03/
10/
17

Attracting the Masses
by Targeting the Few

For a number of savvy brands, developing collaborations with artists has become a vital way to ensure consumers see their products with fresh eyes. Art collaborations are often seen as a way of building relationships with audiences that may be hard to connect with. Yet for that to happen, brands of all kinds need to start seeing their target audiences no longer as consumers, but as their partners. Anna Sinofzik, the editor and co-author of Taken by Surprise: Cutting Edge Collaborations Between Designers, Artists and Brands, makes the following argument about the impact of art collaborations when done right: “Target audiences become brand ambassadors, customers become collaborators and consumption becomes an experience.”

Enmasse x Canada Goose
Travis Fimmel wears Canada Goose

Not surprisingly, such multi-faceted relationships can only blossom under specific circumstances. As audiences pick out their brands of choice, and likewise, brands pick out their audiences, both must engage in each other’s vision with the mutual respect required to develop authentic and desirable products that are relevant and beneficial to both. (We can’t help but think of the New York-based street brand Supreme, whose products are a win-win thanks to their collaborations solely with artists revered by its devotees.)

While art collaborations are about building broader and deeper kinds of relationships with customers, the same can be said about partnerships with artists. Ultimately, brands must cultivate trust with their collaborators—the designers, artists, photographers, creative directors, stylists, writers and all other essential creative professionals—so they may contribute to the common goal of any artist/brand collaboration: to create unique products that generate positive talk-value, benefit both the artist and brand and positively contribute to society.

Vetements x Canada Goose
Concept x Comme des Garçons

Deliberately or not, most brands are prone to classify their audiences a bit too broadly, assuming they have to appeal to the masses to achieve explosive growth. While expanding a target audience has the potential to increase profits, it also runs the risk of diluting or weakening the products, and with them, the bottom line. But we believe there’s a way to avoid this catch 22 of brand stewardship and accomplish the growth every business owner dreams of – by doing just the opposite.

Canada Goose. The company started as a family-run business in the late 1950’s manufacturing heavy-duty utilitarian winter outwear for the Canadian Rangers and those working in and around the Arctic Circle. Forty years later, Canada Goose emerged onto the global fashion scene and became renowned for its high-end duck down-filled parkas, recognizable for their Coyote fur-lined hoods and distinctive “Made in Canada” logo patches displayed proudly on every sleeve.

It took the founder’s grandson Dani Reiss, an aspiring writer, to step in and slightly re-write the brand’s original narrative. The parkas were already liked for their functional, utilitarian and northern characteristics among those on arctic expeditions and in Nordic communities. Promoting the parkas to film crews working in cold environments was an out-of-the-box, yet natural idea. Canada Goose became known in those tight-knit, trend-setting circles as the “the” coat to have on set. Dani, however, wanted the parkas in the front of the cameras as well as behind them.

Fast forward to the early 2000’s. The Scandinavian fashion scene had now been taken by storm by Canada Goose, while Hollywood and other international celebrities had begun to follow the lead of the crews behind the cameras. Canada Goose parkas were now being seen on and off screen, and on the streets north and south. Worn by Daniel Craig in the James Bond movie “Spectre” and by Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea” the parkas were now, officially, a global sensation. To add fuel to the fire, Canada Goose began to engage in numerous art and brand collaborations. Whether joining forces on highly-stylized collections with the prestigious, French avant-garde fashion house Vetements, or working in collaboration with the digital artist Eepmon, Canada Goose was becoming the parka of choice, or perhaps more importantly, of status.

All of a sudden, the parka’s lofty price tag was no longer seen as barrier, but as a mark of craftsmanship and class. By narrowing its focus on a small but influential group, Canada Goose ultimately became desirable by the widespread many.

“Want to expand your business? You should narrow your focus,” are the wise words of Al Ries, author of the business classic “Positioning”. Perhaps it’s time more brands begin taking note and in turn, taking this proven wisdom to heart.

06/
12/
16

Dale Chihuly, artist. Dale Chihuly, brand.

Collaborations between brands and artists of all types have been popping up just about everywhere. They’ve clearly caught on—and proven their worth amidst flashy advertising campaigns and attention-seeking promotional events. Art collaborations, with their sense of authenticity and immediacy tend to sell quickly, while first-class collaborations with top artists and brands have been known to sell out instantly. Naturally, more and more savvy brands have climbed on board and are collaborating with savvy artists to develop irresistible products that cultivate a following of consumer brand ambassadors.

