So here I am, sitting on a banquette at the new shoe department in KADEWE, Berlin. Waiting.
It reminded me of another time I sat on a banquette at the then brand new shoe department in Selfridges, London. Or was it at Galeries Lafayette, Paris? Or at Saks in New York? One thing is sure. I had been waiting way too often, definitely too long.
In the past couple of years, shoe departments in super stores have been revived and put into real focus. They have become huge, beautiful, well-lit temples dedicated to most probably women’s favourite thing to buy. They have included confortable seating options, integrated incredible numbers of brands and so many styles. They are inhabited by smiling staff and visited by swarms of excited customers.
Yet, more often than not, if you take a good look, the majority of the customers you see around you are waiting. And the sales consultants are either out of breath or just nowhere to be seen.
Why? Because they spend their time going to some remote stock area getting the requested sizes, coming back with piles of boxes, going out again etc.
Customers get impatient and even sometimes leave, tired of waiting, wondering why the consultant doesn’t intuitively and automatically come back with half size options, other available colours…
And what should be a fabulous experience driven by a real passion becomes a terrible drag. For the customer – who feels robbed of their time and get bored. But for the consultants as well, who by the way would love to bring options and size alternatives, but they simply cannot carry all those boxes through those distances all the time.
The problem is that those stores are often built by people who don’t know anything about all this. They usually are architects who get a map of the space, a brief from a manager – or a vision from the creative director herself – and get to work. They make beautiful drawings where every inch of the space is used to sell. They show how every brand can be hosted and brought to its true expression. How the shoes can be displayed to tempt and arouse. And very often they do a very good job. And the people who commission them are very happy with the results and greenlight the projects. The only problem is that they forget the customer, the sales consultant. And the process of buying shoes – or anything else that come in sizes, by matter of fact.
The new shoe department at KADEWE is beautiful. It has niches – real shops in shop – for the big, famous brands such as Prada or Jimmy Choo. But the real fun is in the quirky, lesser-known brands that cannot be found everywhere and that are displayed at the centre. And that’s where the problem begins. For if you want to try on something you like and your size is something else than the usually displayed 37 (or 38), you have to wait. You would think that the large cubic display tables would have some storage capabilities – they are quite massive – but no. They are what they are, just displays. You would think that someone would have pity upon those consultants who spend their time hopping back and forth to the storage area – but no. And after the 5th time this person disappears to get you something, your own initial pity is replaced by impatience and a sense that your experience has ceased to be fun.
One example of a shoe store where someone has put some thought into the shopping experience is a chain called Humanic : they have a really clever store in Berne, Switzerland. They sell high street brands and their location is very central. And some clever person came up with a brilliant idea. At Humanic Berne, if you see a shoe you like, you can take it, walk towards a barcode scanner mounted on the wall and scan the reference. The scanner display immediately shows you what sizes are available and if you see yours – and maybe a size alternative – you press it on the screen. A few seconds later, the box containing the shoe you requested in sliding down a conveyor belt at the end of the store, where a large seating area has been installed. You take your box, try your shoes on and if you are satisfied, you just go and pay. What you don’t want you either leave there or hand the box to a sales consultant.
So what am I saying here? To all the managers, creative directors, architects, merchandisers, decorators and chief executives of flagship stores, department stores or any kind of store I am saying: please think.
Those huge tables/cubes at Kadewe? Turn them into cabinets and put your most popular models in there. Those empty walls? Transform them into invisible storage. The beautiful space at Selfridges? Make it work so the customer is not under the impression that their sales consultant had to take the tube to Acton to get the shoes. That central till where a line forms every Saturday way past closing time? Multiply it. Make it mobile. Make it self-checkout. There are so many things that can be done. You just need to think.
Think of the experience you want to offer your customers. Think of the way you want your staff to spend most of their time (running vs. interacting with customers) and THEN design your stores. Be ingenuous, be creative. You don’t know how? Get someone who has done this before to show you. Test your new concepts with real customers. Include sales staff into your decisions. Think of the every detail of the experience and keep in mind that it’s all in the small details.
Retail in Europe has been suffering.
Blame it on the weather – either too hot or too cold – on the economy – the Eurozone is not in the best shape ever – or on consumers’ mood – and here the reasons are as diverse as you can think of – the fact is that stores have not been selling much during the main months of the fashion season. And at the end of June, many stores seem to still have a lot of that season merchandise.
