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
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.
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.