On a parallel path with this burgeoning movement, some artists, rather than letting brands take charge of their talents, have been taking the matter into their own hands. Dale Chihuly, the American sculptor, renowned for his large scale blown glass installations, is one of them. Chihuly’s unique and fascinating sculptures have been internationally recognized since the early 1970’s. Included in more than 200 museum collections, his work is celebrated, often with his remarkable site-specific architectural installations being singled out for praise. His indoor works, no matter how ecstatic and complex, can often be overshadowed by his grand outdoor experiences. It’s in the open air where his glass comes fully alive, enveloped by light, whether it be through electricity or the natural sun’s blaze. As Chihuly likes to say, “The magic is the light.” We’d add that the more natural the light is, the more magical it becomes.

Mastering his distinct glass-blowing techniques while establishing his name as its own brand are the two things Chihuly has been remarkably good at. One of his key branding strategies has been to forge collaborations described as “Chihuly-inspired collaborative art events”. Whether informally with art schools where students are encouraged to create work inspired by Chihuly’s distinct design style, or with museums where reputable restaurants collaborate to create “Chihuly-inspired evenings” replete with colourful culinary dishes, the end result always compliments his work and seeks to engage with the greater public – both brand-enhancing efforts. Though unquestionably, Chihuly-inspired events serve more as social gatherings rather than revenue-generating endeavors.

Ultimately, all well-executed art collaborations result in increased publicity and greater revenues for the brands or organizations and artists involved. Chihuly’s are no different. Even if his approach to art collaboration is at its heart more communal than commercial, the end result is increased awareness and publicity, which is good for the bottom lines of all involved – the institution (be it a museum, school or restaurant), and of course the artist himself.

At Arts & Labour, we admire and appreciate the integrity and grass roots nature of Chihuly-inspired collaborative events. Unlike more overtly commercial art collaborations, his events are about forging long-lasting bonds rather than gaining instant results. And in the end, his steady and purposeful collaborative approach has a valuable branding lesson to teach: patience.

Dale Chihuly’s exhibition can be seen at the ROM in Toronto till January 8, 2017.

DALE CHIHULY
DALE CHIHULY
Dale Chihuly’s sculpture in Dallas Arboretum
Dale Chihuly’s Icicle Creek Chandelier
Dale Chihuly’s Ikebana Boat
Dale Chihuly’s Ikebana Boat
DALE CHIHULY’S Fern Dell Paintbrushes
DALE CHIHULY’S Fern Dell Paintbrushes
ATRIUM WITH DALE CHIHULY
Dale Chihuly’s Sculptures at the Denver Botanic Gardens

06/
09/
16

The Spark of an Idea: A Story

The search for fresh design ideas often leads us to the most unexpected of places. And as most creative people know, the best ideas are usually hidden in either the most obvious or the least expected places.

On my recent visit to Italy, I spontaneously ventured to San Gimignano, a small hill town in Tuscany, located just south of Florence. While appreciating its medieval architecture, something I wasn’t expecting caught my eye—an off-duty ambulance team navigating through one of the streets of this delightful town. It was a group of Italian paramedics – but instead of typical drab uniforms, they were dressed in stylish ocean blue sweaters with fluorescent green stripes across the long sleeves, expertly matched with fluorescent green pants. It was an image fit for a cutting-edge fashion magazine, if only I’d had the guts and forethought to take it. On the other hand, even better than a photograph, it could also have been an idea for a future prêt a porter collection worthy of Prada or another high-end fashion brand. Or even better, in the popular world of brand collaborations, an collab idea for San Gimignano Hospital and let’s say, the revolutionary Japanese fashion house Undercover or the French fashion brand Vetements. Perhaps the collaboration could benefit a cause both the hospital and the fashion house share an affinity for. Sign me up, I say!