No longer really interested in the 10 or 20 percent-offs provided by mid-season sales, private sales events and various promotional activities, consumers seem to have been waiting for the real deal – namely the 50 percent-plus mark. Sweet deals on It-bags, season must-haves and timeless classics are all the rage.
Having been a lot in Paris for the past 5 weeks, I have become the witness of a new buying behaviour. I have been observing the crowds in the main shopping areas, especially in the department stores. France being one of the few places where official sale dates are regulated and dictated by the law, it was amazing for me to see how crowds have been moving at the same pace as as the discount rates. Six weeks ago, I enjoyed a peaceful stroll through Le Bon Marché, checking out the delightfully curated merchandise in an almost empty store. On a Saturday. Come 8 July, I stopped at Le Bon Marché after spending the day at Mode City, the lingerie and swimwear trade show, in need of some serious retail therapy. I was shocked. Never in my whole life had I seen so many people at Le Bon Marché (I have been coming for almost 20 years). From the ground floor accessories section to the designer floor and passing by the “younger” section located above the food hall, the store was literally packed. And I must say that the deals were really sweet and the merchandise premium: runway looks, season essentials and beautiful pieces were all there, for a fraction of the original price; clothes, shoes, bags and accessories, everything was there.
Sure I have witnessed the sale craze in New York City when Saks, Barneys and Bergdorf went on sale and where I could find a few interesting items but by no means the “iconic pieces” that have been gracing the pages of fashion magazines were to be found everywhere and in all shapes, sizes and colours. Unlike what has been happening in Paris.
A couple of days later, the same thing happened at Le Printemps. While walking around the Boulevard Haussmann area, I entered Le Printemps because I was a bit tired and it is usually much quieter than its much more famous and popular neighbor Galeries Lafayette. Not on that Tuesday. The department store was so full that I had to flee.
So what is happening? Has the economy hit so hard that it has already fundamentally changed the shoppers’ behaviour, making them rather wait a bit than pay full price? Have we all been for many years so influenced by the media to instantly buy so-called “it-items” of all kinds that we have become jaded – fed-up even- to keep on doing it and the slumpy economy just provided the perfect excuse to do so? Has fashion become so versatile and timeless, that it is no longer mandatory to walk around with “just in-season” looks? After many retail golden years fuelled by the emergence of new media and the subsequent overexposure of fashion, have we simply just changed? Sure, we still love fashion and outfits that have the power to make us feel shiny and new, but it seems that we no longer are prepared to pay the full retail price, because what we seem to love even more now is a real bargain. What do you think?
I wear high heels all the time. I wear them because I love them.
And sometimes I love them too much and wear them when I shouldn’t.
I have fallen 4 times brutally because of my high heels and even though each time I hurt my knee pretty badly, I still cannot go without them. One thing I’ve learned, though: caution and savvy when shopping for shoes and when deciding what pair to wear depending on the impending activity.
So you can imagine my reaction when I received the following e-mail from Barneys New York a few minutes ago prompting me to “Fall for Yves Saint Laurent”.
The first thing that came to my mind when I read the headline was that they were telling me about some special activity related to the Yves Saint Laurent Fall collection. But when I opened the email, a picture of a gorgeous shoe appeared, containing yet another tagline “ Taking the gold standard to new heights”. Well, the very first thing that came to my mind after seeing the shoes and reading the “heights” message was “Those shoes are super high and if I wear them I will probably fall…” then the whole experience of hurting my knee came back to me vividly.
And this is how an innocent email advertisement can become counter-productive and instead of making you think that you will look like a modern day Cleopatra in those heels, it revives a painful memory.
And it’s crazy how a simple expression that might normally work for the majority of products, is used in a totally wrong manner.
I don’t know whether the headlines for the e-updates are automatically generated by some system Barneys use or whether the editing of said updates is relegated to someone a bit inexperienced. But Fall + a picture of a shoe with some “new height standard” (no matter how gorgeous) = not such a great idea. So no, thank you Barneys, I will try not to fall for any shoe designer, ever again. And yes, your stores are great and the products you sell fabulous but you should always make sure your words are selected carefully. Otherwise it somehow kills the myth, don’t you think so?
I am writing this and another example comes to me: a few weeks ago I was in London and walking past a Swarovski store, I had to stop. Mother’s day in the UK was around the corner and Swarovski had stickers with the word “Mother” printed in pink and surrounded by what looked like a heart-shaped ribbon all over their windows.
