Why Axor believes that luxury is 'no longer just about objects', but experiences and encounters
Andreas Diefenbach dreams up a freezing cold landscape full of adventure inspired by his uncle’s stories about Siberia’s Lake Baikal. Antonio Citterio associates Switzerland’s magical Engadine Valley with family time. Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby reminisce about a small Victorian stone dwelling overlooking the stormy Irish Sea, where they retreated while studying at the Royal College of Art. Jean-Marie Massaud recollects his marriage proposal near a meditative temple amid a rainswept rural Japanese forest. And Philippe Starck commemorates the vitality of water on earth, a.k.a. the blue planet. These very personal memories – which offer insights into the imaginations and experiences of world-renowned designers – are part of a new campaign launched by Axor. But why has the German manufacturer of faucets, showerheads and accessories for luxurious bathrooms and kitchens decided to share such intimate stories?
‘It felt natural to take a step back together with our design partners and reminisce about what luxury means for us today,’ says Anke Sohn, the brand’s head of marketing. ‘We find ourselves in a very aesthetically driven – and oftentimes superficial – industry. But we have so many stories to tell, starting with those of our long-standing design partners. And we strongly feel that luxury is no longer just about objects, but rather about travel experiences and personal encounters – the more intangible things. I’m perfectly aware that I’m speaking as someone in a marketing role at a design brand in the luxury industry, but it’s more important than ever that we consider such shifts in perception.’
Being able to tell our customers about the origins of a material detail – where it’s crafted to perfection and by whom – is what luxury is about today
Through its Axor Places campaign, the brand takes its clients on a journey to the locations – whether real or partly imagined – that serve as the material inspirations for its creative comrades. By doing so, Axor taps into the growing need for transparency and individualization – through not only its communication but its product range, too. ‘We believe that designer bathroom fixtures and accessories in the luxury segment shouldn’t come out of a 3D printer, whereby anonymity hits the print button and voilà, there’s your digitally designed faucet,’ says Sohn. ‘For us, material origins, design processes and craftspeople’s stories make a product. Being able to tell our customers about the origins of a wooden detail – where it’s crafted to perfection and by whom – is what luxury is about today.’
Top: To communicate the journey of a material’s conversion, in addition to its origin, Axor shot portraits of craftspeople, from a master upholsterer to a stonemason and carpenter. | Bottom: The importance Axor attaches to customization becomes evident in the Axor MyEdition faucet collection, which offers maximum freedom in the choice of materiality for the mounting plate.
The importance Axor attaches to customization becomes evident in the Axor MyEdition faucet collection, which offers maximum freedom in the choice of materiality for the mounting plate. ‘Inspired by the recollection of a certain encounter, a mood, an adventure, a “place of memory”, we transport a certain material that is reminiscent of that place into the here and now. Thus, a piece of the world materializes in the appearance of the individual faucet,’ says Sohn. This bespoke approach, she explains, is becoming more and more important in the bathroom space. ‘Personalization goes beyond the kitchen, the living room or the bedroom. It has also arrived in the bathroom – the room we spend a great portion of our time in, a place of rituals. Why not customize it to make it truly “our place”?’ Sohn sees a growing demand among interior architects, too, for customization options. ‘Interior architects planning a bathroom in the luxury segment today want maximum freedom of choice. This pertains in particular to materials and colours, but also to length and height adaptations, logo modifications and so on. For this, we have always had our Axor Signature Services department. If the customer wants a complete bathroom in black marble, it’s a great feeling to be able to offer fixtures that integrate black marble to complete the picture.’
For us, material origins, design processes and craftspeople’s stories make a product
Besides sharing the stories of its design partners and the origins of materials, Axor wanted to communicate the journey of a material’s conversion, too. Which is why the Axor Places campaign is complemented with portraits of craftspeople, from a master upholsterer to a stonemason. The images evoke the spirit of artisan manufacturing and portray the value of skilled experts. And, importantly, they add another layer of brand transparency, which consumers today consider a requirement, not a bonus. ‘It’s similar to the transformation in the food industry,’ says Sohn. ‘Don’t we all feel better if we know where the milk we drink in the mornings comes from? I live in the Black Forest, where the conversion process is transparent: the milk we drink comes from the farmer’s cows next door. We follow the same logic with our bathroom fixtures. We are fortunate enough to have our suppliers near our headquarters in the Black Forest. We documented their work because we know that selling products today is very different to selling products 20 to 30 years ago. Today, we as consumers tend to buy products with a story. It makes us feel closer to the product.’
Aerial photography by Tom Hegen adds a visual layer to the intimate stories and memories shared by Axor’s design partners in the brand’s latest campaign.
A third level of the campaign revolves around Places to Be: hotels in which interior designers have realized their individual spatial interpretations using Axor products. ‘I think we are all longing for a time when travel – something we all took for granted – will become part of our normal routine again. Our Places to Be are not only meant as a source of inspiration for our customers for life after COVID-19, but are also a symbol for luxury today: experiences, togetherness, time away.’
Axor Spaces, which now lives online, was set to take physical shape across touchpoints at the Salone del Mobile in Milan and Clerkenwell Design Week, but the coronavirus pandemic threw a spanner in the works. At the same time, the crisis may have reinforced the message. ‘Because of COVID-19 we were all forced to pause and reflect on what is really important in life,’ says Sohn. ‘I don’t think people are currently contemplating which luxury car to buy next. I think they are genuinely looking forward to sharing a nice meal with friends at their neighbourhood Italian restaurant. And again, I’m fully aware I’m saying this as someone whose job it is to sell luxury products. But that’s exactly the point of this campaign: the goal is not to sell a product; the goal is to think about the origins of design, materials and products. We need to really learn to treasure and value what we buy. Maybe we will even contribute to diverting consumer behaviour away from mass consumption towards a more sustainable and conscious model. That would be ideal.’
Axor plans to convert its showrooms and WaterStudios in London, Amsterdam and Istanbul to give physical shape to the Axor Places campaign.