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April 10, 2010 1:05 am
Napa Valley, the seat of California’s wine industry, is not exactly a fashion mecca. The pastoral towns dotted around the vineyards are more Buddhist than Burberry, more caps-’n’-culottes than Chanel. So slightly tipsy heads turned from cellars to catwalks when it was recently announced that Basso & Brooke, British designers known for their use of fabric decorated with pornographic prints, had been appointed “designers in residence” to Turning Leaf, E&J Gallo’s traditional wine brand.
The partnership is the latest example of the hottest trend among young fashion houses: engaging in cross-industry collaborations to boost the bottom line. While it is not a huge conceptual leap to imagine why a fashion designer might be a good go-to person for, say, a rug company, a hotel or even a car, a supermarket wine brand seems a particularly strained variety of mixing and matching.
Admittedly, Basso & Brooke are not the first to venture into the bottle arena. Matthew Williamson has designed for Coca- Cola, Jade Jagger for Belvedere vodka, and Jean Paul Gaultier for Piper-Heidsieck champagne. Yet the relatively sober, non-bubbly wine industry, where even a minimalist label can seem radical, had until now not indulged in such flights of fancy, especially on this scale. As designers in residence (though they’re not moving to Napa; it’s an honorific), Basso & Brooke will create the wrapping for 2,000 bottles, curate a blog, design some limited-edition umbrellas and a retail installation for a London department store.
Turning Leaf could use the help. “This isn’t seen as a fashionable wine, at least in the UK,” admitted Christopher Brooke. The winemakers clearly hope that working with Basso & Brooke will change all that. For their part, Brooke says, it’s more about profile-raising and “the press aspect than making it commercially available”.
To kick off the partnership, Brooke spent a day with Gallo’s management at one of their premier vineyards in Healdsburg, California. Wearing a seersucker blazer and baby blue jeans, Brooke had brought along Exhibit A: a bottle of Turning Leaf chardonnay shrink-wrapped in an exuberant sleeve patterned on Basso & Brooke’s spring/summer 2010 collection. That print, which features snow leopard fur, erupting volcanoes, roses and psychedelic patterns, looked strange confined to the contours of a wine bottle.
“We were inspired by Jeff Koons’s collages,” Brooke said, referring to the artist’s recent paintings of scantily clad models floating among flat, magazine-like images. Still, there were no X-rated images in sight. “That is part of our history,” said Brooke. “People always think we’re going to slip it in there.” Instead, what was slipped into the design for the bottles were a few fluorescent leaves, a nod to Basso & Brooke’s newest patrons.
At the vineyard Brooke was met by Cal Dennison, Gallo’s chief winemaker, all cowboyed-up jeans and a handlebar moustache. The two men took seats around a table for a tasting of six Turning Leaf blends and sussed each other out over glasses of rosé.
Brooke presented Dennison with the flamboyant bottle and said, “It’s not particularly conservative.” Dennison inspected it. “And Turning Leaf has traditionally been a conservative brand,” he said.
“But you’ve got to be on people’s lips,” said Brooke. “You’ve got to think out of the box.” Dennison warmed to the idea. “This is going to catch their eyes,” he said. “Then catch their fantasy.” Ideally, he said, the bedazzling bottles would inspire consumers to “taste the colour”, an awkward phrase that is also Turning Leaf’s motto.
Dennison worked through a flight of Turning Leaf, pointing out flavours and textures. Brooke swirled wine in the glass, examined the hues, spat into a paper cup, and failed to demonstrate a great deal of expertise. “I’m more towards pinot grigio than chardonnay,” he said, perhaps forgetting that it is the Turning Leaf chardonnay that will sport a Basso & Brooke label. Later, before tasting the pinot noir, he said, “I do like this one. Not that I’ve ever tried it before.” Which is presumably what it is hoped that consumers will feel when they see the dressed-up bottles.
Fashion collaborations: Exclusive deals and one-off pieces
As both online outlets and bricks and mortar stores seek to stand out in an increasingly competitive market, a flurry of exclusive fashion collaborations are being agreed.
“Online retailing is growing exponentially, and it is imperative that we show our customers why we are different to the competition,” says Justin O’Shea, buying director of online luxury retail boutique My Theresa. From June, My Theresa will stock an exclusive capsule collection of signature florals by London designer Erdem, as well as an exclusive suede boot by Rupert Sanderson, a silver-tipped heel boot by Roger Vivier and a black rabbit fur trench by Burberry Prorsum.
London’s Browns boutique has approached key fashion houses to create limited-edition pieces, to celebrate its 40th anniversary this year. These include golden Christian Louboutin stilettos, a Rick Owens leather jacket and a Balenciaga blazer.
London department store Liberty has enlisted the talents of Michael Van Der Ham to create a ready-to-wear collection of Liberty silks (available now), as well as those of master shoemaker Manolo Blahnik, who will design a collection using the trademark Liberty florals (September). These creations will not be limited to footwear: there will also be scarves, pillows and notebooks. “Exclusive collaborations have been effective in bringing unusual products to our customers,” says Ed Burstell, Liberty’s buying director.
“In a world where you can find the same collection in many stockists, exclusive designs for unique stores brings interest back to the design,” says shoe designer Beatrix Ong, who is in her third season collaborating with Dover Street Market. “It becomes creative again, not just about volume.”
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