But this is not what I saw first. I actually stopped because I thought “Smother” (def.: to suffocate) was what was written on those windows. And the first association that came to my mind was how some mothers tend to “smother” their kids. And that the word “smother” is actually also used to designate them. There even is a movie called “Smother” with Diane Keaton about an extreme mother. And it made me smile.
Maybe the good people at Swarovski never wanted to do anything else than placing he word “mother” in a ribbon heart. Maybe they wanted to style the heart to make it like an S for Swarovski…
But I smiled and said t to myself “ It’s amazing that nobody saw this while are creating, approving, producing or placing those stickers. It’s amazing how big brands with experienced teams and big budgets manage to create the exact opposite of that they intended to initially by neglecting to look at something in context. And it’s really amazing how no matter what you do, in retail, the tiniest detail can make or break an idea or a concept, no matter how great they are.“
Do you have any similar examples of auto-destructive messages or good marketing intentions gone bad?
I would be delighted to hear about them. Please email them with or without pictures. I will then compile all contributions and post them on this website. Email Maya
Looking forward to hearing from you!
In the light of dramatic current events, between revolutions and natural disasters, retailers are doing all they can to convince customers that spring is the ideal time to be in a good mood and enjoy life, to go out and have fun and naturally to shop for new things that make them feel better, different and very lucky to be alive and well.
Wandering through the streets of London and Paris, I have noticed the following trends:
1- Butterflies. They are everywhere. On the high street and in the luxury boutiques, butterflies symbolize beauty, lightness and freedom. A pretty powerful symbol that is telling the customers that they too can be light, colorful and carefree – especially in troubled times. That everything is ephemeral and one should definitely seize the day. And the items on display before they’re gone…
2- Superheroines. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl et al. are very much du jour. Whether as a real fashion and design influencer with visible symbols or as a general theme, superhuman comic figures are everywhere and undeniably aim to have a very positive effect on customers. Who hasn’t been fascinated by the beautiful, clever and powerful Wonder Woman with her gorgeous costume and her invincible style? And what about Supergirl and Catwoman? It sure has been a long time since they have been seen in movies or on TV but they remind us of when we were young and so certain that we too can achieve incredible things. By using Superheroines, retailers are giving their customers the clothes and accessories to finally publically become those Superchicks they always secretly dreamed of being. It’s like a teenage dream come true.
3- Play. Having already dominated the past Holiday season, “Come & Play” is still here, in variations of all kinds, albeit translated into a more grownup way. Golden rollercoasters are carrying the new season at Louis Vuitton, Matrioshkas of a very peculiar kind are rotating and telling their customers to “Shed their layers” at Ted Baker and Christian Louboutin is taking everyone to an enchanted circus. Come & Play remains a very good way to insufflate fun and put a smile on the customers’ face by reminding them of the joy and fascination they had as kids playing with new toys.
4- Neon lights. The Fifties. The Sixties. The Seventies. The Eighties. Those eras have acquired an idealized nostalgic varnish by now; they are “the good old times”. This trend is strongly fueled by incredibly stylish and highly covetable designer collections for spring/summer 201 – Céline, Tom Ford, Gucci and Marc Jacobs, to name a few – have borrowed strong symbols from those various eras and translated them into beautiful fashions and powerful ad campaigns. And let’s not forget Mad Men, the highly stylish and successful TV show that has everyone wanting to look polished and chic while wondering whether it would be a good thing to start drinking at the office… Amidst this profuse nostalgia, neon lights have the unique quality of infusing a retro touch to any façade, any store, any brand and using a certain font will undeniably link them to a certain era. Besides the fact that they are visible from far and can be made in the brightest colors, neon signs are cool. And whether they remind you of a 50’s era diner in Middle America (or from Edward Hopper’s incredible paintings) or the hip clubs from Miami Vice, they somehow symbolize the American Dream. And that’s pretty powerful.
But at the end, all those trends aspire to the same thing: retailers want to make you hope, make you dream and make you believe that even though things have been pretty bad for the past months – or even couple of years – you should never stop being optimistic and believe in the capitalistic ideal that going out, shopping and having fun – not being ashamed – doing it is a fundamental right, an expression of freedom and maybe the road to a certain happiness.
The second you enter the Six Senses spa in Paris, you feel peace.
