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Game on, luxury brands

By Stéphane Roth | China Daily Hong Kong Edition | Updated: 2019-10-14 09:48
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Gucci Arcade [Photo/Gucci]

If shopping is today's top leisure activity for people all over the world, then the insufferable portmanteau "retailtainment" is its most advanced stage. Basically, this refers to the enduring trend where retail meets entertainment in creating a unique experience for clients. To connect with their consumers, brands have long understood the need to create emotional connections and to constantly surprise and delight.

Tiffany's Harajuku store [Photo/Stéphane Roth]

Luxury brands have understood that paradigm better than any other players in the retail game. They created flagship stores in the 2000s to showcase their brands' universes. Then came branded cafes and restaurants within the stores, so as to literally "eat the brand" – including the enduring success of the Armani cafes in Hong Kong and Paris, the Beige Alain Ducasse restaurant in Chanel's Ginza store in Tokyo, and the brand-new Tadao Ando-designed Tiffany at Cat Street store in Tokyo's trendy Harajuku, featuring a playful cat-themed cafe.

To take things one step further towards creating immersive experiences, some luxury brands started creating hotels. Among the recent examples are the Bulgari Hotel Shanghai, which opened in 2018 to echo the luxurious Roman style of the Italian jeweller after launching similar venues in Milan and London, and the new Fauchon l'Hôtel Paris on Place de la Madeleine, which celebrates both pâtisserie and hospitality in the Instagram-worthy pink and black rooms.

YSL pop-up at Coachella 2019 [Photo/YSL Beauty]

And we can't forget pop-ups with unique products or services (remember the Hermès Instamatic concept, where it would dye your old silk scarves on-site and give them a new style?), immediate desirability for a short period of time in a high-traffic venue (Dior's fragrance pop-up on the trendy Greek island of Mykonos this summer) or the creation of social-media buzz (the YSL Beauté pop-up that looked like a gas station at the 2019 edition of the Coachella festival).

So what's the next trend? Brands now want to "play with your mind" and capitalise on our universal appetite for games. We all enjoy a little fun – and if we can find these luxury houses cool and playful, it's all the better for the brand. Clearly targeting millennials and tapping into their nostalgia for the 1980s, Louis Vuitton released a video game called Endless Runner in July. With its basic 16-bit graphics, bold colours and simple rules, the game echoes Virgil Abloh's latest autumn/winter 2019 men's collection.

Endless Runner by Louis Vuitton [Photo/Louis Vuitton]

Just days before, Gucci introduced Gucci Arcade on its mobile app with two 8-bit video games: Gucci Bee and Gucci Ace. Designed in a clear '80s approach, these games play with some of the brand's codes (such as the bees) or its key products like sneakers, thus evoking the playful universe that artistic director Alessandro Michele has been promoting over the past seasons.

In the unending quest to build loyalty, engaging with consumers is key. Smart brands know that true luxury is an experience – whether that's at a boutique, at home or at your fingertips.

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