ti­mated only 60 per­cent as many mar­riages will take place as com­pared to a decade ago.

It’s not clear when or how lü­pai be­came trendy, but its rise is def­i­nitely re­cent. A com­mon ex­pla­na­tion cites Tai­wanese pop singer Jay Chou, whose wed­ding pho­tos from Prague in 2014 led, anec­do­tally, to an in­crease in white-clad early ris­ers pos­ing on the Charles Bridge. Guangzhou-based pho­tog­ra­pher Liu Xiaoy­ing agrees, re­call­ing that when she and her hus­band started their stu­dio, A Plus Film, in 2014, des­ti­na­tion shoots were un­com­mon. To at­tract busi­ness, they called up wed­ding plan­ning com­pa­nies and slashed their fees.

To­day, though, the two pho­tog­ra­phers spend an av­er­age 180 days a year abroad, fly­ing to meet cou­ples at a dozen iconic des­ti­na­tions, such as Paris, Prague, Cinque Terre, Ice­land, Bali, and Turkey. The lat­ter is this year’s new hot lü­pai coun­try, ac­cord­ing to Liu. “It’s the most pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion on Lit­tle Red Book; it’s con­sid­ered mys­te­ri­ous and ex­otic, com­pared to some parts of Europe where lots of peo­ple have gone,” she says. “Lü­pai is def­i­nitely about

trends and com­pe­ti­tion. Peo­ple are in­flu­enced to go on them be­cause their friends have been.”

Europe re­mains the quin­tes­sen­tial lü­pai des­ti­na­tion, per­haps due to the unique his­tory of wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phy in China. In the 1930s, it was briefly in vogue for elite Shang­hai brides in white gowns to pho­to­graph their Western-style church wed­dings, but dur­ing the Maoist era, the “fash­ion” turned to pro­le­tar­ian poses and plain garb. New­ly­weds dur­ing the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion were most fond of be­ing pho­tographed with a dif­fer­ent lit­tle red book: The Quo­ta­tions of Chair­man Mao.

By the time Western wed­ding el­e­ments re­turned in the 80s, they were stripped of re­li­gious cer­e­mony and be­came con­sumerist sym­bols of China’s open­ing up. Por­trait stu­dios pro­vided back­drops with churches and Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture to re­in­force the Western aes­thetic. It was fash­ion for cou­ples to dis­play an en­larged wed­ding photo in their liv­ing room; thus, as Chi­nese homes in­creased in size and so­phis­ti­ca­tion, pho­to­shoots be­came more elab­o­rate.

Wu be­lieves the re­cent vogue for des­ti­na­tion wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phy is gen­er­a­tional. “Older peo­ple were used to tak­ing pho­tos in a stu­dio, but my gen­er­a­tion prefers more spon­ta­neous shots and out­door set­tings,” she says. Across China, these feel­ings have sent pha­lanxes of new­ly­weds to pose in for­mer colo­nial con­ces­sions— Gu­langyu Is­land in Xi­a­men, the Bund in Shang­hai—and ar­eas with im­i­ta­tion Euro­pean ar­chi­tec­ture, such as Tian­jin’s “Florence Town” hous­ing district or the World Park in Bei­jing.

But tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture has also grabbed new­ly­weds’ at­ten­tion: In 2015, the Im­pe­rial Ances­tral Tem­ple out­side the For­bid­den City even be­gan charg­ing 800 RMB for wed­ding shoots on its premises, claim­ing the fee is to com­pen­sate for the in­con­ve­nience caused to other vis­i­tors.

Opin­ions about Chi­nese cou­ples’ ar­chi­tec­tural tastes are di­vided. “As a per­son of Chi­nese blood…wed­ding pho­tos in Ja­pan, Europe, or the US feel too hack­neyed; the per­son doesn’t match the scenery,” opined one new­ly­wed, who opted to take pho­tos at the For­bid­den City, in a travel di­ary on Mafengwo.com. For oth­ers, it’s less about the na­tion­al­ity of the back­drop, than the au­then­tic­ity. “The lo­cal color and en­joy­ment of travel are not things you can repli­cate,” says Liu.

The ma­jor­ity of Liu’s lü­pai clients are those, like Wu, who have ex­pe­ri­ences of vis­it­ing or study­ing in for­eign coun­tries (which helps when ap­ply­ing for visas). “As the Chi­nese econ­omy im­proves, the cost of trav­el­ing abroad is low­ered, es­pe­cially com­pared with trav­el­ing do­mes­ti­cally,” she ex­plains. Roundtrip air­fare to Europe can be as low as 3,000 RMB, while flights within China some­times ex­ceed 2,000 RMB.

Then one has to con­sider the qual­ity of the ex­pe­ri­ence. “At many Chi­nese des­ti­na­tions, though it’s beau­ti­ful, the in­fra­struc­ture isn’t there for a good tourism ex­pe­ri­ence, com­pared to Euro­pean coun­tries,” Liu says. “There’s some­thing emo­tion­ally ful­fill­ing about vis­it­ing a de­vel­oped coun­try and see­ing the world, see­ing the di­verse ar­chi­tec­ture and cul­tures, the lo­cals con­grat­u­lat­ing you as they pass by—the clients get a lot of en­joy­ment.”

For Wu, a des­ti­na­tion shoot was sim­ply more in­ter­est­ing than go­ing to a stu­dio or a replica. “We get so few hol­i­days in China, so we wanted to make ours spe­cial,” she says. “We want to be able to look back on our wed­ding pho­tos later and re­call mem­o­ries.” Even she ad­mits, though, that her pho­to­graphic itin­er­ary wasn’t con­ducive for soak­ing up the lo­cal color. “Af­ter Prague, we went to Aus­tria for a few days. Just us, just sight­see­ing—no cam­eras.”

Lü­pai of­ten at­tracts stares and pho­tos by lo­cals and fel­low tourists

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