Opened in December 2009, the Six Senses spa is a unique breed in the Parisian beauty and wellbeing landscape. Designed by architect Pierre David, it is the French dépendance of the Bangkok-based Six Senses Resorts and Spas. Managed by Nathalie Abi-Khalil, a young Ecole Hotelière de Lausanne graduate who has an innate notion of service and customer orientation, Six Senses is a venture by Sonu and Eva Shivdasani who have opened superlative spas and resorts all over the world, all spelled out according to what they call the SLOW LIFE philosophy. Besides meaning that at Six Senses customers should be able to simply unwind and take the time to enjoy the best life has to offer, SLOW LIFE is the acronym for Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wholesome, Learning Inspiring, Fun, Experiences – eight words that dictate the way the resorts and the spas are designed and run.
The Six Senses spa Paris is located under the arcades on 3, Rue du Castiglione, the street that connects the prestigious place Vendôme to the Jardin des Tuileries.
When you walk by the floor to ceiling windows, the first thing that catches your eye is the wall garden. Designed by Patrick Blanc, the lush green strip is such an unexpected sight, a surprising element amid the urban greyness of Paris, that it somehow has the power to instantly transport you into a different world.
And once you get in, you feel this peace. No matter if you are just popping in to make an appointment, buy a Sensory Box for someone you would like to pamper (this is what their gift certificate is called and believe me it will change your perception of gift certificates for ever) or get a spa treatment, the feeling is there.
The door of the Six Senses spa does not open by itself nor do you need to push it. It’s opened for you. The second you stand in front of the sliding glass door, an attentive member of staff will let you in. You won’t see anyone, because the entrance level floor only hosts a rather confidential, eclectic retail space selling exclusive and beautifully packaged Aromatherapy Associates and Voya products and of course the wall garden, but someone has definitely seen you. And so it begins. Without you really having to say or do much, at Six Senses spa you will be served, listened to, pampered, treated with much respect and as much discretion. If you have come in for a spa treatment, you will be covered in honey, scrubbed with salt, wrapped in seaweed, massaged with heavenly oils, kneaded by expert hands, only given advice if solicited, served fresh ginger tea to complete your journey while contemplating a live feed of the Parisian landscape projected on the walls and sent home feeling happy, relaxed, peaceful.
So what is it that makes customers become Six Senses devotees, some having up to 3 weekly standing appointments? What makes them want to go there as often as they can, send their friends and tell everyone they know that there is no better place to be in order to get rebalanced, rebooted, even?
Sure it’s the structure and the architecture: the wood and paper treatment cocoons instantly make you feel safe and calm. And the live camera feed of Paris projected on the walls certainly makes the relaxation area very special.
It must be the expertly concocted treatments and elegantly choreographed rituals that also make you want to spend the day being taken care of.
Or is it this unique combination of expertise, empathy, soft voice and smiling face you encounter in each and every member of the staff?
Well, I think what makes this spa unique, what makes it a sort of surreal universe where you feel safe and intimately know that everything that will happen to you will invariably be good, is the combination of it all.
At the Six Senses Paris spa they have understood that each and every element within their space and their power has to be thoroughly thought through, meticulously designed but also designed to be part of a whole. And they really know that it’s their people that make the difference, because customers will not come back for the brand, they will come back for the person who made them feel so great.
And this is where I think that retailers can learn from Six Senses Paris – they should understand that everything they do must be designed according to their philosophy and with no compromise, that it should be done within a clear vision and while never losing the big picture. And they should really understand that no matter how great their product, their advertising, their promises, their philosophy, it’s ultimately the person who will deliver upon them who will make the difference.
If retailers do this consistently, they will necessarily create an atmosphere. And whether it is peace or energy or any other positive feeling this atmosphere is loaded with, you will definitely sense it.
Aesop was a slave, a storyteller who lived in Ancient Greece between 620 and 560 B.C. His stories – or fables – always contained a moral connotation and learning of some sort and they are among the best known in the world. Aesop’s fables have been adapted in many languages and dialects, by eminent poets and popular bards and have been used across many centuries for the moral education of children, because they used finesse and storytelling to explain ethical and humanistic concepts in a simple, entertaining manner. Being initially French educated, I can still remember Jean de La Fontaine’s “La Cigale et la Fourmi” (The Grasshopper and the Ant) and it has been one of my favorite fables since age 8– even though I never have managed to apply its learnings to myself…
Aesop is also the name of company founded in Melbourne, Australia in 1987 that makes beautifully packaged, great-smelling products for the face, body and hair. Mainly plant-based, Aesop products also include non-botanical ingredients that are effective while remaining safe and gentle.
