From Artwork To Handbags, Luxury Turns To Exhibits For Cachet In China

Fendi's "Un Arte Autre" exhibit in Beijing. (Fendi)

Fendi’s “Un Arte Autre” exhibit in Beijing. (Fendi)

Whether through artist collaborations, photography exhibits, or displays at prominent museums, the practice of merging luxury goods with art is a time-honored marketing strategy that allows high-end brands to elevate their image far above that of a standard consumer goods level. This is no different in China, where many luxe labels have been sponsoring a wide variety of exhibitions to boost their brand cachet.

In China, the connections between fashion and art have led to brand collaborations with both well-known and up-and-coming international and Chinese artists. In late October, Fendi opened its “Un Art Autre” exhibition to celebrate its 88th anniversary in the plaza of Beijing’s China Central Place in a specially-built exhibition space shaped like the number eight, which is auspicious in China. Curated by Emanuela Nobile Mino, the exhibition featured works emphasizing the history of the brand and the artistry of Fendi bags. Another strategy followed by brands like Bottega Veneta and Hugo Boss has emphasized support of up-and-coming Chinese artists. Bottega Veneta’s Shanghai Bund concept store features a dedicated gallery space for young Chinese artists, while Hugo Boss launched its Asia Art Award this fall in partnership with Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum.

This museum partnership is one of many made by luxury brands recently, as museums can serve as a highly legitimating venue for brands showing off not only artist collaborations, but also their own designs as the artwork itself. Dior was lucky to have its “Esprit Dior” exhibition accepted at The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai, which took place this fall. It’s not only fashion that is looking to these venues, as Porsche gained access to the historic Imperial Ancestral Temple in Beijing for a spectacular show this fall. However, museum displays in China can come with challenges, even if a brand is approved—in 2012, “Esprit Dior” was awaiting unveiling at the National Museum of China in Beijing, but Dior’s name was removed before the exhibit’s unveiling because it coincided with the beginning of the country’s anti-graft campaign. Other landmark exhibitions throughout the years have been more successful, such as Cartier’s exhibit in the Forbidden City in 2009, as well as several 2011 events, including Bulgari and Louis Vuitton at the National Museum, and Chanel at the National Art Museum of China.

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The “Esprit Dior” exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai. (Dior)

Similar to the proliferation of art exhibits have also been numerous brand-sponsored photography shows. This month, Hogan hosted a photographic exhibition in Shanghai in conjunction with its “China Issue” charity book project, which features photos of a select group of influential creative figures, including photographer Chen Man, opera singer Dai Yuqiang, supermodel Du Juan, designer Xander Zhou, and many more. In October, Jimmy Choo also launched its “Signature” photo exhibition in Shanghai, featuring photographers using their images to represent their interpretation of the brand. Meanwhile, Chanel’s “Little Black Jacket” exhibit shown in Shanghai this summer highlighted photography by Karl Lagerfeld, and Burberry’s “Art of the Trench” display featured images by photographer Trunk Xu.

Jimmy Choo's "Signature Collection" exhibit at Plaza 66 in Shanghai. (Jimmy Choo)

Jimmy Choo’s “Signature Collection” exhibit at Plaza 66 in Shanghai. (Jimmy Choo)

As demonstrated by the “Little Black Jacket” and “Art of the Trench” exhibits, partnerships with artists and photographers are also helpful in highlighting the craftsmanship of brands’ “iconic pieces”—one item that the brand especially wishes to highlight. Dior also adopted this strategy with its “Lady Dior As Seen By” exhibition, where it featured a collection of works by famous international artists inspired by the Lady Dior bag.

Whether the exhibits are more on the retail or the artistic side, there are several branding benefits to them, especially in China. With Chinese consumers’ growing individualism and interest in unique items and niche labels, brands must differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market. These exhibits foster an artistic, unique brand image and raise the consumer’s overall aesthetic experience. There is also a strong element of corporate social responsibility in a growing number of these campaigns: Hogan’s new photography collection benefits the Save the Children organization, and the goal of Hugo Boss’s award is to assist an emerging artist gain recognition to jumpstart his or her career.

In China’s era of slower growth where clear winners are emerging in the luxury market, these exhibitions are likely to become the norm rather than the exception in coming years.

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