Holy matrimony and luxury brands
Formerly sacrosanct high-end brands are increasingly joining forces to prove what we always suspected: that great minds think alike.
With a shared eye on men with deep pockets and the key themes of luxury, craftsmanship and heritage (and even friendship) in common, it’s no wonder that Johnnie Walker and Alfred Dunhill should, over a shared scotch no doubt, inevitably recognise the benefits that come from keeping good company. The partnership between the famous spirits brand and the elegant menswear label, a pair of the world’s most iconic marques, spawned the Blue Label limited-edition Gift Collection, a Dunhill-designed trophy box – of which only 500 were made – for the well-to-do whiskey fan.
Boasting a limited-edition bottle of Blue Label, together with a whiskey funnel, engraved crystal glasses, a pair of ice tongs and a Dunhill hunter flask, the collection is testament to the brands’ shared journeys from Britain to all over the globe, say its marketers. Indeed, the handcrafted trunk, which is stitched from Alfred Dunhill’s unique Chassis leather in the distinctive Johnnie Walker blue, is lined with a topographical map of sorts that calls to mind the undulating hills of Speyside in Scotland, where Johnnie Walker’s esteemed amber-hued elixir was born. It’s a suave collector’s item that has only served to solidify both brands’ position in the luxury industry, not to mention their reputation as men’s lifestyle icons – a marriage, many would agree, of the most successful kind.
And it’s not just brands that benefit from keeping illustrious company, despite the risks involved. Well-heeled shoppers, too, enjoy brand partnerships. This was the finding of a study conducted in late 2013 by New York’s Luxury Institute, in which consumers with a household income of at least $150 000 (over R16 million) were surveyed about the appeal and impact of brand partnerships. Although such collaborations can sometimes be perilous for the brand involved – brand dilution is a big risk – nearly half of the affluent shoppers canvassed considered long-term collaborations to be effective for luxury brands. In other words, the partnerships are appreciated by consumers, although the risks are clearly recognised – the greatest of them being potential damage to the brand’s image or reputation. According to institute director, Meera Raja, ‘Luxury brands should utilise partnerships not just to showcase their strengths, but also to create unique and innovative experiences for consumers.’
Marriage of Convenience
One such unique and innovative experience is that offered by iconic British carmaker, Aston Martin, and luxury Swiss watch manufacturer, Jaeger-LeCoultre, who recently joined forces to produce the new AMVOX2 Transponder watch. Blending state-of-the-art mechanics with high-end electronics, and offering, according to its ambassadors, ‘the best of two diametrically opposing worlds’, the watch functions as a handsome timepiece but also features an integrated key for remotely locking or unlocking your Aston Martin (or, should you lose it in the parking lot, the chance to find it easily by turning on the headlights). The AMVOX2 Transponder is compatible with all current models of Aston Martins, so this may require that you upgrade your old Bond classic.
But just how ‘diametrically opposing’ the worlds of Aston Martin and Jaeger-LeCoultre are is debatable. Says Raja, ‘There are many benefits of partnerships, but luxury brands must really focus on relevant opportunities with companies that share the same values.’
Raja would approve, then, of another car-watch alliance that matches equity for both brands – that of Bentley and Breitling. In 2002, Bentley caused a sensation by launching the Continental GT, the most powerful Bentley ever built. Breitling lent its personal touch by participating in the design of the technical instruments and creating the onboard clock. It was the first time that Bentley had entrusted this task to a watchmaker.
Capitalising on an alliance in which both brands share the same goals and mindset, the Breitling for Bentley collection of chronographs – each one housing a mini ‘engine’ inside its gold, steel or titanium case – is the ongoing fruit of this meticulously arranged marriage of British chic with Swiss excellence.
Strategic though these partnerships may be so as to mutually boost brand esteem, they are nothing if not beneficial to their target markets. The 2013 study also found that joint products, advertising, events and sponsorships are considered the most effective brand collaborations, and the most rewarding partnerships for consumers were those linked to hotels, travel brands, fashion labels and airlines – a finding Sotheby’s and Crystal Cruises had already made back in 2003, when the well-respected real estate and auction house launched its Sotheby’s at Sea programme on board the luxury cruise liners. Today, Sotheby’s Institute experts still form part of the illustrious seafaring panel of cognoscenti on board selected Crystal’s Experiences of Discovery themed cruises, at the ready to offer illumination on everything from the culture to the arts of the ports on the ship’s itinerary.
In the case of luxury travel, flights are another ideal platform to showcase and offer the best of other brands’ products. Limiting these perks to premium cabins and making these branded offerings exclusive also provides the flyer with a compelling story that continues long after the flight has landed. March 2013, for instance, saw Fabergé launch a collaborative project, Egg Miles, with Swiss-headquartered private-jet charter firm VistaJet. As part of the project, the luxury jewellery brand commissioned British artist Ian Davenport to create a special design based on Fabergé’s tradition and heritage for the tail of VistaJet planes. Over a three-week period, a range of limited-edition, egg-shaped Fabergé pendants were also available to passengers on board VistaJet flights, priced from a cool $7 900 (nearly R90 000).
Unsurprisingly, the study found that shoppers most interested in airline and cruise partnerships were those in the 50-plus age bracket. Perhaps equally unsurprisingly, the study also found that female consumers are more likely to be interested in fashion, jewellery and beauty partnerships, while men seem to enjoy automotive collaborations more.