The first time I saw an Aesop cream was about 7 years ago in London, at the Liberty Beauty Hall space that has now become a COS store. Amid the colorful displays and the kaleidoscopic makeup counters, the Aesop table clearly stood out: rows of dark jars and bottles bearing white labels inscribed in a clean, very modern font –to me they looked as if they contained a remedy composed by a modern-day alchemist. I was intrigued. And when the saleswoman put a dab of some heavenly scented cream on my hand, I was hooked. I bought the cream which was labeled “Relax Aromatique Body Balm – 2003-04 Vintage” and I still have a little left in the glass preciously stored in my bathroom cabinet. The cream still smells great, by the way – absolutely no signs of aging – and I dab some on my pulse points from time to time – frankincense, bergamot and an irresistible blend just make me feel wonderful.
Throughout the years I have regularly bought Aesop products from small, niche boutiques and I can safely say that it has been a brand that always attracted my eye. But what I saw a few days ago in London really surprised me and beyond simple attraction, it made me love Aesop. I was walking on Westbourne Grove, when the familiar packaging caught my eye. I saw that it was a standalone boutique and crossed the street to look closer.
It was a store with the simplest design: dark shelves with the products displayed – sometimes in rigorous order and sometimes in a calculated mess –, clean and minimalistic but as I came closer I could not repress a smile. The floor of this simple, very graphic store was literally covered with tree leaves. And the two employees were walking around organising the products and their footsteps made this unmistakable crisp noise that I could hear from the outside and that instantly made me want to talk a long walk in a forest or a park.
So I go in. And I suddenly remember that I have always wanted to try the Geranium Leaf Body Balm – and particularly after my friend Romaine had told me that the smell of Geranium kept toxic people away…-
The inside of the store is really very simple: three units of 3-tier black tables are displayed behind each other, a white ceramic sink at the far end of the store and on the right hand side the same 3-tier table with the cash register, a few glass containers filled with products and the house perfumes on it. The walls have names of writers and poets as well as quotes written on them.
The products are displayed in rows and sometimes the bottom shelves contain blank books or tubes of product in a pile. Aesop have also composed a few kits that contain series of products – those kits are named after streets where Aesop stores are located: Rue St Honoré (Paris), Oberdorfstrasse (Zurich), Westbourne Grove (London)…and they add a fresh graphical element to the whole store. In all, the store is very simple, uses no-fuss furniture and lets the products be the stars in their own, understated way.
The cream I would like to purchase is called Geranium Leaf Body Balm is in a bright green tube (and with just one other body balm in an orange tube constitute the only real colours in the store) and I spot it immediately. I tell the smiling young lady that it is what I would like, she asks if I just want the cream or the whole kit I say just the cream, she wraps it in a fabric pouch, makes me try two perfumes that I was interested in smelling, gives me a few samples to try, I pay, take a few pictures and leave. Perfect.
After spending a week in London looking at many beautiful stores in their Christmas attire, the only store I felt like writing about is Aesop. It somehow touched me. And I think many retailers could learn a moral lesson from Aesop – sometimes keeping it simple, letting the product shine and adding a whimsical idea that makes people have a happy thought and smile is all that is required to make you fall in love.
I am very excited to announce that I will be speaking at the In-Store Marketing event that will take place on 25 November in London. My topic will be: “Mystery Shopper Secrets – Uncovered”. I will be sharing some of my mystery shopping findings as well as my experience with the retailing of telecommunications and entertainment products and services.
For more details: http://www.instoremarketingevents.com/?paged=2
Make sure you don’t miss this unique event that will be focusing on the most compelling retail marketing initiatives available in retail today.And let me know if you need any VIP access.
Looking forward to seeing you all there!
While perusing the latest magazine issues and reading the various e-newsletters, I have noticed a clear trend: almost everyone seems like they’re trying to position themselves as a heritage brand.
Louis Vuitton have beautiful pictures of beautiful craftspeople manufacturing their goods, Gucci show a black and white (or is it sepia?) shot of the inside of their factory in their “FOREVER NOW” campaign, Hilfiger have a whole “heritage” story featuring a family….
Even products and collections now have “heritage” attached to their name: Halston Heritage, True Religion Heritage Jeans, Barbour Heritage collection, J. Crew original-fit heritage chino(!)…Fashion newsletters are telling you to go and invest in heritage pieces that range from Levi’s jeans to some obscure brands that produce vintage-looking items.
While using heritage in marketing in a subtle, authentic way can prove to be a clever strategy for brands who actually have heritage such as Louis Vuitton (founded 1854 and still in the same line of business), using it too loosely and in an obvious manner can be perceived as uncreative, desperate even, and it makes customers wonder why…just saying.
