For followers of freestyle skiing and fashion alike, the buzz surrounding Winter Olympian Eileen Gu at this year’s Games has come as little surprise.
The 18-year-old’s gold medal performance in the big air competition thrust her into the global spotlight Tuesday, sparking such a furor in China that social media platform Weibo crashed under the weight of interest. But Gu has spent years establishing herself as both a top athlete and a hugely bankable model who appeals to brands in both Asia and the West.
In 2021, as she won gold medals at the skiing World Championships and Winter X Games, Gu was also forging lucrative partnerships with fashion houses and luxury labels. Signing for IMG Models, the agency representing Bella Hadid, Kate Moss and Hailey Bieber, she has penned deals with Louis Vuitton, Victoria’s Secret and Tiffany & Co., as well as the luxury Swiss watchmaker IWC and cosmetics brand Estée Lauder, among others.
In fact, the California-born athlete is among the most heavily sponsored athletes at these Olympics. She arrived in Beijing with more than 20 commercial partnerships, ranging from Beats by Dre headphones to Cadillac.
But it is Gu’s mass appeal in China, where she is known by her Chinese name Gu Ailing and has been nicknamed the “Snow Princess,” that makes her especially valuable to brands.
Having switched her sporting allegiance to her mother’s home country in 2019, Gu’s fluency in Mandarin has helped secure her place on Chinese TV ads, billboards and even milk cartons (as the face of Inner Mongolia-based Mengniu Dairy). E-commerce giant JD.com, cafe chain Luckin Coffee and telecoms firm China Mobile are among the growing list of mainland brands that she’s modeled for in recent months.
China is on track to become the world’s largest luxury market by 2025, according to consulting firm Bain. The Asian edition of marketing and advertising industry magazine Campaign estimated that new endorsements there could be earning the athlete around 15 million yuan ($2.5 million) apiece — and that was before her gold-medal success.
Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.
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