If anybody truly gets the meeting-of-mutual-minds thing, it’s the luxury car market. In fact Aston Martin is no stranger to the game of collaborating for the greater good. As far back as 2006 it partnered with Nokia to produce the Nokia 8800, with ringtones custom created by famous Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto – at $1 640 (nearly R18 000) a pop!
Additionally, high-end smartphone manufacturer Vertu continued its six-year partnership with Italian automaker Ferrari with the release, in 2013, of a limited-edition Android smartphone inspired by the automaker’s design features. The limited-edition Vertu Ti Ferrari smartphone, whose sleek lines and bespoke tailoring resemble the iconic racing car, is the latest in Vertu’s smartphone collaboration with Ferrari – and a thing of luxury that has had even Selfridges declaring: ‘Invest in two iconic brands and one shared passion.’ In July 2014, Vertu announced a five-year exclusive partnership between itself and Bentley – in their marketer’s parlance: ‘Two world-leading brands committed to British craftsmanship, contemporary elegance, luxury performance and technology.’
In recent years, automobile manufacturers have also responded to the increased demand for exclusive, luxury models with special designer editions created in collaboration with fashion designers and luxury brand houses. Some manufacturers go to great lengths in the pursuit of individuality, from custom paint treatments to luxurious interior embellishments and bespoke accessories.
2014 saw the launch of a cute little special-edition La Petite Robe Noire Fiat 500C in France, created as the result of a partnership between Fiat and French perfume house Guerlain. But, as far back as 2008, Bugatti collaborated with French luxury house Hermès to create one of the most coveted special-edition cars, the Bugatti Veyron Fbg par Hermès. Hermès designer Gabriele Pezzini reinterpreted Bugatti’s traditional two-tone carriage work, fostering a seamless transition between the car’s exterior and interior design – the colour of the hood extended to the interior of the cockpit and re-emerged behind, at the level of the rear wing. The inner surfaces of the vehicle were designed and sheathed in bull calfskin according to the same exacting standards that made famous Émile Hermès’ Paris workshop. Even the door handles echo the fl uid forms of handles on Hermès travel bags and luggage.
Another big year for car-designer collaborations was 2012, with British carmaker Rolls-Royce joining forces with Lebanese fashion designer Walid Atallah to launch two bespoke models, the Rolls-Royce Phantom Rayan and Phantom Coupe Rayan. Also in 2012, fashion designer Didit Hediprasetyo collaborated with BMW to create a unique BMW 7 Series. Embodying the Paris-based Indonesian designer’s sweeping concept of luxury and his lightness of touch, and inspired by the image of a lavender sky at sunrise in a serene desert landscape, the BMW Individual 7 series by Didit Hediprasetyo is decked out in elegant pastel hues, and each car is built according to the individual specifications and personality of its fortunate owner.
One of the latest ‘car-designer’ collaborations is between Nissan’s luxury division, Infiniti, and renowned American fashion designers, Zac Posen and Thom Browne. They created a unique version of the 2014 Infiniti Q50 luxury sedan, each applying their unique style to the exterior and interior of the Q50. Menswear designer Browne, who is best known for his shrunken suits, customised his Q50 with a mirrored chrome finish on the exterior and his signature red, white, and blue stripes on the interior. Posen, whose glamorous evening gowns and cocktail dresses are Red Carpet favourites, treated the exterior of his Q50 in graduated ombré tones and adorned the interior with red leather, stingray and velvet.
From packing a heavyweight (and gilded) punch to good old snob value, the benefits of luxury brands partnering up aren’t hard to see. But respondents to the Luxury Institute’s survey also indicated a significant desire for brand partnerships between non-luxury and luxury brands, perhaps unsurprisingly, most particularly in the fashion industry. The pattern has already been followed by many high-fashion brands, for example, Versace, Marni and Stella McCartney collaborations with British high-street clothing retailer, H&M. Which leaves those of us in favour of matchmaking pondering whether Apple’s acquisition of CEOs from Burberry and Saint Laurent is an indication that the tech super-brand is forcefully moving into the luxury sector. Watch this space for future collaborations between Apple and high-end watch manufacturers and fashion designers on the new Smartwatch…
A brand-building agency that connects luxury brands to the online community, the Luxury Brands Directory is a South African success story. Here, the company’s Jeremy Nel weighs in on the pros of partnering up.
How important is it that brands of the same equity in the luxury market stick together?
It depends on the desired result of the partnership but mostly brands of commensurate positioning will align together to create a more meaningful overall experience for the customer. Brands also often identify specific lifestyle categories, for example, Mercedes-Benz is currently aligned with a culinary experience, fashion and golf.
What about collaborations between high-end and mainstream brands?
Not advisable! But alignment with the right charities is fi ne. That said, collaborations can offer a luxury brand the opportunity to ‘test the waters’ with new lines; for example, Stella McCartney’s range for GAP kids clothing.
Tell us about a successful brand alliance you’ve orchestrated.
Recently we managed a very successful collaboration in which our Luxury Brand members gained access to Crystal Cruises ships during their visits to Cape Town. Guests were invited to experience a ‘day in the life’ onboard, which resulted in insightful awareness for the invitees and access to a targeted clientele by the Crystal Cruises group.
- Luxury Brands Directory: luxurybrandsdirectory.com