As my excursion through San Gimignano continued, I couldn’t help but keep my eye out for ambulance service teams. Next time around, I’d definitely be more than ready to use my camera and capture these stylishly uniformed paramedics. Regretfully, none of the ambulance teams I spotted after my first sighting were wearing ‘my uniforms’ of blue sweaters with fluorescent green stripes. As my anticipation kept growing, I accidentally found myself at the front door of San Gimignano Emergency Services. To my astonishment, a group of uniformed paramedics was sitting around, taking a likely well-deserved break. I cautiously walked in, with my camera in hand, ready to capture what I’d wished I’d captured on my first sighting: ‘my uniforms’. Alas, once again, none of the paramedics were wearing them. They were however, looking at me eagerly, curious to find out the reason for my visit.

Not speaking their language, I pointed to their uniforms and then at a few other uniforms piled up behind where they were sitting. I was hoping to find out whether they had the uniform I was looking for stored somewhere — one that I could photograph or maybe even purchase? Not surprisingly, my attempts to communicate this fairly complicated idea were fruitless. The paramedics looked at me and then at each other for what seemed embarrassingly like forever. Finally, one of them got up, eagerly indicating that he understood. Hallelujah!

He pointed at his two colleagues who were sitting beside him to get up and to pose for me. Oh no, I thought to myself! They think I want to take their photograph, being a tourist of strange fancies. Stunned and polite, I pointed my camera at them and snapped the picture. They laughed with a relieved expression of ‘mission accomplished’, while I walked out feeling mortified, but with a heartfelt photograph in my camera of two paramedics in the wrong uniforms.

The moral of the story? Always have your camera handy. And should you ever see a collection of hats, sneakers or dinnerware using a combination of ocean blue and fluorescent yellow stripes, you’ll know where the idea came from. Should you be touring Tuscany in the future, keep your eyes open for the paramedics in ocean blue uniforms. It may inspire something quite different in you.

OFF-WHITE c/o VIRGIL ABLOH™, FW 2015
emergency vehicle, UK­­
Undercover, SS 2016
Police patrol, U.K.
undercover, ss 2016
Emergency Workers, Italy
The friendly Paramedics of San Gimignano Emergency Services
San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy

07/
06/
16

Salone del Mobile: The Bottom Line

Salone Milano and Milan Design week are exceptional design showcases, primarily thanks to their top-notch organizers. But each and every participating brand, small and large, national and international had something extraordinary to add. Salone Milano seems to magically bring out the best of everyone who wants to play. Whether it was a large brand exhibiting a full new collection or a small brand launching a single product, the sensitivities and sensibilities of each brand could be seen and felt quite intensely.

Undoubtedly, the majority of products launched during the Salone Milano and Milan Design Week had already undergone scrupulous testing before being exposed to the discriminating public eye at the show. As we know, there is a whole gamut of details a successful product needs to embody in order to become aesthetically and functionally desirable. The brands we saw seemed to consider this not once or twice, but endless times before bringing their latest to this international trade exhibition of such enormous reputation and magnitude. In other words, the successful brands, small and large, did their homework with uncompromising diligence. Everything needed to and did go a step beyond to make it there.

It’s a quality that seems to be lacking from numerous other trade shows, including our own Interior Design Show (IDS) or IIDEX hosted annually in Toronto. Most of the trade booths there are short on imagination, while the products themselves lack newness and desirability. The ethos seems to be about being just good enough, rather than being exceptional. Could it be that for the brands participating at Salone Milano, it is more about pride and joy, whereas here it’s about obligation and responsibility?

What drives crowds and generates well-deserved attention is thoughtful artistry, not only when applied to products, but also when applied to the booths themselves. Every item, even the promotional literature, needs to be infused with the power of invisible yet fully present design to withstand the fierce heat of scrutiny that a trade show and design week will generate. Ultimately, that’s the acid test that produces a show that will make people from around the world come year-after-year to experience it. And as the brands at Salone Milano proved, it’s not about deep pockets, but the willingness to stand out – through thoughtfulness, confidence and exceptional creativity.

Let’s be open to learning from them.

In our next post we’ll look at what sparks an idea. See you in September.

marni ballhaus
marni ballhaus
Raw Edges x 5VIE Art + Design
Raw Edges x 5VIE Art + Design
maybe blue Would have been better, site installation
La Triennale di Milano ‘Women in Italian Design’
equilibri, trade booth
La Triennale di Milano ‘Women in Italian Design’

03/
05/
16

Highlights from Milan Design Week

Blending the divide between art, design and architecture is something the organizers of Milan Design Week do quite well. It’s not that most of the products shown during the event, with their artfulness and simplicity, can’t stand alone and deliver potent aesthetic experiences of their own. But more often than not, in addition to their own elegance and beauty, they’re fused with art and elevated from everyday products to objects of desire that convey both meaning and emotion.

