Last year, COVID racism came to wet markets. Now Prada is trying to make them cool.

Prada's 2021 campaign, Feels Like Prada, sees the Italian brand take over Wuzhong Market, a wet market in Shanghai.

People visit Wuzhong Wet Market in Shanghai, China, decorated with Prada designs and logos as Prada takes over the entire market to launch its fall 2021 “Feels Like Prada” campaign. Photo: Chen Yuyu / VCG via Getty Images

Wet markets – the type of market at the center of a debate over the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – are now the subject of a haute couture takeover, in a campaign that challenges stereotypes markets such as dirty alleys and fertile ground for pathogens.

As of last Monday, the aisles of Wuzhong Market in downtown Shanghai, from vegetable shelves to flower stalls and meat display cases, have been lined with designer prints. Here, shoppers can find the most ordinary Chinese grocery store – a bunch of fresh leeks, a greasy bitter gourd, and a box of jujubes – all wrapped and wrapped in Prada packaging.

The revamped Wuzhong Market is part of the Italian fashion house’s Fall / Winter 2021 campaign, “Feels Like Prada”, which features a series of pop-ups around the world with local themes.

While Prada has not set out to make an explicit political statement, the description of the wet market as something of an ordinary farmer’s market disproves the idea that wet markets are unhygienic by design. In fact, the term simply refers to a market that sells fresh meat and other perishable goods, and there are dirty wet markets as well as clean, chic markets.

Today influencers are swarming the Wuzhong market for photo ops, posing with products, and doing everything influencers do.

But before Prada partnered with the market, wet markets were “viral” for another reason.

After the COVID-19 outbreak, several wet markets in central China’s Wuhan city, which sold a variety of wildlife, were suspected to be the source of transmission of the virus. These markets were later found, in fact, to have poor hygienic conditions and exchanged potential SARS-CoV-2 animal hosts, such as raccoon dogs, civets and mink.

Wet Asian markets and Asian cuisine around the world have been indiscriminately dismissed and the subject of racist jokes, a trend that still continues today.

The Prada campaign shows how wet markets have evolved over time and, in the case of China, have adapted to rising living standards while remaining an important local landmark.

But while Prada-branded Wuzhong Market continues to draw photo takers to its aisles, not everyone is happy with the new crowd magnet. Some decried the pervasive influence culture while young people flooded the local market with the Chinese equivalent of the “gram”.

Even before the Prada takeover, the Wuzhong market was already somewhat of a haven for local influencers. Since being renovated in 2019 to offer a photogenic retro interior, the two-story Wet Market has been a hotspot for influencers striving for the perfect grocery-chic snap.

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Linda Jennings

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