Playing fashion’s game has always been about access: to have or have not. In the 1970s, part of the allure of investing in a garment from Yves Saint Laurent was the idea that an unmistakable silhouette could grant imaginary access to Studio 54, a nightclub frequented by the designer and celebs like Bianca Jagger. Since 1937, the Hermès scarf has been known not only as neckwear but as a square of silk, or carré, that elicits the flutter of hand-rolled fabric in the breeze of the Provençal countryside. Likewise, wearing Prada couture gets you one step closer to Miuccia Prada’s creative genius without boarding the next flight to Milan.
For today’s luxury brands, however, reserving an exclusive lifestyle for only the staunchest of followers no longer makes business sense: as fashion labels establish an omnichannel media presence and increasingly look to self-disrupt, ‘experience’ usurps ‘product’, and access to branded Instagrammable spaces now tops every superfan’s wish list.
The change is prompted in part by social-media influencers who act as mediators between potential buyers and companies. In marketing terms, influencers make luxury marques more relatable to everyday consumers, inviting them, albeit by proxy, to step into today’s rarefied brand worlds. But ‘by proxy’ is no longer proximate enough, it seems. In a shift appropriate to the current now economy, the fashion industry is investing in a form of graduated pop-up: the luxury branded club.
Over the past year, YSL Beauty, Hermès and Prada have opened their own iterations of the club concept across a host of international cities. Even the most aspirational of brand fantasies are being reduced and made feasible at the consumer level. Temporary spaces allow companies to learn more about new markets and their demographics, while making consumers feel as if they are supposed to be part of a specific club. Getting involved can be seen as a cultural achievement, one that suggests the consumer’s relationship with the brand goes beyond the cash wrap.
For Hermès – a nearly 200-year-old company that garners traditional French prestige – introducing activities like Carré-OK and artist Cyrille Diatkine’s Sketchomaton portrait sittings into a branded space may seem surprisingly whimsical. But last November in Los Angeles, Hermès targeted a transgenerational audience with these functions, enticing honorary ‘club members’ to explore the heritage of the company’s iconic silk square.
‘Hermès Carré Club began with the idea of bringing the silk square – or carré – to life,’ says Bali Barrett, creative director of the Hermès Women’s Universe. ‘The collaborative creative process behind our carrés is very intense and demanding. The idea of a club very naturally followed on from the initial studio idea. It seemed like the perfect way to bring a community together to discover the carré.’ What’s more, consumers get to meet the designers in a studio environment that echoes their creations. For a mobile-obsessed fan base, being seen in such spaces helps drive the community Barrett refers to. ‘The State of Fashion 2018’, published by BoF-McKinsey, reports that device dependency was the industry’s top consumer trend last year.