Contemporary art and luxury brands are increasingly finding ways to collaborate, but just how are businesses working together to capitalize on this creative potential? This question was explored at the first edition of the ART x LUX CONFERENCE in Hong Kong.
As the brainchild of the media company TheArtGorgeous, the ART x LUX CONFERENCE: The Business of Creative Collaborations brought together professionals from across luxury and art industries alike to gain insight into how luxury brands have employed art or artists in their campaigns to engage their consumers, as well as how artists can benefit from pursuing partnerships in high-end fashion, hospitality, retail, and other industries.
Eight highest-caliber speakers took to the floor, including Gareth Incledon, the CEO of Hugo Boss Asia Pacific, who spoke about the Hugo Boss Asian Art Award, Michael Xufu Huang, the co-founder of the Beijing-based private art museum M WOODS, who touched on the power of social media, and the managing director of Loewe Asia Pacific Deepak Sharma, who discussed reviving cultural heritage in the luxury industry.
In the inaugural speech, the CEO & Founder of TheArtGorgeous, Cordelia Noe, shared some of her key observations with the audience:
1) The romance between art and fashion is not a new one: already in the 1930s, a cooperation between Salvador Dalí and Elsa Schiaparelli took place, resulting in the iconic “Lobster Dress.” From then on the couple made a regular appearance.
2) From products to patrons: the brand-engagement matrix visualizes that a wide range of engagement in the art scene exists, depending on how commercial and how close it is to the actual brand products. There is clearly a business aspect for product-based art cooperation, for example, products designed by the artist KAWS, which include limited-edition bags for the brand Nancy Gonzalez, retailing for over US$6,000.
3) Bye, Hollywood. Hello, Art World!: art world people have turned into testimonials for brands, such as the Swiss über-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who became a face for a Brioni campaign.
4) Celebrities have entered the art scene: K-pop star T.O.P. will be curating an upcoming show at Sotheby’s, the rapper Swizz-Beats is inaugurating his own art fair in New York, and Leonardo DiCaprio has been acknowledged among the top art collectors of the world—these are just a few examples of entertainment and art business merging together.
5) Let me entertain you: contemporary art has arrived in the mainstream. And not every art fair visitor comes to actually buy art but often rather enjoys the entertainment aspect that the art scene offers.
6) New intolerance, inauthenticity: as in other aspects of a brand strategy as well, the consumer appreciates the uniqueness of a brand’s art engagement and the fit to the brand’s DNA.
Adrian Wong, an artist based in Hong Kong and Los Angeles, introduced to the audience his experience with developing Wun Dun—an art bar—which was a project commissioned by the Vodka brand Absolut during Art Basel in 2013. It involved installing a bar in the basement of Hong Kong’s Fringe Club, equipped with cocktails infused with Chinese flavors like wolfberry, bok choy, and roast duck, plus nightly performances and artistic “interventions.”
“An important realization that I came to when working with Absolut—and I’m absolutely grateful to this day for that experience—was that this was the first collaboration that didn’t require me at any point to separate my art practice from my contributions to the collaboration,” he said at the conference. “And from this point forward, I’ve shifted my focus to collaborations that allow me to stay true to my own intent as an artist.”
The CEO and President of Hugo Boss Asia Pacific, Gareth Incledon, highlighted in his presentation how art and luxury collaborations can be beneficial by adding value to a brand, giving it a platform to reach potential new markets and engage with the growing number of contemporary art passionates in China. In 2013, Hugo Boss launched its Asia Art Award in partnership with the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai to “promote and honor emerging artists” in Asia’s contemporary art scene. Incledon said that Hugo Boss seeks to use this biannual format to “engage new luxury consumers’ increasing appreciation of personal taste, modern value and enriched essence of a luxury brand.”
“Give the artist the platform to show what they can do . . . I think at the end of the day, we will have inspiration from that.”
Dovenia Chow, Sponsorship Partner Asia for Art Basel, presented in the following talk tailor-made formats that Art Basel has been creating with and for partner brands, including Davidoff and BMW, over recent decades. “We’ve worked with BMW for over twelve years. And they started as our partner by offering a VIP shuttle service for our shows, which is great. ‘Great product, great service.’ But they decided that they want to engage further in the art world. So we worked together to develop something impactful but also original. After one year of brainstorming, we came up with the BMW Art Journey, which was the first award at that time that doesn’t have a cash component, but it offers an experience of a lifetime.”
