Five years ago, the pop-up was an essential marketing tool, generating real excitement and a buzz around fashion brands and retailers. Fast-forward to 2012, and the ephemeral stores are on their way to becoming truly passé. So what’s the new black when it comes to brand promotion? Surely the new front for generating enthusiasm is Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr? Not so, as fashion houses have taken things to the next level, embedding their brand in the consumer’s cultural consciousness with a much more long-lasting marketing tool; the fashion exhibition.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, over 650,000 visitors flocked to “Savage Beauty,” a presentation of Alexander McQueen’s design highlights on display from May to August 2011. McQueen’s show proved so popular that the Met extended the exhibition’s run by an extra week. In an unprecedented move, the museum even remained open until midnight on the final two days to cater to demand. The number of guests has made “Savage Beauty” one of the Met’s most visited shows ever, pitting iconic fashion pieces against blockbuster art exhibitions such as Tutankhamun’s Treasures and the Mona Lisa.
With his unique, cerebral approach to style and unbridled eccentric creativity, some might claim that McQueen was an artist in his own right, with his inspired, extreme apparel lending itself well to the gallery space. However, the British designer’s show is just one of the many fashion-themed exhibitions that have been a big hit. This past year has seen designers turning away from the traditional arena of the runway, with presentations featuring the works of Hussein Chalayan, Yves Saint Laurent, Yohji Yamamoto and Jean-Paul Gaultier, to mention a few.
And shows aren’t restricted to the world’s major fashion capitals; the National Museum of China reopened with Louis Vuitton’s “Voyages” exhibition in May 2011, while Moscow’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts hosted “Inspiration Dior” in April of the same year, showing the key pieces from the French fashion house’s historic collection alongside artworks from Renoir, Picasso and Cezanne. Meanwhile, in Shanghai, fashionistas were treated to a vast retrospective of Coco Chanel’s designs in “Culture Chanel” at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Consumers in newer markets might not be able to commit to purchasing a luxury purse, so the price of an exhibition ticket provides entry-level access to a high-end label, and, more crucially, educates new, aspirational customers.
In essence, the fashion exhibition gives brands a chance to tell their story and provides consumers with a 360-degree view of a fashion house or designer, from inception through creative and manufacturing processes to current projects, with actual garments, films, photographs and text on display. The result is an in-depth overview of a brand’s DNA that forges a deeper connection and more long-lasting relationship with individuals than any two-dimensional advertising campaign. A potential customer is much more likely to make a purchase if they truly understand what a brand’s all about. Art gives fashion a sense of cultural gravitas; an intellectual credibility that extends beyond the simple attraction of glamorous apparel collections.
While temporary exhibitions promise instant press coverage and a frenzy of excitement among industry insiders and across social media, creating a permanent museum really cements a brand’s heritage, longevity and status. Though just 90 years young, when Gucci opened its own museum in Florence during September 2011, the Italian label established the institution as a fashion destination with a past, present and future in the city.
Though bricks and mortar promise permanence, the digital sphere also offers an enduring space for fashion presentations; Valentino Garavani’s Virtual Museum is a prime example of a brand using a successful offline strategy online. Launched in December 2011, the virtual exhibition has none of the space limitations of an actual museum. After downloading the application, visitors can access an archive of more than 5,000 images, 180 videos and themed galleries of the couturier’s work, dating back to the 1960′s.
Did I say the pop-up was passé? Not necessarily. Launched in January 2012 through collaboration with Milanese artist Francesco Vezzoli and Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas’ think tank AMO, the Prada 24-hour Museum in Paris was a creative, visionary event that fused the fashion exhibition and the pop-up event. For those who couldn’t visit the temporary show, an online platform transformed the museum into a digital experience, maximizing consumer engagement.
The trend looks set to continue. The hottest ticket in Paris isn’t to a runway show these days; it’s for the Marc Jacobs exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
Valentino Virtual Museum
Prada 24-hour museum
Louis Vuitton Voyages
Photo Credits: Gucci museo