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Art and luxury: a necessary relationship?

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Last week I attended a conference organized by my school on the relationship between luxury and art. The people around the table included Jennifer Flay, director of the FIAC art fair, and Lorenz Bäumer, a Place Vendôme high-jewelry designer who collaborated with Chanel for nearly 20 years. I found the discussion fascinating as it touched upon how our need to connect with art is used by brands as a marketing strategy. It is a debate that could go on and on but I just wanted to sum up the few points that were raised and elaborate a bit on them. And of course I would love to hear your opinion on the matter!

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Let’s start by a few definitions to see what separates luxury from art.

Luxury is an industry that creates objects that we use and wear with profitability goals in mind, hence for example the importance of it-bags in brand strategies.

Art by comparison questions and upsets. Art pieces are unique and have a meaning that is different to every one of us depending on our personal history. It can also be controversial. Lorenz Bäumer gave the example of Paul McCarthy’s Tree which was set up on Place Vendôme in October 2014. It sparked outrage and was damaged by protestors. After the terrorist attacks of January 2015, he felt people became more lenient towards art as they realized that freedom of speech should be protected. Broadly speaking, art has become more necessary than ever as an emotional relief when people find it harder to believe in formerly trustworthy values like politics and work.

What luxury and art do have in common is excellence and aesthetic, as well as bringing out a sense of comfort. The separation between them can be thin. There is this concept in Japan of “Living National Treasures”, craftsmen whose work is recognized as art for its level of excellence. And let’s not forget that designers are creatives too. Jennifer Flay talked about how fashion exhibitions were no different to her than art exhibitions. Indeed, I find it hard myself not to consider some haute-couture gowns as works of art. Not to mention that fashion can have a critical dimension. Yves Saint Laurent gave power to women with his Smoking; the tuxedo was controversial as women wearing pants were not allowed entrance in “good” restaurants and hotels in the 1970s. Later on, Jean Paul Gaultier challenged traditional gender roles with his collections. And there is a thin line between “designer” and “artist”. What do you make of designers who create costumes for art performances? I have in mind Riccardo Tisci who collaborated with the Paris Opera Ballet a couple of years ago.

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How do collaborations benefit luxury and art?

Collaborations between luxury and art can take many forms: sponsorships, commissions, creation of museums and performances to name a few. Not to mention that art can simply be a source of inspiration, as Yves Saint Laurent could testify with his Mondrian dresses.

One speaker pointed out that designers never call themselves “artists”: they are aware that they work on products, not works of art. Generally speaking, they have a great respect for art and collaborations often stem from the designers’ own passion. Marc Jacobs for example is known to be an avid collector and Louis Vuitton fashion flourished with partnerships during his time there. Collaborations could then be a means for luxury to get closer to a goal of emotional and aesthetical heights that only art can claim.

If we dig a little deeper, we can also see artistic collaborations as part of brands’ strategies to not lose their credibility. With globalization, partnerships with cheaper brands like H&M and the rise of social media, luxury has become widespread and no longer a precious rarity, thus losing its aura. Artistic partnerships allow brands to regain a touch of exclusivity. They create publicity for both parties and give access to different customers. Not that this is enough. Louis Vuitton is now considered too popular among luxury customers in the huge market that is China. Some of them go as far as to call it “a brand for secretaries”. Will initiatives such as the newly-opened Fondation Vuitton play a part in changing the brand’s image?

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That said, art benefits from luxury as well. The industry has been a long-time sponsor of artistic events and businessmen like François Pinault are known for supporting the arts.

As such, art is a marketing argument that mass brands have started to take advantage of as well. For example, H&M recently featured a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog on a bag. Absolut Vodka is active in the art world. Such collaborations give the illusion that the brand is more high-end than it is. This is the next step after partnerships with luxury brands and designers, in which Karl Lagerfeld played a big part with H&M and Coca-Cola. If art becomes more widespread among mass retailers, luxury brands might better refocus and advertize on what they do best: high-quality and exclusive products. Think Hermès.

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Hermès J’aime mon carré scarves at Colette in Paris

Dear readers, last week was all about Dior with the exhibition of his couture ball gowns and our visit to his childhood home. But this week, it’s Hermès week! I wish we had more of those, don’t you?

First off, let’s start with something brand new and eventful. Remember when I told you about Hermès’s online campaign, J’aime mon carré? The luxury brand has organized a series of fun events across the world to support it. In its hometown of Paris, the trendy concept store Colette is selling Hermès scarves in limited edition through October 16th. Crazy about Hermès as I am, I went to have a look on the first day of the event yesterday, and here are my pictures for you to see!

Hermès’s Parisian flagship store and Colette are located in the same street, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, a 10-minute walk away from each other. Yet, they are polar opposites in the mind of the shopper. Hermès has the identity of a traditional luxury brand that vows to not follow trends; though not fusty at all, the store is decorated with antiques and the scarves are displayed on an old wooden counter. Colette on the other hand is known for its trend-setting, its exclusivities and partnerships with prestigious brands (scroll down to the bottom of this page to watch a video showing the inside of the store). The products sold in this concept store range from small gadgets, sneakers, CDs, books and beauty products to high-fashion clothes and accessories by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs and Lanvin.

