How car companies tap fashion, art worlds to sell cars in major marketing shift

Mercedes unveiled a battery-powered coupe called the Project Maybach in early December.Mercedes-Benz AG – Global Commun / Pantry

Car manufacturers sold cars advertising dazzling chrome, immense horses, and invented luxuries like rich Corinthian leather. It’s not enough these days. The auto industry is trying to attract a new cohort of buyers by turning to the world of art and fashion in hopes of returning to pop culture consciousness.

The old car companies want you to know that they completely understand this. They want to be cool again, part of the zeitgeist, and, well, they want to look good.

It’s a recognizable instinct for anyone who’s ever wanted a new dress for the first day of school, but the automotive industry agenda goes beyond just fitting.

There has been a number of collaborations over the past 18 months between automakers and hypebeast-approved fashion brands including Palace, Kith, Supreme, Aime Leon Dore and designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and the late Virgil Abloh. Ferrari held its first fashion show in June and Jeff Koons, the artist behind the $ 91 million rabbit sculpture, announced he is making a limited edition car for BMW. Stylist Paul Smith came up with an eco-friendly concept for Mini, while Porsche allowed a Toronto-based artist couple to use two $ 120,000 cars as canvas.

A model poses in clothes from BMW’s recent collaboration with New York City fashion label storage

Car maker designer clothes are usually awkward to wear in public, but these new designer hoodies, t-shirts, and hats aren’t noteworthy. Some of them are actually good. Designer pieces generally sell out quickly and can now only be found on skyrocketing auction sites. (A beige x BMW baseball cap trades on the StockX fashion retail site for more than $ 300, versus about $ 100 for a typical hat from the same brand.)

When we spoke in September, Gorden Wagener, Mercedes-Benz chief designer officer, said: “I see Mercedes not as an automotive company; I see Mercedes as an international design and luxury company. I want to elevate Mercedes out of the automotive world into different fields of luxury ”.

Wagener said it was Virgil Abloh, then Louis Vuitton’s art director, who approached him for a collaboration. The couple made two concept cars together. The second, a battery-powered coupe called Project Maybach, was unveiled in early December, just days after Abloh’s sudden death following a private battle with cancer. The car exploded onto the internet and was extensively covered outside the automotive press by fashion websites and magazines, putting Mercedes-Benz in front of an audience for whom cars, while perhaps a necessity, are less important than clothes. , art and Uber-eat something good for dinner.

As millennials become the largest demographic group of car buyers, making them want a particular car, rather than simply needing a car, is a challenge.

Collaborations with brands outside the automotive realm are a way to engage in conversations about big issues, said Tara Powadiuk, marketing director of Volvo Car Canada. To celebrate World Car Free Day in September, for example, Volvo contacted Vancouver-based footwear company Casca Designs to make a limited series of sustainably made trainers. “We were trying to think about how we might be relevant in this conversation,” Powadiuk said. Volvo-branded shoes, which were supposed to encourage people to walk and be active, have sold out.

Volvo contacted Vancouver-based footwear company Casca Designs to make a limited series of sustainably made storage

Today, marketing vehicles are different than they used to be, he said, explaining that marketing is driven by product design and technology, but also by consumer awareness of the brands they choose.

“As Volvo Cars, we recognize that we are part of the problem and we need to be part of the solution,” said Powadiuk.

Paul Smith, who launched his eponymous fashion label in 1970, didn’t want to do anything “decorative” when he was approached by Mini to collaborate on a project. “There are two hundred people in my company and most of them are young and very aware of climate change, of sustainability,” said Smith. The idea for the Mini project was to use only sustainable materials and reduce waste by reducing a car to its essentials. The resulting concept, dubbed the Mini Strip, isn’t for sale, but it has made a splash in the fashion and lifestyle spheres.

Designer Paul Smith has created an eco-friendly concept for storage

Putting a designer label on a car is nothing new. Paul Smith designed limited editions of the Rover Mini in the 1990s. Peugeot paired with Lacoste in the 1980s, putting some of the fashion label’s green crocodile logos on the 205 sedan. And in 1979, Cadillac sold a limited edition Gucci Seville, a neoclassical piece of American metal and Italian leather.

In the past, automakers have turned to fashion brands to help make cars – often mediocre – desirable. Now, however, the industry is in the midst of an upheaval not seen since the early 1900s. Long-time carmakers need to talk about pollution, revamp their businesses to produce electric vehicles and cut emissions, rejecting the new competition from overestimated startups. In that context, just being in the same sentence as Supreme or Palace makes a brand seem cool (er). So, the collaborations and the drops are coming thick and fast. Car manufacturers aren’t trying to sell cars, they’re trying to regain some credibility and cultural prestige in order to sell cars, clothes, trainers and whatever else. Judging by how quickly this co-branded merchandise usually sells out online, it seems to be working.

Jeff Koons, the artist behind the $ 91 million Rabbit sculpture, has announced that he will be making a limited edition car for / Handout

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