“You just have to live and life will give you pictures,” declared the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. And nowadays we have such a variety of ways to capture an image, from lomography (the retro form of analogue photography) to smart phones that means every moment can be captured.
After two previous attempts, I finally managed to make it to the Pompidou Centre in Paris with my wife and daughter for a restrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work. We had limited time because our ferry in Calais was set to depart in four-and-a-half hours. We rushed towards the gallery entrance hall only to find a queue of fellow travellers slowly snaking its way to the door. After 20 minutes, we were finally in. On the white painted walls hung small black-and-white photographs surrounded by crowds of people.
These were photographs in the analogue sense. Distilled from light and chemicals, they took on a life of their own. Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was an artist who captured the “decisive moment” instinctively. He was greatly influenced by the surrealist movement in the 1920s and 1930s and you can see this in the way he composed his photographs, as if hunting prey, waiting or moving around his subjects until that fleeting composition presented itself. Using a manual Leica with no light meter, his experience would enable him to set the correct shutter and aperture to capture that moment.
These days photography has become commonplace, technology having placed a camera in everyone’s hands in the form of a smart phone. You no longer have to be an enthusiast to sport a digital single lens reflex camera because the price on previously expensive technology has made this equipment very affordable. These cameras are all digital and images are captured in a totally different way. Previously, film was expensive so every shot counted. Now hundreds of shots can be taken with no cost apart from the initial outlay for a memory card that can be repeatedly reused.
When film was the medium to capture images, more time was taken to compose the scene and make sure all the settings – aperture, shutter speed, exposure and focus – were correctly set. With some experience, particular effects could be applied by changing one or more of these settings. The depth-of-field could be changed by adjusting the aperture, allowing different parts of the scene to be in or out of focus. Fast-moving subjects could be frozen or blurred by adjusting the shutter speed.
Nowadays, most scenes are captured using automatic settings. Although it makes photography much easier and more dynamic, there is a loss of skill. Also in the past, film was chemically processed, giving high resolution results. I have spent many an hour in the darkroom coaxing images from exposed photographic paper soaked in developer chemicals. Digital images are rarely printed and are mostly shared to appear on social media networks.
Photography helped accelerate the exponential rise of social media (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr). The immediacy of social media networks has made digital photography fantastically popular. Mobile phone cameras are also used as an aide-memoire (car park spaces, a dissembled electric car window, motorbike clutch, electronic circuits and recipes to name a few things I’ve photographed), to share moments almost instantly and globally. The selfie (self-portrait) has entered the vernacular.
Photography has made an amazing journey in the past century and digital reigns supreme, even though Lomo photography has made analogue hip again. There has been a rise in popularity of obsolete formats such as vinyl and audio cassette and there is a place for them all.
Thanks to Facebook, I’ve been able to follow a trip of a lifetime for my niece, Hayleigh Hume. A 21-year-old art and design student, currently studying a BA Honours in Photography at Hertfordshire University, Hayleigh has always looked for opportunities to explore new and unusual places that people wouldn’t really pick out of a holiday brochure and she has worked hard to achieve her dream of taking photographs of animals in the wild. She recently won a month’s photography internship with Oceans Campus, which offers wildlife volunteer programmes, student training and wildlife career internships in South Africa. She was initially nervous when she arrived but, as you can see from some of her pictures, she soon made friends.
With the help of Facebook, we have been able to follow her adventures, with daily updates and photographs. She has done some incredible things, such as skydiving, shark-cage diving (she didn’t sleep at all the night before) and diving with seals, as well as climbing Table Mountain.
If it wasn’t for Facebook, we would have had to wait for daily telephone calls from her to make sure she was safe. But Facebook saved the day. And more and more of us are sharing our lives online. By the end of 2013, Facebook estimated it had 1.23 billion monthly active users with 757 million users logging on to Facebook each day.
Brands are also taking note of social media. Research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has found that 75 per cent of Twitter users have interacted with a brand in the past three months and more than 50 per cent on Facebook. Birds Eye recently opened a pop-up restaurant for three days in London where diners could get a free meal by posting an image of it on Instagram. The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain has launched its “Six Word Wows” campaign, which invites customers to capture an experience.
Hayleigh has found her internship a life-changing experience and she wants to continue to promote the need for animal welfare in her own photographic career. We are all so proud of her.
The world of “e-tail” is changing. Luxury e-commerce consumers are expecting more from their online experience and editorial engagement is increasingly the answer. A virtual magazine (or blog), carefully curated around points of sale, offers a bridge between commerce and content. It not only allows customers an insightful, unique and enjoyable way to shop, but also becomes a destination in its own right.