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Hermès’s decision to sell a range of scarves at Colette exclusively stems from their strategy to reach out to a younger market and consumers who would not have necessarily visited their own stores. What I find surprising with this event is that a brand that usually refuses to take part in hype is this time creating the hype to gain popularity among targeted consumers. The Acne x Lanvin collections that were sold at Colette reinforced the image of Lanvin as a fashionable brand for a trend-seeking generation, and the same thing is likely to happen now with Hermès. Young girls may not afford to buy Hermès scarves, but the J’aime mon carré campaign aims to build a feeling of desirability for the brand on the long term. If they can’t afford expensive accessories yet, young consumers can buy an Hermès perfume for now and trade up over time as their budget increases.

Moreover, it is not the first time Hermès strikes a partnership with a concept store. Last year, the brand created an exclusive limited edition range of scarves for Liberty of London.

Colette dedicates its two windows on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré to Hermès. In addition to a selection of scarves from the current Fall-Winter 2010 collection, the concept store offers 4 exclusive limited edition designs: the iconic Brides de Gala scarf in two different color combinations, the patchwork scarf (which is already sold out online), and a black losange with blue dots in cashmere and silk. The exclusive designs have “Hermès pour Colette” written on it, as you can see on the close-up picture of the Brides de Gala scarf. Prices range from 280€ for a regular scarf to 660€ for the losange.

The Hermès scarves on Colette's online store / Les carrés Hermès vendus exclusivement chez Colette (colette.com)

Hermès Sichuan scarf from the Fall 2010 collection / Modèle Sichuan de la collection automne 2010

The scarves are displayed in a big orange Hermès box temporarily installed on Colette’s 1st floor. On the counter facing the box, you can find a wonderful coffee-table book on Hermès scarves as well as a free 28-page magazine featuring the pictures from the J’aime mon carré campaign.

Unlike Merci, another major Parisian concept store, taking pictures inside Colette is a big no-no and the place is packed with security guards and salespeople. But I can share with you the pictures of the whole magazine.

What do you think of this campaign? Does it make you want to buy a scarf sold in limited edition at Colette or would you rather go for the regular collection in Hermès stores? Do you think it will change the image of Hermès and bring new customers to the brand?

Chers lecteurs, Si la semaine dernière était dédiée à Christian Dior avec l’exposition de ses robes de bal haute-couture et la visite de sa maison d’enfance à Granville, cette semaine, c’est la semaine Hermès !

Alors commençons par quelque chose de tout neuf et d’événementiel. Vous rappelez-vous mon billet sur la campagne Internet d’Hermès, J’aime mon carré ? La marque de luxe a organisé de nombreux événements à travers le monde pour la soutenir. Dans sa ville natale de Paris, le concept store Colette vend des carrés Hermès en série limitée et en exclusivité jusqu’au 16 octobre. Je suis allée y faire un tour hier au premier jour de l’événement, et voici mes photos !

Les boutiques Hermès et Colette, situées toutes les deux rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, sont diamétralement opposées dans leur identité. Hermès est une marque de luxe traditionnelle ; le flagship est décoré d’antiquités et les carrés y sont exposés sur un vieux comptoir en bois. Au contraire, Colette doit sa renommée à sa force de prescription sur les tendances, à ses exclusivités et ses partenariats avec des marques prestigieuses (vous pouvez voir l’intérieur du magasin dans la vidéo au bas de cette page). La sélection de ce concept store est très éclectique : gadgets, baskets, livres, CDs et produits de beauté, mais aussi vêtements et accessoires de marques de luxe comme Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs et Lanvin.

Hermès s’est associé avec Colette afin de toucher une cible de consommateurs jeunes. Cette marque qui d’habitude joue les discrètes crée de façon inattendue la tendance pour se rendre plus populaire. La collection Acne x Lanvin, elle aussi vendue chez Colette, avait renforcé l’image de Lanvin en tant que maison à suivre pour une génération éprise de mode, et ce phénomène risque bien de se reproduire pour Hermès. Le carré, produit autour duquel tourne la campagne, est trop cher pour une grande majorité de jeunes filles, mais il s’agit avant tout de créer un effet de désir sur le long terme pour une génération qui constitue les clients de demain. S’ils ne peuvent acheter d’accessoires Hermès pour l’instant, les jeunes peuvent commencer par s’offrir un parfum de la marque en attendant que leur pouvoir d’achat augmente. Puis, ce n’est pas la première fois qu’Hermès s’associe avec un concept store : l’année dernière, des carrés en édition limitée étaient vendus en exclusivité chez Liberty of London.

Colette dédie ses deux vitrines sur la rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré à Hermès. En plus d’une sélection de carrés de la collection automne-hiver 2010, Colette vend 4 modèles exclusifs en édition limitée : le mythique Brides de Gala en 2 coloris différents, le carré patchwork (déjà épuisé en ligne) et un losange en cachemire et soie noir à pois bleus. Les modèles exclusifs portent la signature « Hermès pour Colette » comme vous pouvez le voir sur le gros plan du Brides de Gala. Les prix vont de 280€ pour un carré à 660€ pour le losange. Les carrés sont exposés dans une grande boîte orange Hermès au 1er étage de Colette, et sur le comptoir en face vous trouverez le magnifique livre Le Carré Hermès ainsi qu’un magasine gratuit de 28 pages avec les images de la campagne J’aime mon carré. Contrairement à Merci, un autre grand concept store parisien, il est strictement interdit de prendre des photos à l’intérieur de Colette. Mais je peux au moins vous montrer les pages du magasine dans leur totalité.

Que pensez-vous de cette campagne ? Vous donne-t-elle envie d’acheter un carré en édition limitée chez Colette ou préféreriez-vous vous rendre en boutique Hermès ? Pensez-vous que J’aime mon carré va changer l’image de la marque et séduire une nouvelle clientèle ?