Pop Culture, Collaborations & The State of Luxury Retail | RetailNext

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Pop Culture, Collaborations & The State of Luxury Retail

Be'Anka Ashaolu
Be'Anka Ashaolu
Sr. Manager, Digital Marketing

In the era of today’s mobile empowered, tech savvy shopper, retail brand images extend well beyond the walls of stores and are often outside of the direct control of the brand itself. It requires cultural listening and a quick and agile response to deliver contextual experiences.

The Kardashians are part of the Balmain Army, Jay Z is an avid art collector, and thanks to the ever-present possibility of being photographed – and the seeming necessity of contour – glam is a thing.

Speaking recently at RetailNext’s 6th Annual Executive Forum, Leslie J. Ghize, executive vice president of consumer culture and creative think tank TOBE, described how this unprecedented visibility into the lifestyles of the rich and the famous has blurred the line between casual and luxurious – especially among millennials. Couple this visibility with millennials’ inherent desire for convenience and accessibility, and we’re ushering in a new era of selfie-friendly, consumer-driven experiences that reflect the lives and concerns of this generation from lip-kits to #feelthebern.

Retailers have taken note.


The “high-to-low” trend has been going on for over a decade. H&M, Target, and Uniqlo have already partnered with the likes of Kenzo, Versace, and Karl Lagerfeld of both Chanel and Fendi on exclusive ready-to-wear lines. Even sportswear has gotten the high fashion treatment with Nike and Adidas tapping creative designers from famous fashion houses to create athleisure.

Social consciousness from brands has ranged from selling pink things to shout-outs on social media. With constant connectivity and a 24-hour news cycle, there’s no excuse for being in the dark.

As millennials gain more buying power as the largest living demographic, they naturally crave the Hollywood treatment. Having been exposed to the luxuries of the elite, as well as the sometimes harsh realities of life, they’ve grown up in a world where nothing is off limits. But closing these shoppers isn’t as simple as teaming with a big name or changing your company’s profile pic for the cause.

Yes, it’s a refrain often heard by retail marketers: context and experience are what matters most.

Retailers have always understood they’re selling a lifestyle. What’s becoming even more apparent, however, is that the lifestyle and subsequent shopper activity is quite specific (read: personalized) due to big data and the dominance of mobile. This proliferation of information and access to information has extended the presence of brands to beyond their stores in sometimes unanticipated ways.

For example, I know Balmain because, admittedly, I keep up with the Kardashians who introduced me to the brand through their social media outlets and television programs. Thanks to Yeezy and a supermodel sister, the family has close ties to many fashion houses – perhaps most notably, to Balmain.


The Kardashians have a long standing friendship with Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing, and as a result of that connection, I’m one of Olivier’s 3.4 million Instagram followers. He regularly posts Balmain’s latest designs and fashion lines, one of which happened to be a collaboration with H&M. The Balmain x H&M collaboration was one of the most successful fast-fashion launches to date as evidenced by Balmainia,which led to items selling out within hours across the globe. This massive rush of store traffic was undoubtedly influenced by an undeniable amalgamation of things: Kardashians, television, Rousteing, social media.

jenner insta

Because we’re privy to so much data, there is a natural multi-channel experience that exists for many shoppers before they even step foot inside a store. This experience isn’t limited to just advertisements and fashion spreads, but extends to the seemingly personal connections made with the humans behind the brand. Sometimes those humans are paid or unpaid celebrities; sometimes they’re the awesome content creators working behind the scenes for the company or the media. And often, this influence is outside of anyone’s control. So much for marketing attribution, right?

Olivier instagram

But, this desire for luxury, awareness, and personalization is not to say that millennials are all fashion or pop-culture obsessed. What they really are is experience obsessed, and tapping into this takes a little bit of social, or as TOBE puts it: cultural listening. These shoppers want intuitive, exclusive, and simple – and if you don’t give it to them, they’ll create it for themselves or find it elsewhere. Culture, pop or otherwise, will always create opportunities for retailers, but the best retailers will be those who see, listen, and take advantage early and often.

How is your brand connecting to the needs and concerns of this growing demographic? How important is context and understanding in your partnership and content decisions? Let me know in the comments below.

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