From our visit, we’d like to highlight two art-fusion collaborations that stood out, both because they exemplify an invisible divide between art and commerce, and because the resulting product is irresistible in a most distinctive way.

DOLCE&GABANA x SMEG
Inspired by the colourful culture of Sicily, the birthplace of one of the two founding partners, Domenico Dolce, Dolce&Gabana’s bright and bold concepts were not only applied across its SS2016 collection, but also extended to fellow Italian brand Smeg; a brand known for its sleek and stylish home appliances, especially refrigerators. Even though each brand represents a different functional platform, they share similar backgrounds, values and a tradition of being proudly ‘Made in Italy’.

The result of the collaboration was a capsule collection of 100 numbered Smeg FAB28 refrigerators anointed with the unique Dolce&Gabana visual style; a unique combination of Smeg’s quality and technology and Dolce&Gabana’s creativity and artisan workmanship. Each refrigerator featured images of lemons, wooden wheels, battle scenes and marionettes by Sicilian artists – all elements that hearken to poetic marionette theatre and traditional wooden Sicilian carts enriched with classical floral motifs. The collaboration was spectacular and with a price to match—100,000 Euros for each of the 100 irresistible refrigerators.

SIMONETTA RAVIZZA x KARTELL
The Italian fashion brand known for its luxurious yet versatile ready-to-wear fur, Simonetta Ravizza collaborated with Kartell, the Italian maker of contemporary plastic chairs, to design a window installation for the Milano Design & Fashion Week.

The collaboration culminated in blending Kartell’s iconic Ghost chairs with a limited and numbered edition of 30 Furrissima bags. Every one of the 30 Furrissimas was a result of a constant research, transformation and intense experimentation, each with unexpected and never repeated details. All made in Italy and adored across Europe, the whimsical bags, with playfully integrated pieces of fur and a variety of patterned canvases, were love at first sight for us and so many others, evidenced by the fact that they sold out pretty much instantly. Bravo Simonetta Ravizza!

In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at what makes Milan Design Week so magical.

Salone del Mobile Milano
Salone del Mobile Milano
Dolce&Gabana x Smeg
Dolce&Gabana x Smeg
Dolce&Gabana x Smeg
Dolce&Gabana x Smeg
Simonetta Ravizza x Kartell
Simonetta Ravizza x Kartell
Simonetta Ravizza x Kartell
Simonetta Ravizza x Kartell

08/
03/
16

Art fusion: Mistakes to Avoid

Jun Takahashi, the founder and designer behind the Japanese avant-garde label Undercover and known for his rather original tagline “We Make Noise, Not Clothes”, has become wary of art collaborations. For Takahashi, many of the collaborations he sees are mere marketing gimmicks. Consequently, the ones he chooses to engage his brand with must go deeper: “What all [our] collaborations have in common is that they make it possible to do something that we cannot do as Undercover. It’s more like friendships and shared interests, and taking advantage of each other’s resources,” he says.

Clearly for Undercover, it’s not about collaborating for ‘collaboration’s sake’. But how many art or design collaborations happen for exactly that reason? How many take something that is meant to be genuine and relevant and perhaps inadvertently, cause it to become insincere and uninspiring instead? Unfortunately, the number of less-than-original, less-than-relevant and alas, less-than-desirable art collaborations has been on the rise. Sadly, it’s a misused opportunity not only for the brands, but also for the artists and designers involved.

Normally, we like to focus our attention on dynamic and desirable art-fusion collaborations that work well. However this time, we’d like to turn our eye to a few collaborations we thought didn’t quite make it.

