I was scanning LinkedIn earlier this week and saw an eye-catching post by Bottega Veneta CEO, Bartolomeo Rongone. The feedpost captioned “The iconic green MAZE installation at the Grand Hyatt Seoul. Unexpected location. No products. Immersive experience… getting lost in what we love,” was accompanied by six photos of an empty real life labrinth stretching 16 meters, decked out in signature Bottega Veneta green faux fur walls, metal structures and logoed duct tape. Indeed no products in sight.
Not even a day had passed and Louis Vuitton hit me up to share the news that it had planted an actual 240 square meter mini-forest in the middle of South-West London, a stone's throw from its UK flagship store. The “heritage forest” created in collaboration with the local council and SUGI — a renowned organization known for restoring native forests in urban spaces — sees the luxury brand plant 22 native tree species and 55 native wildflowers which are intended to become self-sustaining within three years. The project, part of Louis Vuitton’s “Our Committed Journey” sustainable development plan, is dedicated to preserving natural resources by 2025.
And then some. Three days ago A|X Armani Exchange announces a global collaboration with renowned radio platform NTS to celebrate the Italian brand's 30th anniversary. As part of the partnership, the two will pair local musicians and DJs with multiple A|X Armani Exchange stores to create DJ mixes which will be played in stores globally, and hold other physical events around the campaign. The next day Burberry messages me to announce its hosting of an event the night before that celebrated the closing of German visual artist Anne Imhof’s Paris exhibition. Outside of Palais de Tokyo, just outside of the exhibition, Imhof and Balenciaga-muse Eliza Douglas led an art performance. A DJ set by friends of the house followed until late.
Now wait a minute. What the heck is happening? For some reason luxury fashion brands have decided that their brand activations are about everything but the product itself. Yes, brands have designed the costumes for royal ballets, sponsored exhibitions, released branded books, and designed the wardrobe for blockbuster films and musicians for decades. They’ve also hosted thousands of parties, store openings, and dinners. But the frequency, and increased investment, at which brands in the luxury realm are ramping up on non-product related marketing exercises is unprecedented, as demonstrated this week.
At a time when brands appear on your social feeds next to friends, in your inbox next to promo emails from your favorite restaurants, and cover billboards traditionally reserved for consumer brands like Coca Cola, they’ve entered the content battlefield big time. Leading brands have therefore started to act like publishers, as a way to expand their brand universes beyond product.
At a time when we expect novelty at the speed of Instagram, brands offering physical products at that unsustainable timeline is impossible. To still quench our collective thirst for newness — and to populate their content calendars — brands are going beyond product all together. Instead, they’re opting for experiential marketing to remain competing for our time, attention, money, and ultimately loyalty at a time when competitors are now everyone and everywhere.
Highsnobiety’s Not in Paris showcase is just that. So is Balenciaga’s special Simpson’s episode launched during the last Paris Fashion Week, Bottega Veneta’s seasonal “Issued By Bottega” zine, Gucci’s Guccifest, Virgil Abloh’s behind the scenes videos for Louis Vuitton, Loewe’s ‘Show in a Box’, everything French filmmaker Loic Prigent and his team do in showing the inner workings of brands ranging from Jacquemus to Rick Owens.
Most of all, it’s Telfar Clemens’ Telfar TV, a new 24-hour a day live-linear TV network that will feature live shows, breaking news on shoppable upcoming drops, the community themselves and more. The channel was announced last month during a Telfar press conference at New York Fashion Week, the event in itself being content. “We basically launched a TV Channel without any content — because we are tired of being content for other channels,” the brand writes on its Telfar TV website. “Watch Telfar.tv and see the channel taking shape LIVE, you can take part in what it becomes by sending us your videos.”
All are more than campaigns. They're the first steps in fashion brands becoming just “brands”. On the surface a simple evolution, yet in practise it’s a major internal mindset shift for many fashion houses in erasing the self-created boundaries in which fields it can exist and operate. The future will see brands work with streaming platforms like Netflix on shows and documentaries, deepen its ties with the metaverse and gaming, and touch on the wider net of interests and preferred brands of their audience.
Not all roads will lead to products as in the past, giving way to new creative ways of earning revenue through the non-physical by testing, testing, testing new concepts and areas. Just watch it unfold.