Modern elegance, perennial craftsmanship
Since its foundation in 1837, Hermès has always been a staple of craftsmanship, a dedication to quality and the synonym of French elegance.What had begun as a saddle shop became a lifestyle brand – probably the most luxurious of them all -, creating products to suit the evolving needs of its discerning customers. From sports goods to handbags, from couture to jewelry to fragrance and tableware, Hermès products possess a unique combination of cutting edge modernism, timeless elegance and traditional savoir-faire.
Hermès had very quickly understood the importance of symbols. In the early 1950‘s – just before marketing and advertising boomed and became the vehicles for consumption – they created their logo and made a certain shade of orange their own, using it for its packaging and its print materials: the Hermès brand had become the unmistakable synonym of luxurious French elegance.
Over the years, Hermès products became highly coveted objects of desire, worn and carried by movie stars, royalty and jet-setters and Hermès – in a visionary marketing “coup de génie” – quickly identified this as an opportunity they could not miss.
- Created in 1937, the “sac à dépêches” handbag became the “Kelly bag” after a photograph of Grace Kelly – the new princess of Monaco – carrying it was published in Life magazine. Everybody back then wanted to be as classy and stylish as Princess Grace and the already quite popular bag became a must-have, a status it still currently enjoys.
- In 1959 the Constance bag was launched. Its sleek design was the perfect companion to the prim, sleek outfits of Jackie Onassis, who adopted it. It became otherwise known as the “Jackie O” and the waiting lists have not diminished since.
- In 1984, an accidental plane encounter between actress/singer Jane Birkin and Hermès Chairman Jean-Louis Dumas, resulted in the creation of “the Birkin”, a bag that has been at the top of the ultimate accessory list ever since.
Hermès continue to create great products to this day, innovating while stubbornly maintaining the tradition of craftsmanship.
Defining cool elegance, winning a brand new customer
Jean-Louis Dumas – who became the Chairman of Hermès in the late 1970’s – knew that, in order to survive in the post-1968 world, he had to initiate big changes. In 1978, he ran an advertisement portraying a jeans-clad young woman wearing a Hermès scarf and turned the brand image around. Hermès was no longer a brand for older people who spent weekends riding and hunting; it had also become the purveyor of fine goods for a young generation who valued quality and aspired to achieve effortless elegance.
Throughout the 1980’s, Hermès – who remained a favorite among the rich and famous – kept on catering to the younger generation. It even was integrated by name in a fashion movement that was a counter-reaction to punk and new wave, very popular in France, Belgium, Luxemburg and Switzerland : CPCH the acronym of “Collier de perles, carré Hermès” was the 18-year old version of BCBG or “Bon Chic Bon Genre” who just got her first pearl necklace and Hermès scarf…
It was also in the 1980’s that Hermès hired young up and coming designer Eric Bergère. The talented Esmod graduate held the position of creative director until 1987 and kept the brand attractive to the young without scaring off the older generations of loyal customers.
Injecting cutting-edge, avant-garde style
The next phase of taking the brand further was marked by the appointment of Martin Margiela as artistic director in 1987. Margiela, a graduate of the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts (that had produced the avant-garde collective the Antwerp Six) had worked for Jean-Paul Gaultier from 1985 to 1987 before founding his own brand in 1989.
From 1997 to 2004, Margiela created a series of beautifully cut, understated clothes in incredibly luxurious fabrics. Invisible to the eye of the media and working in the shadow, Margiela and his work were only known to the edgy fashion connoisseurs. And if his time at Hermès was not acknowledged nor appreciated to its real value by the “masses”, Margiela injected Hermès with a dose of avant-garde, while keeping its heritage intact.
In 2004 generation X was already making money and generation Y was on its way, so what is better than giving them an icon of their youth, the man who brought corsets back – but this time as a piece of clothing and not underwear -, and who dressed Madonna on her way to pop queendom? Jean-Paul Gaultier the “enfant terrible” of French fashion was hired as creative director. At Hermès, Jean-Paul Gaultier stayed true to himself while assimilating the Hermès DNA and he did what he did best. He took the classics, he took the icons and transformed them into elements of fabulous cool.
Jean-Paul Gaultier created Hermès ultra-luxe versions of the clothes he did so well and re-invented the Hermès iconic pieces. Several versions of the Kelly and the Birkin were created, again attracting a whole new breed of clientele who could now express their cool difference with accessories their mothers did not possess.