1800 TEQUILA & KEITH HARING: ESSENTIAL ARTIST BOTTLE SERIES
For the limited-edition capsule collection of six collaborative bottles, 1800 Tequila partnered with the Keith Haring Foundation to give a new platform to Haring’s revered socio-political work. It followed their previous release of Jean Michael Basquiat’s capsule collection. The extent of each collaboration was to wrap 1800 Tequila bottles, quite predictably, in different kinds of artwork. No wonder some of the comments posted on social media were unenthused: “I love Basquiat and Haring as much as the next guy, but can we stop using their art on the most ridiculous products? In fact, let’s stop using it on clothing while we’re at it… “ And to add to the project’s lack of originality, the 1800 Tequila press releases announced each new artist’s bottle series by only replacing the participating artist’s name with the next. Taking a too simplistic approach to an art-fusion collaboration can often result in cynicism – something to avoid we say.

ETSY & WHOLE FOODS MARKET: INGREDIENTS FOR CREATIVITY
The reusable grocery bag produced in collaboration by Whole Foods and Etsy was to promote ‘ingredients & creativity.’ Yet instead, it ended up promoting ‘staleness and predictability’, so to speak. Why not truly collaborate and rather than simply printing on a conventional grocery bag, why not reinvent a bag from scratch, or deconstruct the existing one and turn the expected into the unexpected instead? A bag with a shape that’s less traditional and with art that’s less predictable; a bag that’s double-sided, with art on the inside as well as on the outside; a bag that’s ready to go places beyond a grocery store. Wouldn’t we all have loved it?

SECOND CUP COFFEE ARTIST SERIES: CREATIVITY, OPTIMISM & COLLABORATION
The series of three artist coffee cups was a collaboration that unfortunately started with an already predictable idea. By using a conventional, all-too-familiar paper cup, the collaboration had very little room left to play with newness and originality. Instead of “holding an original” which was the series theme, it was rather about holding ‘the same old’ only in different wrapping. We’re big fans of the Second Cup brand and feel optimistic their next art collaboration will push the boundaries further.

The lesson learned? Art collaborations are not about re-packaging. No matter how attractive, it’s still just wrapping. The key ingredient to a successful art-fusion collaboration is having a strong desire to challenge conventions to promote newness and desire. No small task, we say. Art collaborations have been around for a long time now, and the most memorable ones seem so effortless – what we have to remember is that the process behind each is filled with herculean efforts to achieve originality. And it’s that sort of effort that produces a product that’s so rewarding at the end.

In our next post we’ll take a look at refreshingly different city guides. We’ll see you then.

JUN TAKAHASHI’S UNDERCOVER
JUN TAKAHASHI’S UNDERCOVE
UNDERCOVER x UNIQlO
UNDERCOVER x NIKE
1800 Tequila x Jean Michael Basquiat
1800 Tequila x Jean Michael Basquiat
Second Cup Coffee Artist Series
Etsy x Whole Foods Market

02/
02/
16

So an Artist & an Opera Singer Walk into a Bar …

Have you ever wondered what happens to all the props after a large stage performance, like, say an opera, is over and done with? Dean Baldwin, a Canadian artist known for blurring the line between art and life, had a plan. For the 2015 Feature Art Fair in Toronto, which took place for the second time at the Toronto historical building that houses the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, Baldwin most fittingly fabricated an art installation with objects and accouterments from the Canadian Opera Company’s seldom seen arsenal of props.

Baldwin’s plan was not only to educate visitors about the Feature Art Fair’s unique location, but also to stimulate and engage them in a much larger dialogue on arts and culture. All that in a style that one would expect from a collaboration between four high-integrity Arts partners: a Canadian artist renowned for creating highly participatory art – Dean Baldwin; Canada’s largest opera company – Canadian Opera Company; Calgary’s largest privately funded non-commercial art gallery dedicated to the advancement of contemporary art – Esker Foundation; and one of Canada’s leading contemporary art fairs – Feature Art Fair.

The site-specific installation, titled quite appropriately ‘The Hoard’, included a bar that was serviced by the artist himself. ‘The Hoard’ opened daily between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., after the art fair’s ‘Feature Talks’ lectures wrapped up, and served as a meeting place for fair’s visitors’ informal discussions. A marriage made in heaven shall we say?

The Hoard offered an experience that was not only artful, but also educational and mostly quite unique. Engaging with fellow art goers in further conversation while sipping a glass or two of bubbly in a room tastefully furnished with props representing a wide range of historic periods, from Ancient Greece to Post-modernism is an experience that’s hard to forget.

