Art + Luxury: A winning formula for marketing high-end brands

In today's marketing landscape, luxury brands and the art world co-exist on a mutually beneficial basis. It makes sense after all - they share a lucrative cross-section of the population, a customer segment that may find itself equally excited over a limited edition designer handbag as a new sculpture from a buzzed about artist.

The line has been well and truly blurred of late, with art and luxury colliding to create the kind of cross-promotional opportunities the average brand could only dream of.

Take, for example, artist Jeff Koons (best known for his oversized balloon animals) printing iconic artworks on Louis Vuitton handbags earlier this year. Just as all good art should, the Masters collection courted controversy, and in turn, became one of the most talked about collaborations the fashion house had ever seen. 

This isn't the first time Koons has lent his vision to the fashion world (his work has also been reprinted on designs for Stella McCartney and H&M), and it wasn't the first time LVMH has enlisted an artist to breathe new life into their designs (Artists Richard Prince, Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami and Yayoi Kusama have all collaborated with the brand previously, among others), and it most certainly won't be the last.

Louis Vuitton chief executive Michael Burke was happy to spark a little 'conversation' with the collection:

 "People are going to be upset about the sacred entering the realm of the profane. But we like to do things that can be perceived as politically incorrect. If we are getting flak, we think we are doing something right."

While Koons (affectionately known as the art world's Kanye West) was just excited to extend his reach: “It’s a great platform for communication...I can put my work on the street!"

The bags were offered on a limited release at certain Louis Vuitton stores and at a pop-up store in New York, but LVMH heads attributed a 15% growth in Q1 to the collection in part.

It would seem that art + luxury fashion = a winning formula for LVMH, with several of their brands buying into the idea. Marc Jacobs' graffiti-script collaboration with Stephen Sprouse led the way in 2001, a move that saw a complete turn around in sales figures; but the artistic collaboration can go well beyond a printed handbag. Loewe collaborated with Soulwax in July this year to release a spoken-word dance track to celebrate their exhibition of archive designs and pop-up shop at Ibiza's Museum of Contemporary Art (take a look at Loewe's other artistic projects here). Céline's Phoebe Philo enlisted Danish artist Thomas Paulson (aka FOS) to create the spaces for her catwalk shows and the design of the Céline flagship store in London, while the brand hosted a retrospective by Isa Genzken at the MoMa in 2013. Givenchy's creative director Ricardo Tisci has also collaborated heavily with the art world, even bringing performance artist Marina Abramovic on as art director on 2015.

Photo: celine.com

Photo: celine.com

Fendi, beloved Italian fashion house with a decidedly edgy design aesthetic under the more recent leadership of Karl Lagerfeld, has cemented itself as a lover, and preserver of the arts. In 2013, the brand stumped up $4 million to go towards the much-needed restoration of Rome's iconic Trevi Fountain, one of the most visited sculptures in the world, and thanks to Federico Fellini, one of the most recognised symbols of European elegance and luxury. 

Once the restoration was complete, Fendi staged a catwalk show on a plexiglass runway across the width of the fountain to celebrate the brand's 90th anniversary. The show was a roaring success, generating buzz around the world for its perfectly executed art/culture/fashion cross-over. 

According to Instagram analytics firm Dash Hudson, Fendi averages growth of around 6,000 new followers per day; but in the two days following the Trevi Fountain show, they added 35,000 fans.

The beauty of this project for Fendi is that for the $4 million chump change they invested into the fountain's restoration, they were able to secure a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to align themselves with Rome; its heritage, beauty, culture and history. The show was a work of art in itself, unlikely to be replicated in such a fashion any time soon.

The day of the Trevi Fountain show saw a spike in search queries for Fendi - the biggest spike in interest all year.

The day of the Trevi Fountain show saw a spike in search queries for Fendi - the biggest spike in interest all year.

The show paid dividends for the brand's profile, in such a way that is perfectly in-keeping for a luxury brand of their caliber.

However, not every brand is capable of throwing several million dollars at some marketing long-game - so how can you get a little art world crossover action into your brand's marketing efforts?

Q: Who else is marketing to your audience?

Fendi has long aligned itself with artists and Italian culture, which makes sense considering consumers of art and those interested cultural events and historical preservation are the type of people that enjoy the finer things in life - namely, designer clothing and accessories. By collaborating with the art world, or involving themselves in happenings of cultural significance, they put their brand in front of a fresh audience (new customers), in such a way that adds to their reputation, never undermining it with a hard sell or heavy-handed marketing push. 

Q: Are there opportunities to nurture creativity in your community?

Take the Rolls-Royce Art Programme for inspiration. The programme includes events and commissions of new works, enlisting exciting new artists to collaborate with. The project was conceived to 'explore [a] shared ethos with the art world', and according to Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos, the programme has strengthened the image of the brand and 'helped to deepen relationships with existing customers, including many who are art collectors, and also attract new ones, who they might not otherwise reach'.

Turn your focus to local creative organisations, their exhibitions or events, or keep an eye out for artists creating an aesthetic that you feel might be a good fit for your brand. Supporting local creatives will also score your business some serious feel-good community involvement points, just quietly!

Q: What dream are you selling?

Muller-Otvos also recognises that marketing a luxury brand isn't as simple as promoting the product.

"In this kind of segment you are not selling metal, you are selling dreams." 

When it comes to marketing a high-end brand, it pays to remember you're selling a dream, and the lifestyle associated with the product - a lifestyle to aspire to. Collecting an audience that aspires to live in the picture you've painted (sorry, horrific pun!) is a powerful asset indeed.

As Duke Greenhill of Luxury Society puts it so eloquently:

"No one buys Dom Perignon just because they’re thirsty...no one forks over two hundred grand for a Bentley simply to get from point A to point B. No. Luxury products exist for a much less rational reason. Therefore, the marketing of them must be much more emotional."

Look at the big picture; the lifestyle your product is part of. Offer your audience a glimpse at that picture, look for that emotional response, aim to inspire and excite. Art, in itself, is part of a luxury lifestyle. It inspires and excites! No-brainer.

Q: Could you invite collaborations?

Luxury brand or not, the art cross-over strategy can still help you reach cult favourite status. Look at Nike. Every second person's got a pair - this is not high-end territory, friends. However, their constant collaboration with hot artists and cultural heavy-hitters means that their limited release ranges are about as coveted as it gets, all the while keeping ahead of the trends.

Maybe it's a shoe design, a t-shirt print, or an art installation inspired by your brand - a fresh perspective courtesy of a cutting-edge artist could be a silver bullet for your brand profile. Check out Kiwi artist Andrew J Steel's recent collab with Nike for a little inspo!

Interested in reading more about marketing luxury products? Check out these links:

Entrepreneur.com - The Luxury Strategy

Guardian.com - Successfully marketing luxury goods

Forbes.com - Marketing luxury in the digital age