In May 2010, it was announced that Christophe Lemaire, creative director of Lacoste, would replace Jean-Paul Gaultier and his first collection would be for Fall 2011, showing in March of the same year in Paris.
Below are a few examples of the iconic products that have been re-created during the Jean-Paul Gaultier era
Le carré – a legend on its own
Created in 1937, the Hermès scarf was created. The first motif was called “Jeu des Omnibus et Dames blanches”. A dedicated scarf factory was set up in Lyon. Today the Hermès scarf represents 60% of Hermès’ revenue.
Hermès wanted to have a unique product and controlled the production of the scarves from purchasing the Chinese raw silk that allowed them to weave the twill – the heaviest scarf silk on the market- to hand-printing and hand-rolling each and every piece.
From the very beginning, Hermès used the scarves as an opportunity to showcase talented artists and make their work available to the public in a new, disruptive way. Hermès currently produces two scarf collections per year and to over 2’500 motifs have been printed to date.
Similarly to what they have done with the apparel and accessories, Hermès decided to take the scarf cult to the next level : in 2003 they hired the stylist Bali Barret as creative director for silk. And Barret delivered. Whether by creating new dimensions, introducing new silks or new printing techniques, she strengthened the icon status of the carré and, in true Hermès manner, managed to keep its soul while transforming its body.
Pushing the “alternative art showcase” a bit further, Hermès produced a limited edition of 6 carrés in hommage to Josef Albers, the Bauhaus-era artist.
Hermès scarves have become collector items and the subject of a real following by millions of fans.
Hermès stores – temples of a lifestyle
The first Hermès store was opened in 1880 at 24, Rue du Faubourg St Honoré in Paris, next to the Palais de l’Elysée. This store is still open for business and the building hosts the Hermès headquarters.
The Hermès store expansion took place in the 1970’s, with Hermès opening in multiple locations across Europe, the US and Japan.
Very early, Hermès understood the importance of location and the concept of “very local marketing” combined with a real understanding of the evolution of retail and has always managed to give its stores a local touch, adapted to its surroundings and its customers while keeping them true to the brand values and philosophy.
In the 1990’s, Hermès started to reduce the number of franchises while increasing own stores, in order to better control its image and sales.
In the 2000’s, the Hermès stores were re-designed, becoming lighter, more modern, more appealing to a new generation of young customers – shopping was a main activity for generation X who now had the means to spend seriously and generation Y was not very far behind. Just in time for the unprecedented luxury brand frenzy of the noughties, Hermès was ready.
The architect of choice for Hermès was Rena Dumas. Until her death at the age of 71, the wife of Jean-Louis Dumas continuously created new Hermès shops that perfectly fit in their surroundings and maintained the brand identity, while never being the same. The legacy of Rena Dumas is perpetuated by the team that is working at her eponymous firm RDAI (Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure).
Hermès Madison Homme
In 2010 Hermès opened a new kind of shop New York’s Madison Avenue: Hermès Madison Homme.
A men’s only store, it anticipates the real emergence of the sophisticated, luxury male shopper, a shopper who wants to shop at brands that really know what he needs and give him the real space he deserves as a real consumer. In order to indulge in Hermès, he no longer has to shop in a dominantly ladies’ store do, within a small space dedicated to his presumably much smaller needs…he doesn’t even need to take the ladies with him anymore. He has become knowledgeable in the matters of style…
The store has four floors totaling 2450 square feet and gives the customer the feeling that he is perusing a beautifully executed walk-in closet…
Hermès@Liberty – pop-up magic
In 2009, Hermès ventured into a new territory. After opening a temporary summer store in East Hampton, New York from May to September, Hermès decided to totally embrace a the pop-up idea by opening a temporary store within legendary department store Liberty in London.
Opened from September 7 to October 18, the store dedicated to scarves and ties also sold a limited edition of Hermès pour Liberty scarves.
For the unique occasion, Liberty’s windows were clad in Hermès orange, filled with Hermès boxes and a miniature replica of the store was created using Hermès boxes and paper…
Above the accessories department, an installation made with the scarves created for the occasion announced the spirit…
And in a separate room, a totally new Hermès experience awaited the customers…
The whole space was arranged playfully and contrarily to the neatly colour-coordinated displays of scarves and ties you could see – with the help of sales associate – in the Hermès stores, everything was displayed in a manner inviting the customers to touch, experiment, play by themselves…
The whole Hermès universe was present and shown in an approachable, tongue-in- cheek way…the boxes were used to create 3-dimensional logos, peek a boo displays…
It was telling the customers “…sure Hermès is a house built on tradition and craftsmanship producing the highest quality scarves and ties but we love to play and we would love it for you to play with us, experience us from very very close…”
So how does Hermès do it?