Still the most unforgettable aspect of the collaboration was the seized opportunity by the four partners in the first place. The multi-dimensional partnership provided a platform for a collaboration that resulted in an exceptional experience. With subtlety and sophistication, it promoted an enlightening and stimulating program that spoke highly and widely of all four partners involved and to everyone who joined in.

In our next post we’ll offer a couple of crucial lessons on designing trade show booths that spark our imaginations. See you then.

the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, TORONTO, CANADA
the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, TORONTO, CANADA
THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, TORONTO, CANADA
THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, TORONTO, CANADA
Dean Baldwin’S THE HOARD (close up)
Dean Baldwin’S THE HOARD

01/
12/
15

Oh Xmas Tree, How Lovely Is Your Branding

When Kelvin Browne, the Executive Director and CEO of Gardiner Museum in Toronto, decided to ask artists and designers to reimagine the Christmas tree, giving them carte blanche and asking them to come back with nothing less than exceptional and unexpected, he wasn’t merely being adventurous; he was being strategic. His vision was not only to create an exhibit worthy of word-of-mouth discussion, but also to expand Canada’s National Ceramics Museum’s reach by encouraging its target to see them differently. Breaking from 26 years of the Gardiner’s traditional approach to Christmas exhibitions was a bold move that brought not only holiday joy, but also a few lessons for other brands to take away.

By selecting Dee Dee Eustace, an architect and interior designer as the curator of the exhibit – not a ceramics expert as one might expect from the Gardiner – and by giving the artists and designers the mandate of “exceptional”, Browne gave all involved the confidence and encouragement to push the limits of their imaginations. Had Browne chosen a more expected curator and chosen to be more ‘evolutionary’ in the exhibit’s approach, the end result would have been quite different: less inventive, less unusual, less fascinating and mostly, less talked about.

Subtitled ‘The Joy of Creativity’, the exhibit’s joys turned out to be truly multifold. Torontonians were more than ready to break free from the conventional glitter of Christmas towards a more unexpected and sophisticated contemporary art experience – one they might not have expected from a museum devoted to ceramics. Audiences, it seems, benefited from the Gardiner’s cultural shift as much as the museum did.

In addition, each of the twelve trees was sponsored by a major corporation. The proceeds from the Gala Party, featuring a silent auction and raffle, will go towards Gardiner’s education and outreach programs. The museum also encouraged local retailers to be more inventive with their own holiday traditions with its Joy of Creativity tree inspired displays and a #SpreadtheJoyTO window signage.

All in all, the Gardiner Museum’s 12 Trees of Christmas exhibit offered an encouraging perspective that helped to open the Gardiner’s doors and visitors’ hearts another notch wider. With the popularity and success of the exhibition, it would be great to see other Canadian brands getting inspired and breaking away from their own branding traditions. Torontonians seem to be more than ready.

In our next post we’ll explore space, the new art-fusion frontier. See you in 2016.

GARDINER MUSEUM, TORONTO, CANADA
GARDINER MUSEUM, TORONTO, CANADA
JUSTIN BROADBENT: LIT/TIL
MICHAEL ADAMSON: FOUND HOLIDAYS
JENNIFER CARTER: FLANEUR FOREVER
JANE WATEROUS: THE JOY OF GATHERINGS

03/
11/
15

Branding Lessons from the Venice Art Biennale

Venice Art Biennale, the internationally renowned, biannual art event that takes over Venice, Italy from May to November is not only of great social, cultural and political stature, it’s also a powerful marketing platform – for countries. It’s a place where Canada for instance, can be seen as a global brand and visitors can be made into global brand ambassadors. Perhaps the oldest and most prestigious contemporary art fair in the world has something to teach us about branding as well as art.

Each country participating in the Venice Art Biennale, selects its finest contemporary artist to represent the country in originality, innovation and relevance on the global art scene. It’s a task with many parallels to marketing that will seem familiar to brand managers of all kinds; the task of making a country or brand as desirable and irresistible as possible. Still, despite the Biennale delivering many stimulating experiences and plenty of valuable lessons on creative strategy, it has yet to become a destination for companies to send brand managers to glean what art professionals have been doing for years.

One brand, however, that can boast taking full advantage of everything the biennale has to offer is Italy’s very own Illycaffè. A prominent Italian coffee company, Illy has been one of the key sponsors of this famed art event for many years. Simply put, the Italian-based brand has made art and the search for beauty, central to how they do business. They’ve harnessed the emotional appeal of art by becoming one of the first coffee brands to use art collaborations to help elevate its brand’s core proposition and expand its soul.

