Wrapping up this week, Art Basel Hong Kong brought its usual mix of art and business to the bustling city, giving art lovers, critics, dealers a place to see and be seen, mingle, and occasionally buy or sell art. But for luxury brands, Art Basel Hong Kong (and the broader Hong Kong Art Week) presented a golden opportunity to engage target consumers from the Greater China region in a city hit hard by lessening interest in luxury shopping among wealthy Chinese (and occasionally violent anger among some locals towards Mainland tourist-shoppers).
This year saw greater efforts among brands to forge a stronger connection between themselves and the art world, adapting stealthy strategies to blur the lines between art and commerce. Among the standouts was Italian label Marni’s “Roof Market” on March 14, launched in celebration of the brand’s 20th anniversary. Taking a “party” approach, which allowed guests to relax and get away from the action below, Marni’s market—though infused with selling opportunities—eschewed the awkward soft-sell approach used by some brands at art fairs.
Another standout this year was Lane Crawford’s Hong Kong Art Week guide, which, despite an unmistakable amount of branding, actually offered value, helping visitors new to the city navigate what can be an intensely confusing city and “gallery hop” like an expert. Considering Lane Crawford’s focus on art—it regularly hosts pieces by up-and-coming artists at its stores in Hong Kong and mainland China—these guides didn’t feel off-brand or uncharacteristic, a mark of successful collaborative branding in brand-jaded Hong Kong.
But well-established Italian brands or entrenched Hong Kong players weren’t the only ones who effectively walked the line between business and culture. Airbnb (a relative newcomer to Hong Kong) had arguably the most interesting collaboration of Art Basel Hong Kong 2015, an “Art House” that invited guests to relax and network by day and enjoy performances by 11 global performers by night.
Reflecting Airbnb’s brand (by way of providing a place to stay, albeit for a break rather than sleep, and connect with strangers), as well as Hong Kong Art Week and Art Basel, the Airbnb Art House is an example of creative thinking and leveraging a brand’s strengths and core mission (in this case, accommodations) while providing the right kind of space both for the artist and the audience.