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Living Brands: Favoring Real Life over Lifestyle

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Sophie Maxwell, Pearlfisher.
Sophie Maxwell, Pearlfisher.
Lifestyle branding reached the zenith of its popularity during the last decade with a multitude of collaborations, inspirations and varying levels of expertise vying for public consumption. Typically presented by a well-defined image and underpinned with a strong philosophy, set of values and ownable aesthetic style, the lifestyle gurus included fashion designers, culinary icons, retro homemakers and celebrity style-makers. Who could forget the glossy images promulgated by Ralph Lauren, the original leader of the '90s preppy pack? Other well-known figures lending their definition of aspirational spit, polish and perfection to our everyday have included the homely-ness of Martha Stewart; the super slick, but slightly don't touch, monochrome of Armani; the romance of Vera Wang and the culinary comforts of Nigella Lawson and Mario Batali.

Despite the growing variety of characters getting involved, the more recent offers could be said to be indeterminably similar with a wave of branded sheets, towels, plates and cutlery hitting our shelves. The only real difference could be said to lie in the--sometimes barely perceptible--influence of the lifestyle guru's original heartland expertise or, indeed, in the fashionable covet-ability of their public lifestyle. There can be too much brand ego on display; sometimes brands unintentionally represent "too perfect" an image and, therefore, rather than enhance our lives, make us feel underachieving and decidedly unglossy when we attempt to adapt bits of them into our everyday. And, even if we're suckered in, the appeal of these chosen lifestyles can be very transient as the heady levels of consumption and (often) shallow-as-a-puddle attitudes mean that what, and who, seems aspirational today has every chance of quickly losing its allure tomorrow.

So is a cookie cutter approach--seemingly based on traditional department store models and a somewhat two-dimensional aesthetic approach--still appropriate to how we live our lives and fulfill individual demands now? The new breed of lifestyle brands offering products that feel carefully collected rather than endlessly produced would say not.

"From our point of view people are now traveling extensively and seeing influences not available in their own marketplaces. That's where we're seeing this drive for adopting elements of different cultures which is in turn creating a new feeling of and want for individuality," said Maria Correia, design director at retail branding specialist Calder Moore, creator of in-store experiences for brands including Jo Malone and The White Company, when I asked her whether there is a move toward new retail models. Maria continued, "We are much more led by consumer need rather than just driven by adopting one person's vision of what life should be."

Stores like Anthropologie, Uniqlo and, in Europe, H&M Hennes more premium offering COS (short for Collection of Style) may have a heartland area--fashion for instance--but extend their offers to create a broader and more eclectic branded experience to give their consumers a mix of products from different sources and build an image around discovery and individuality. Borrowing from the concept of breakthrough edited retail stores, like Colette in Paris, they may collate books, cosmetics, music, even items of food (I once stocked up on Dr. Stuart's Herbal Teas from a run in COS) and allows these stores/brands to show they understand and share the ever changing interests and needs of their consumers outside of their expected boundaries.

At Pearlfisher we've been working with these same sentiments for the past year in the creation of Jme: Chef Jamie Oliver's first foray into lifestyle branding (above, below). Elevating Jamie from the kitchen to the home, it is a diverse and ever changing variety of useful and lovely things, innovated and designed both by Jamie himself and by different designers all over the world. Echoing this blog's sentiments, we felt strongly that the brand should feel emotive rather than "branded" and corporate to fit with the personal style of individual homes. Rather than imposing an aesthetic we created a strong marque to hold together the eclectic and evolving collection of products and packaging, inspired by and reflecting his relaxed approach to eating, entertaining and enjoying life.

Today's most innovative lifestyle brands are rethinking their approach to branding and refocusing on their consumers and how they live. It feels more and more as if we are approaching branding in such a holistic manner that we almost think of brands as having their own patterns of behaviour (almost a personality of their own) that their consumer can relate to and emotionally engage with. It may create more of a struggle to be everything to everyone but these brands approach lifestyle as individual and personal. They attempt to inspire and identify with their customers and by offering a unique mix of product and values and evolving with a genuine and personal, and sometimes simpler, approach help them build their own interpretation of modern living and life. I, for one, hope the future holds more opportunities to work on the creation of these 'living' brands.

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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.
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