From Logo to Experience: Bringing Luxury Brands to Life


Sophie Maxwell | January 27, 2012

Sophie Maxwell, Insight Director at Pearlfisher, details how luxury brands are becoming increasingly powerful through new means of expression

Bugatti’s Veyron, which can now be customised online

The identity of today’s biggest luxury brands is becoming increasingly powerful through new means of expression and communication. It’s a shift that moves the focus from brand logo and product characteristics to a broader expression of how we experience a luxury brand.

This coming April, Knightsbridge sees the opening of the first new luxury hotel built in London for 40 years. Its name is not Hilton, or Peninsula, or Waldorf, it is Bulgari and it has been designed to encapsulate all that underpins the luxury jewellery brand. Its opening spotlights a thriving shift in how luxury brands are evolving to become more powerful than ever as their equities gain new powers of communication. In other words, they’re upping the ante in terms of the brand experience and the creation of a full-blown ‘lifestyle’ of their brand.

“ The shift that moves the focus from brand logo to a broader expression of how we experience a luxury brand. ”

Every luxury brand has its own set of valuable equities: a colour palette, a typographic style, a logo, which are recognised by those versed in the luxury brand from Sao Paolo to Shanghai. These internationally recognised markers powerful as they are, need to keep their exclusive allure. But there’s been a problem. A series of influences such as counterfeiting and mass-market copycats, have increasingly threatened to unpick the magic and dilute the allure behind a luxury brand’s precious identity.

It’s no longer enough to rely on a brand’s superficial markers – the Chanel double C logo or the stacked typography of the YSL logo. They’re no longer the defining end point or absolute signature. So, luxury brands are resolving to build brand awareness outside these key elements with new behaviours, in a bid to re-entrench. One approach has been to create new experience structures within which the consumer can enjoy his or her favourite designer label. Think pop up shops, pop up worlds, and designer hotels.

Chanel’s pop up extravaganza at Harrods, an encapsulated version of one of the world’s most revered luxe brands

The Armani Hotel Milano opened at the end of 2011 following the first Armani hotel, which opened in Dubai in April 2010. It is set within a 1937 Griffini designed palazzo at Via Manzoni 31. Every detail complements the Armani brand vision to give the guest a sense of the brand: elegant, understated yet sumptuous luxury. The bedrooms have a small, vestibule to create a space between the exterior and the intimacy of the bedroom. Each bathroom shower has a one-way glass to protect privacy, but allow the guest to look out – embracing the Armani Casa sense of space.

The concept extends to service: a lifestyle manager is allocated to each guest to ensure a seamless stay. ‘I have concentrated all my efforts in delivering my personal aesthetic vision within a precisely defined ambience of total comfort,’ says Armani. Armani becomes a symbol for more than just exquisite clothing, but for a lifestyle so reinforcing the brand’s core values.

This approach gives the consumer the opportunity to have a different kind of brand experience, than simply looking, trying on, buying. He or she is pulled subtly deeper into a brand’s spirit, which is something a counterfeit or a high street version cannot do. By involving the consumer at a more emotive level, a deeper connection is created – respective life stories overlap. It takes a brand beyond being simply a label, to something with a stronger, more far reaching value.

“ By involving the consumer at a more emotive level, a deeper connection is created – respective life stories overlap ”

There is a caveat: recasting a brand’s identity through an experience beyond superficial logos and codes, will only work if the application (in this case, a luxury hotel) stems from a brand’s core truths. To do this, the newly reopened, Veuve Clicquot Hôtel du Marc at Reims draws from its heritage in an inspiring, contemporary way.

Oversized portraits of the Veuve Clicquot family lean, in contemporary frames and dramatically lit, against the wall, beside the door of each hotel room. This creates a tension between the past and the contemporary. The result is spectacular and not something a guest will forget, thereby adding to the experience in a fresh, new way. Our concept of the brand is heightened.