According to Illy, “… the search for beauty isn’t merely a nice thing to do, or a marketing exercise, but a cornerstone of corporate culture and decision-making.” The coffee brand considers their coffee cup collaborations with prominent artists “Illy’s highest profile, ongoing cultural project”.

Their collaborations, just like art, are not about just seeing, but fully experiencing them, visually and emotionally. Illy has managed to build all the necessary sensory components to transform basic coffee consumption into a full aesthetic experience. At Arts & Labour, we say “bravi Illy!” while sipping their delicious espresso, proudly back in Canada.

In our next post, we’ll be exploring space, the new art-fusion frontier. Until then.

Venice art biennale 2015
Venice art biennale 2015
Illymind at the Venice art Biennale 2015
Illymind at the Venice art Biennale 2015
The optical art Illy Biennale Cafe x Tobias Rehberger at the Venice Art Biennale 2015
illymind at the Venice Art Biennale e 2015
illy cafe shipping container (closed) at the Venice Art Biennale 2015
illy cafe shipping container (open)at the Venice Art Biennale 2015
Illy Cafe bar x jeff koons, 2002
Illy Cafe bar x Tobias Rehberger at the london design week 2015
Illy Cafe x Robert Wilson art performance, 2014
Illy Cafe x Robert Wilson art performance, 2014

06/
10/
15

The Death of a Gift Shop

In recent years, museum gift shops’ artsy t-shirts, mugs and scarves have been greeted with a diminishing sense of enthusiasm. However, more progressive art organizations like the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis and the New Museum in New York have started to reinvent the role of their gift stores. At Arts & Labour, we say it’s about time.

In the recent New York Times article “For the Walker Art Center, a Shop That Peddles Evanescence,” Melena Ryzik examines the changing responsibility of artists and museum shops. A new conceptual art pop-up store at the Walker aims to change the traditional notion of the gift shop. As Emmet Byrne, the Walker’s Museum’s design director explains, “it’s more about a digital bazaar with pieces priced to sell, an exhibition of sorts, with curated original artworks”. Michele Tobin, the gift shop’s retail director explains further, “the priority isn’t ‘get as much as you can’ for that item in the marketplace.”

This is great news. Many so-called cultural brands like museums and art institutes have been lagging behind commercial brands like Converse, H&M and Evian among many others who’ve been redefining the meaning of products and art much faster than most art organizations. With their innovative art integration, they’ve become effective in creating a new breed of merchandise widely recognized as artist collaborations or ‘art collabs’. Blurring boundaries between art and commerce, the French fashion house Louis Vuitton has become one of the front-runners in this movement and have quite imaginatively diminished the divide between art and merchandise. The unprecedented popularity of their sold-out collaborations with avant-garde artists like Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince and Yayoi Kusama have spoken for themselves.

In contrast, the majority of museums have only managed to widen the gap. By somehow turning desirable art into undesirable merchandise, they’ve turned their gift shops into uninspiring souvenir outlets. But while they’ve languished, successful commercial brands, thriving on being seen as innovative and relevant, have been savvy enough to stay ahead of the mainstream curve. By staying connected to groundbreaking designers, artists, creative directors, writers and photographers, they’ve been able to capture the ‘next big things’ and have stayed engaged in the necessary cultural and social dialogue that translates into greater popularity and greater revenues for their brands.

In our next post we’ll report back from the Venice Biennale, highlighting the latest in art fusion. See you then.

Drawing Club at Walker Open Field: A Collaborative Coloring Book, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A.
Drawing Club at Walker Open Field: A Collaborative Coloring Book, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A.
uniqlo sponsors FREE Friday nights at Moma, NY, U.S.A.
SMS # 5: Neil Jenny, Bucks Americana William Copley x Dmitri Petrov, new museum, NY, u.S.A.
SMS # 6: Bernar Venet, Astrophysics: William Copley x Dmitri Petrov, new museum, NY, u.S.A
Drawing Club at Walker Open Field: A Collaborative Coloring Book, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A.
gift shop, Newseum, washington, D.C., u.s.a.
gift shop, toronto botanical gardens, toronto, ON, canada