British luxury fashion brand Burberry has already carved out a reputation for dressing rock bands and music stars such as Bryan Ferry, Coco Sumner and One Night Only. Last month, however, it took its music connection one step further with the launch of Burberry Acoustic, an initiative – part record label, part talent scout – dedicated to championing emerging music talents.
Visit live.burberry.com and you can watch performances from a host of new acts (all clad in Burberry, and hand-picked by the brand’s creative director Christopher Bailey), including singer-songwriter Misty Miller and north London guitar group Ramona.
Burberry is but one of many fashion brands reaching beyond the conventional music-fashion collaboration. While pop stars such as Madonna and Beyoncé still feature in fashion advertising campaigns for certain brands, an increasing number of fashion labels are also hosting live music events, collaborating with music festivals, setting up their own recording arms, and launching interactive music formats in a bid to target youthful and trendy consumers.
British lifestyle brand Jack Wills has a following among its collegiate audience for its music events and now even has JW Unsigned, a Jack Wills record label that allows fans to upload their music and review each other’s tunes. The brand hosts regular live performance nights at its London flagship stores and also has an online radio station.
“Music is integral to Jack Wills,” says Peter Williams, the company’s chief executive, of its music ventures. “Our core customers are 18- to 21-year-old university students. We’re into whatever they’re into, and music is often a major focus for them. They dictate where the brand goes.” The number of members signed up to Jack Wills’ social network community has reached 180,000, fuelled partly by its music and social media projects.
Gucci’s sneaker collaboration with DJ Mark Ronson – who designed a limited-edition range of Gucci shoes last year – is another example of the trend. It included the launch of an iPhone app with curated playlists by Ronson alongside touch-screen mixing decks where fans could create and share their own music tracks. More than 600,000 people have downloaded the app since it launched last year.
Then there is Prada, which this month took over jazz club Joe’s Pub in New York to launch its new “swing” music-inspired collection of 1950s eyewear, with Nina Hagen performing live tracks from her album (later a viral video was released for the campaign, created by photographer Steven Meisel and set to the blues song “Fever” performed by singer Katey Judd).
French contemporary line APC has even given karaoke a dose of Parisian cool, creating a DVD for Lula Magazine’s pop-up store at Harvey Nichols, featuring backing tracks of tunes such as “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer and “Like a Virgin” by Madonna, rearranged and specially recorded by the company at its Paris studio and producer Bill Laswell’s studio in New York.
There’s more to follow, too. This September Tommy Hilfiger is celebrating the brand’s silver anniversary with a viral video featuring the new band Locksley.
The appeal of live music for luxury brands is its vast scope. In the UK last year fans spent £1.45bn on music concerts, and sales of live music in 2009 surpassed CD sales for the first time, according to the live music website efestivals.co.uk. The Glastonbury music festival has expanded to cater for upwards of 177,000 people in recent years and is one of the most widely followed media events of the summer, while California-based festival Coachella now draws more than 17,000 glamorous youthful attendees, as well as a host of celebrities (all of whom receive ample coverage from the style press).
Fashion labels hosted some of the most high-profile parties at Coachella this year, with Diesel taking over a Spanish-style mansion for a house party, attracting screen stars Rosario Dawson and Gossip Girl actor Penn Badgley, and Lacoste hosting a barbecue with Twilight teen star Kristen Stewart, American actress Rachel Bilson and British televsion presenter Alexa Chung as guests. US clothing brand Express went one step further and hired a private home to stage live concerts by Macy Gray and Crystal Method.
“Companies are working harder than ever to make sensory and romantic experiences for customers,” says Rita Clifton, director at the brand consultancy Interbrand. “These music projects are a way to engage with their audience while controlling as much of the experience as possible, and making it as branded as possible. They control the music they play at their shows and in their stores. When you think about it, it’s not a big step to start creating their own sound.”