Design features also draw on underlying brand identities. The pink, graduated staircase carpet nods to the colours of the Champagne region’s soil – the white of its chalky mineral soil graduating to the deep burgundy red of the Pinot Noir grape of Clicquot’s Yellow Label Brut Champagne. Rooms are named after people, the seasons and different countries: a nod to the brand’s global reach in subtle, politic fashion. The hotel is intrinsically Veuve, in a way that only a power brand can achieve.

Veuve Clicquot’s Hôtel du Marc at Reims, which draws from its heritage in an inspiring, contemporary way

The Bulgari Hotel & Residence will draw on Bulgari’s silversmith origins by incorporating silver as a theme: the grand silver staircase; bedside lamps inspired by signature silver candlesticks. Custom made silk curtains will have patterns inspired by classic jewellery designs. The experience goes deeper.

A 47-seat screening room will be a celebration of the company’s longstanding relationship with the silver screen – Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe imparted the kind of heritage a new luxury label could only dream of. Guests will have the chance to draw from an exclusively curated library of new and classic films. Bulgari embraces the broader experience to entrench its luxury appeal yet deeper.

In the spirit of guerrilla marketing, the pop up shop is another modern day route to presenting the experience. The marketplace is busier; people expect to be drawn into a bigger world of the brand. In the recent pop up extravaganza at Harrods, Chanel immersed the shopper well and truly with a neatly encapsulated version of one of the world’s most revered luxe brands.

“ Recasting a brand’s identity through an experience beyond logos, will only work if the stems from a brand’s core truths ”

From the temporary make-up store on the ground floor, complete with customised photo booth to photograph you, once made up by one of the Chanel star make-up artists. To the myriad adjoining rooms depicting Chanel’s various facets, from the No 5 room with projections of every No 5 ad to the couture room, complete with framed couture pieces. The whole experience was resolutely Chanel with fresh new representations of its iconic codes.

It illustrates how a brand can retain its iconic elements but start to do different things with them. An example of how this can be woven into the core fabric of the brand can be seen in Louis Vuitton’s introduction of it’s ‘mon monogram’ service. It intertwines its initials – or design DNA – with that of the customer through a bespoke initialling service that uses the same 17 colours used on their trunks for over a century to apply it’s customers hand painted initials and a combination of coloured stripes of their choosing to a collection of four classic bag shapes.

A recent campaign by Jo Malone, where the brand extends outside its traditional codes, moving towards fashion fantasy

A lot is down to imagination. Being confident of what a brands future stretch and development should achieve, being aware of cultural evolution, seeing how the world is changing, the all-important balance of how to stay relevant but remain deeply rooted in the foundation of the brand. An interesting example of this is the recent reaction to the latest ad campaign of the Jo Malone brand, which has always had a classic, luxury identity of black and cream and simple typography.

Since she has left the brand there are signs that the brand is extending outside its given codes. Its recent ad campaign for the new scent Bluebell was photographed by Vogue fashion photographer, Tim Walker. By moving into fashion fantasy, it jars with Jo Malone’s classic values. Personality is an inherent force in luxury branding, and provides a powerful ever present leverage point. The Jo Malone brand may for the present be found wanting.

“ For fashion and jewellery brands opening out into hotels – dependent on their service and experience – seems a natural transition but what next? ”

At the last count, it comes down to achieving the right expression for the right brand. Chanel has created everything from bikes to Indian banquets, and Bentley has collaborated with Zai from Disentis, Switzerland, to create skis and with Breitling on watches.

For fashion and jewellery brands opening out into hotels – dependent on their service and experience – seems a natural transition but what next? The ultimate journey for that set of impeccable luggage with Louis Vuitton luxury holidays perhaps? Or what about this? Bugatti Galactic: Space Travel – The Ultimate Experience. As another brand that lets you shape your experience – you can now customise your new Veyron online – this would really be a direction that would transform luxury’s new frontiers…

Analysis | Hospitality | Jewellery