I'm due for drinks at Prada's latest collaboration experiment, the Double Club (below), next week. Now usually it's best to visit new places before you review them. However, in fashion terms, I'm already probably way too late. The Double Club is the latest club/restaurant/bar to open for a six month only period as part of the guerrilla or pop-up phenomenon.
Guerrilla marketing, the original anti-establishment tactic using word-of-mouth recommendation, ambient advertising, hard-to-find stores and harder to get into restaurants has morphed into the soft sounding "pop-up" (more palatable for the mainstream). And pop-ups have been popping up all over here in London. The concept, describing short term events or stores that arrive mostly unannounced to create brand theatre, is hastily being borrowed, adopted and adapted by all types of brands for their own, individual means and is rapidly extending the scope of experiential branding.
Guerrilla projects, like many other progressive but transient things, were initiated by the fashion world circa 1993. New York fashion brand Vacant "popped up" in London in 2003 and the concept was quickly snapped up by that earliest of adopters Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo with a guerrilla store that has whistle stopped from Berlin via Reykjavik, Warsaw, Helsinki, Singapore and LA to Glasgow. Its many destinations allowed it to evolve and gain notoriety. Spurred on by this success, Kawakubo has since followed that with a fashion mecca in the shape of London's Dover Street Market, itself now a platform for other pop-ups including the current Barbie 50th Birthday Party (above).
At the heart of these brand experiments is the covetous appeal of not only the products, but the involving nature of the experience. For consumers, it's of a temporary nature, unique and available only through the effort of location (the ease of which differs depending on the audacious nature of the brand) and the feeling of participation and involvement. For brands, it's the opportunity to experiment with new directions and with non-committal exposure. Many stick to their principles, tailoring environments and experiences to create an edgy or revitalised extension of themselves. But it also gives the chance to flirt outside the usual boundaries.
In London this year, we'll have houses as temporary restaurants (with the added cache of famous hosts like Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood's wife Jo), magazines as shops, and temporary shops making use of the growing number of empty retail spaces. There have also been galleries hosting restaurants such as Flash at the Royal Academy, which in turn commissioned illustrator Will Broome to create a pop-up opportunity for Wedgewood by designing a set of crockery (left).
The pop-ups also sit in close company with brand collaborations. The Milan Furniture Fair a couple of weeks ago saw Veuve Clicquot roll out its orange (not red) carpet to welcome its guests to installations by Swedish design collective Front, which featured a sofa the same shape as the Veuve Clicquot box and Tom Dixon's Comet Light made of new eco-cardboard champagne boxes, rumoured to be available soon as a limited edition release (both below).
Back to London, a personal favourite is a recent rediscovery of brand behaviour. Luxury accessories brand Liberty of London hasn't created a guerrilla store so much as taken this surge of interest in re-engagement to resume their sewing classes in a previously off-limits area of the store. Reviving an old tradition might seem to sit awkwardly alongside the other examples mentioned here, but it's on brand and it's clever. In one neat move, the sewing classes scoop up recession-hit fashion addicts and deliver them to the inner sanctum of Liberty with classes being held in what was Arthur Liberty's Boardroom. Having to traipse through the store to get there - and the revamped Liberty and its departments are now anything but homely - allows you to experience its authentic yet edgy brand experience on the way.
But the downside is that pop-ups can also result in an excuse for a brand mid-life crisis. Although I'm sure they mean well, my heart does sink at the sight of corporate brands handcuffing themselves to urban festivals, even those "down with the kids" telecoms should sometimes know their place. Yes it's vital to continually introduce yourself to new audiences, but there is a whiff of "dad at the disco" about some of these associations. The reason these people found you is because they are inquisitive and are spurred on by that age-old thing: the thrill of the chase. Once you have these bright sparks as your coveted new audience, show them a good time by all means, but just don't go blabbing your tired old corporate message everywhere. This new age of consumerism is about inventiveness, creativity and discovery and not blindsiding them with logos. Speak their language and create a new pop-up for the new brand experience.
Saving the day, and fronting the future of this movement once again, is the fashion industry and it is initiatives such as the aforementioned Double Club, that will hopefully set a new and valuable kind of precedent. Created and run by Fondazione Prada artist Carsten Holler and restaurateur Mourad Mazouz (of Momo and Sketch fame), its impressive introduction of the concept states: "Prada creates experiences: a singular mode of invention runs through Prada's global projects that unite fashion, design, art and architecture in the production of new realities. It tests the power of art in the realm of entertainment." The real revelation, however, is the fact that it donates half of its profits to UNICEF and The City Of Joy, a Congolese charity.
Miuccia Prada has never allowed herself to be ring-fenced by the boundaries of fashion and it is the aforementioned Prada statement that could really resonate. Gestures like this that act with a heart rather than the smash-and-grab of pure consumerism go a long way towards making the opportunity, however unconventional, that bit sweeter.
New concept store in Paris, Merci (below), runs on a similar altruistic principle and, although existing at a permanent address, has a constantly changing stock of limited edition homewares, fashion, vintage books and haberdashery donated by famous benefactors. All profits go to children's charities allowing the founders, Marie-France and Bernard Cohen of kidswear brand Bonpoint, to say thank you or "Merci." The success of pop-ups is, of course, based in the timeless appeal of fleeting desire, but it is also about making sure that your connections have resonance; not just with the latest fads your audience may be into, but real connections and positive brand associations. The result could eventually have a big impact especially if the brand behind them – as in the case of Prada - is weighty enough. The Double Club could hopefully kick-start just that kind of global, brand venture.
Sophie Maxwell's fashion background as a graduate and now guest lecturer at London's Central St Martins is put to daily use in her role as Head of Creative Insight at Pearlfisher.