Probably one of the oldest and most prestigious luxury houses in the world, Hermès has always managed to stay true to its core values, relevant and remain a staple of elegance.
What has nevertheless been remarkable is the fact that since the early 1950‘s Hermès managed to continuously attract a younger and different customer, while maintaining the loyalty of the “older” brand devotees. Hermès could achieve this by:
Storytelling - Understanding the importance of telling a story to the customers, a story that fuels their fantasy, their ideals and makes them include Hermès in their everyday lifestyle. It becomes the catalyst in making their fantasy become reality.
Streetsmart - Being always open to the trends and lifestyle happening on the streets, embracing them and including their iconic products in a contemporary picture: this strategy has brought the Hermès products closer to the new consumers of every decade.
Risk-taking - Never being afraid to take risks and move forward. By hiring young and avant-garde designers, Hermès could always re-invent itself and manage to stay authentic.
No compromise - Using a no-compromise branding policy by maintaining the brand core elements while playing with the messages – to suit the times – has proven to be one of the most successful advertising strategies. Yearly changing “themes” and taglines maintains the brand fresh and creates neverending consumer curiosity.
Super local - Living the “being global but so very local”, Hermès has built a store network always different but always vibrating with the brand spirit, making each customer visit an experience on its own.
Customer centric - Identifying new breeds of customers very early and anticipating their needs – whether creating new products, e.g. the Jypsière for young urban explorers, or a new kind of store e.g. Hermès Madison Homme – Hermès has proven that it puts the customers at the heart of everything it does.
Adventurous - Embracing new forms of retail such as pop-up stores has once again proved that Hermès wants to get even closer to its customers. The pop-up store of Liberty even took the notion of “close” to an intimate level…
A few days ago I was in Paris and couldn’t resist going into Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. I had not seen it since the renovations and I must say that it shone in all its glory on that gloomy April Monday.
The current theme was RED – the color. The windows displayed objects of desire in red – specially commissioned, limited edition items. The red theme continued throughout the store – every section had its declination and special items where everywhere.
After perusing the counters of the impressive ground floor and not resisting the temptation of looking up to admire the beautiful glass dome, I went to my favorite section – the designer floor.
Vibrant racks in neon colors displaying the resuscitated Carven collection greet you as you get off the escalator – designed by mmparis by the way –. Then what seemed like miles of intertwined zones of style-compatible designers: Acne, Helmut Lang and Maison Martin Margiela, anyone?
Each zone was clearly dedicated to a certain designer – except one.
At about the middle of the “balcony”, a different area caught my eye.
Called “Le Relais”, it displayed clothes from various designers but also beauty products, shoes and accessories. This was a “curated area” and the theme was “eco-friendly, recycled, sustainable, organic…”
The next stand did not contain products other than clothes but an odd, unexpected object: a “Feed Haïti” bag.
That’s when it struck me: are the marketing people from Galeries Lafayette trying to remove the guilt out of shopping in order to make people buy? Are they positioning the store in a way that takes shopping into a different, guilt-free dimension in a world that has been shaken up for over a year?
In my opinion, many signs indicated so. Here is my interpretation:
- Buying special items is not merely buying: it’s investing: The color red certainly indicates passion and incites desire (and maybe a similarity to the (red) campaign plastered across the nearby Gap store? Just a thought…), but the limited edition items are not mere clothes or shoes, they are unmistakably red collector’s items: they are saying, “Buying me is not just buying a piece of clothing or a shoe. I am a rarity. My value is greater. Invest in me like in a piece of art. It’s not shopping, it’s collecting…
- Buying eco-friendly, organic, recycled products is not shopping: it’s being responsible. The curated area is telling the customers, “Everything here is special and it is destined for special people who care. Buying those items makes you special, you are different from the polluting, negligent consumers, so indulge…”
- And the “Feed Haïti” bag is saying “Buying while helping Haïti is not buying, it’s contributing to alleviate the suffering: if you buy the bag you can make a difference. It’s not silly consumerism, it’s caring…”
What the Galeries Lafayette are doing is not an isolated case. It’s where retail is heading, if it wants to distance itself from the bad reputation it had gained those past years. Shopping can no longer be a selfish activity. It has to be an act of responsibility. Right.