October – Hermès, Osaka

Having a brand that appears to be overshadowed by a showier and more headline-grabbing rival can provide the inspiration to do something a bit different, if you want to get noticed.

And as global brands go, they don’t get any more attention seeking than ‘King of Handbags’, Louis Vuitton. For years, the brand has been synonymous with innovative VM and sensational window displays, whilst competitors have appeared rather staid by comparison.

Hermès obviously noticed this too because, in October, I experienced the company’s latest marketing initiative to raise the profile and awareness of its brand – at the Hilton hotel in Osaka, Japan. Entitled ‘8 Cravates’, it was more of a micro art installation and prominently located outside Hermes’ flagship boutique.

The art installation took the form of a series of bright orange interlocking cubes that visitors would walk through. Inside, was a series of imaginative displays featuring the brand’s signature range of men’s ties. These were arranged into various forms, including one as an enormous tie shape, turning a simple clothing accessory into a significant sculptural piece. Inside, patterns featuring the design themes of the ties themselves were transformed into an immersive, hypnotic graphic sound and light experience – the effect was truly mesmerising!

This showed Hermès pitching itself as a modern and ‘intelligent’ brand, with the sharp lines and techno treatment of the installation slightly at odds with what one might expect from this normally classically restrained French fashion house.

And yet, other brands could learn from this. Even the most innovative window displays are, after all, only effective for a few fleeting minutes. Hermès’ approach left a longer term imprint on the mind. It spoke to visitors at a different level, allowing time for pause, thought and reflection, letting people ‘connect’ with the brand and stop to consider what, if any, meaning it had for much longer. In creating an exhibition of sorts, it had more scope to communicate at a level of ‘feelings and perceptions’ about the brand and how it could touch consumers in other more interesting, and potentially deeper, ways.

I think it will be interesting to see whether Hermès’ new approach paid off in terms of the sale of the featured, and, if so, where the company might take this imaginative new approach next.

Karl’s Japan Photo of the Day: Western Brands

The major cities of Japan have, in recent years, undergone a subtle invasion of American and European retail brands.

Many of these chains have only launched within the last ten years and are already changing the balance of power within the country’s retail landscape.

With economies of scale now being possible in the distribution and sale of branded goods on a global basis, retailers have both seen and, by all accounts, taken the opportunity to extend their reach into one of the most affluent and style-conscious countries on the planet.

In so doing, they have created another layer to an already dynamic fusion of style influences, gathered from centuries of East and West trade.

A wide range of major apparel and lifestyle retailers from the USA, UK and Continental Europe are now well established and growing in store numbers.

These images are taken from Aoyama, Tokyo’s leading designer district, and the recently developed retail areas surrounding Osaka station – the North and South Mall Buildings.

Click here to view more pictures of Western brands in Japan on the Visual Thinking Facebook page.