During the welcoming remarks, Noe presented an interesting number: less than 5% of visitors at an art fair actually come to buy art, but actually attend to be entertained.
“Definitely, we are trying to find ways to entertain our clients. But at the same time, it’s also about ‘money can’t buy’ experiences that the brands can offer exclusively to their clients. And by working together, you do build something for both sides.” Chow also brought up that, while headquarter backing is needed for large-scale engagements, they seek to “look for some more local brands for our show because we think it could connect well with the local audiences as well.”
Seeing a big migration from the traditional art and luxury market into online space was the underlying theme for presentation: “ArtTech/LuxTech – What the future holds for E-Commerce in South East Asia” by Singapore-based Talenia Phua Gajardo, the Founder & CEO of Luxglove & TheArtling.
“Social commerce is something that I think we have yet to reach to its full potential. A lot of shoppers are shopping through social media, meaning shopping through Instagram. In Thailand, people order lunch through Instagram. You follow a restaurant, you see what they are cooking that day, you recognize it on Instagram, you order it online and they deliver. It’s amazing.” Further, Phua Gajardo commented on the needed knowledge of localized players and cross cultural e-commerce challenges, since not only the procedure of buying an actual item but also the tax and shipping logistics vary a lot.
Judy Lam, the Assistant General Manager of K11, spoke about “The Mall as New Museum” and introduced the brand’s “art mall” vision. Not only in Hong Kong, but also with several outlets in Mainland China, K11 Concepts is very active in bringing art to a mass audience. This is achieved not only by presenting artworks in the mall itself, but also by commissioning world-class exhibitions for the integrated exhibition spaces, such as “Master of Impressionism – Claude Monet” in their Shanghai mall in 2014.
A conversation between Alexandra Seno, the Head of Development of the Asia Art Archive and Michael Xufu Huang, the co-founder of the Beijing based private art museum M WOODS, shed light on the power of social media in today’s art scene and discussed digital art patronage. Huang is an art KOL with a group of over 18K followers on his personal Instagram alone.
“We are three people to have founded M WOODS, and each of us is an own brand, so our social media content is very diverse. I personally don’t use Instagram to shop for art but to gather a lot of research on what is going on in the arts, especially in NY Galleries since there are thousands of shows, so it helps to filter what I want to see first.”
For their recent Warhol show, M WOODS also collaborated with the watch brand Hublot, and previous brand cooperations also include an event co-hosted with LOEWE.
Jacky Ho, the Deputy Director & Specialist of Sotheby’s, revealed some details on their upcoming special sales in October, curated by Korean superstar T.O.P.
Also, he summarized previous celebrity endorsements, such as their collaboration with NIGO, the founder of Bathing Apes, and David Bowie or Sarah Jessica Parker. Those initiatives were welcomed by the auction house’s audience, considering that all lots sold for the NIGO sales.
Ho pointed out that some of the celebrities actually understand their art engagement as a different way to communicate with their existing audience or a new one, thus demonstrating a personal interest that goes beyond their actual career. “The only downside is that we have hundreds of people calling us for autograph requests or T.O.P ticket enquiries—the response is huge and overwhelming,” adds Ho with a smile.
The final and very charismatic keynote came from Deepak Sharma, the Managing Director Asia Pacific for LOEWE, on “Reviving Cultural Heritage – The Root of Luxury.” Sharma pointed out the brand’s cultural milestones, such as the recently launched LOEWE Craft Prize as well as the brand’s recent exhibitions in Miami and Singapore. The brand’s ongoing art engagement is fueled by the current artistic director Jonathan Anderson, an art passionate himself, whom Sharma called a “genius” and tremendous lucky change for the brand.
The ART x LUX CONFERENCE marks a successful debut in its first edition, demonstrating the relevance of the topic and filling the gap in best-practice sharing and high-level networking. With a second edition in the making—in Berlin in November 2016—it will certainly become a regular gathering for leading art players and luxury brands. For professionals working on the interface of art, luxury, fashion, and media or seeking such collaborations, this conference has the potential to develop into a “must attend” symposium.
For more information, see www.artxlux.com.