It's All About Lavish And Luxe Mooncakes For The Mid-Autumn Festival

Imagine your surprise upon opening a meticulously crafted jewelry box, expecting to find gems and accessories but instead discovering colorful, bite-sized artisan mooncakes. This multi-sensory experience is part of a growing trend in which mooncakes have transcended their humble origins to become luxurious objets d'art.

For centuries, mooncakes have symbolized unity and family reunions during the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday celebrated annually across Asia and Asian diasporas. Traditionally, mooncakes are round pastries with various fillings such as red bean paste, durian, or lotus seed paste, often featuring a salted egg yolk to represent the full moon. Whether baked to a golden-brown gloss or presented as non-baked, snowy-skin mochi treats, mooncakes have long been cherished tokens of tradition. The transformation into luxurious desserts and gifts is more recent, and Lady M's limited edition "Moonglow Gift Set," priced at $88 and featuring mooncakes in a keepsake box made from pink vegan leather, perfectly captures this evolution. 

"Each year, we strive to offer our customers something beyond the ordinary. Our mooncakes aren't just about the unique flavors; they're about the entire experience of giving and receiving," said Judy Cummings, Chief Marketing Officer at Lady M, in an exclusive conversation with Tasting Table. Cummings emphasized the brand's thoughtful attention to detail in crafting their Mid-Autumn Festival offerings — an attribute that has not gone unnoticed by their discerning clientele. "Our limited-edition mooncake gift sets released over the past two years have sold out within 2.5 weeks of launching," Cummings reports.

In high fashion, with mooncakes, go big or go home

Judy Cummings sees enormous potential in this evolving market, believing that consumer appetite for such luxurious takes on traditional treats is far from satiated. And Lady M isn't the only brand navigating and capitalizing on this mooncake trend. Luxury fashion houses and other brands have blended culinary craftsmanship with stunning designs, transforming mooncakes into lavish gifts over the years. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, high fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, CELINE, Hermès, and Gucci gift special mooncakes in ornate boxes to their VIP clients and stakeholders. These keepsake mooncake boxes from fashion houses are so exclusive that money can't buy them, and each year, the brands appear to outdo themselves and each other.

Louis Vuitton added a woodcut watermarking set complete with Ming dynasty prints and paints in their 2022 mooncake box. Baccarat designed a functional red music box with a golden bunny in the middle. In the past, Fendi had designed mooncake packaging shaped like a lantern equipped with LED strips ready to perform a spinning light show. The mooncakes? Tucked away in a hidden compartment. All this makes one wonder if the Mid-Autumn Festival is still all about the mooncakes or more about the fancy branded mooncake boxes now. Given the warm reception of luxe and lavish mooncakes over recent years and the burgeoning offerings from other luxury brands, it's clear that the mooncake is continuing its metamorphosis from a simple pastry into a symbol of extravagance and artistry.

The case for tradition in a world of mooncake opulence

The meteoric rise in the luxury mooncake market isn't confined to fashion houses, big brands, and boutique bakeries. The extravagance has become so pronounced that it attracted governmental scrutiny in China in 2019, where authorities have intervened to curb what they perceive as "societal excesses, excessive packaging," and inflated prices. Mooncakes are no longer just a customary dessert, and they're increasingly seen as a status symbol, observed Clarissa Wei, a Taipei-based journalist. "Over the years, the packaging has become more and more elaborate and is, in many ways, just as important — if not more — than the pastries themselves," said Wei in a conversation with The Guardian. Even facing regulation, some mooncakes are sold for nearly the maximum allowable retail price, enhancing their allure as luxury gifts rather than festival staples.

Yet as mooncakes evolve into works of art and symbols of prestige, there's something to be said for the beauty of tradition. So as the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, consider rediscovering the joy of simpler pleasures by making homemade mooncakes or visiting your local Asian bakery. These small businesses offer a range of mooncakes that, while perhaps less extravagant, are still rich in story, history, and flavor. This way, you can partake in a tradition that goes beyond the sparkle of opulence and luxury and back to the heart of what the Mid-Autumn Festival is all about — unity, family, and the appreciation of the harvest moon in all its natural splendor.