Net-A-Porter, Matches, Farfetch, My Wardrobe and Excelsior Milano are just some of the e-commerce sites offering innovative editorial to their shoppers. Re-imagining the print magazines that have influenced consumers since the start of the 19th century, the brands capture and inspire their audience through regular features, such as Q&A interviews, celebrity style pages and travel guides as well as cutting-edge video and design, with seamless shopping links throughout. This encourages customers to buy into the brand’s voice, identity and, ultimately, lifestyle.
Two iconic British brands, Anya Hindmarch and Paul Smith, have both created lifestyle blogs. Anya’s World and Paul Smith World provide “backstage” insights into their brands, bringing a sense of personalisation and aspiration associated with the products they sell. Combined with social media marketing, they aim to connect their customer to their story and, later, their product.
It has been estimated that Net-A-Porter’s site received an average of six million global visitors per month last year. It is no coincidence that the brand’s editorial content goes from strength to strength in the form of a digital magazine, The Edit, and the recent hardback launch, Porter. Featuring high profile covers, with Lara Stone, Gisele Bündchen and Lady Gaga, and a slick selection of feature stories, Porter rivals, if not triumphs, many of the newsstand glossies. And it’s no surprise with Lucy Yeomans, ex-Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar, at the helm. She tells Business of Fashion that “a magazine is entertainment. You have to remember to entertain and inspire, as well as provide solutions.”
Yeomans is not the only editor who has jumped ship. Carmen Borgonovo, fashion director at my-wardrobe.com, also made the move from Harper’s Bazaar, while Tilly Macalister Smith left the esteemed offices of Vogue behind her to take the position of Fashion Features Editor at Matches, and Jeremy Langmead left Esquire to launch Mr Porter magazine, telling Business of Fashion that “in the luxury fashion sector at least, this is the publishing model of the future: a blend of content and commerce talking in realtime to a highly engaged audience with a finger primed to purchase.”
The fact that many newsstand magazines are introducing online shopping channels, such as Harper’s Bazaar’s ShopBAZAAR, as well as Condé Nast recently investing $20m in Farfetch, further emphasises the power of the content/ commerce blend.
The rise of experiential luxury is not a new concept—in fact, we’ve been seeing it gain momentum since before the onset of the recession. However, it is something that is becoming more and more relevant as our attitudes towards luxury evolve.
What sparked this shift? There are several factors, but essentially the luxury consumer wants more. In the 1980s and 1990s, a logo-heavy handbag/jacket/watch was a direct indication of social status, but now, partly due to a more pared-back, post-recession mindset and partly due to a been-there-done-that attitude, there is less of an emphasis on material goods and more attention being paid to self-enrichment. Don’t get me wrong: this is not to say that the desire for luxury goods has been completely replaced with the desire for lavish experiences, it just means that it has become equally important.
Another factor is the rise of emerging economies such as China and Africa. People in countries where travel was very limited are now extremely interested in experiencing destinations in terms of Michelin-starred restaurants, yacht excursions, safaris and luxury spas. A report released by The Boston Consulting Group in 2012 (mid-recession, mind you) found that $980 billion (roughly £583 billion) was spent on experiential luxury, while luxury goods (cars, apparel, watches, jewellery, and so on) totalled only $830 billion (£494 billion) combined.
We shouldn’t underestimate the effect of counterfeit goods on the experiential sector. They have undermined the luxury industry not just with handbags, but with fine wines, clothing, technology, and so on. Experiences are much harder to fake and so people still feel that they are investing in something exclusive.
Perhaps even more relevant has been the democratisation of luxury, which has in turn attracted a younger consumer. It has happened across a number of sectors: think designer collaborations with retailers like H&M and GAP, Gucci partnering with mid-range car maker Fiat and the very marker of an elite lifestyle, champagne. Many brands are now touting it as a drink suitable for everyday consumption, no longer reserved for celebrating special occasions.
And of course, the meteoric growth of social media has had a major impact. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – these outlets allow a consumer to share luxury differently, making knowledge and self-betterment a new status symbol and, in turn, sharing these experiences online.
There has been a positive side to this swing in public consciousness – it has directly benefited the luxury travel industry. Five-star hotels, luxury spas, yachting companies, private jets – all have seen a marked growth in interest. It has also encouraged brands that were only known for their designer clothing or jewellery to diversify. Think Roberto Cavalli wines, the new Ferragamo hotel and even Land Rover has recently partnered with luxury travel specialists Abercrombie & Kent to offer driving holidays.
Luckily for editors of luxury publications like myself, this shift has carried over to the way we are introduced to new launches, whether it be a new spa, hotel, or in the case of Dom Pérignon Champagne, the release of its latest vintage. Brands understand that not only will we communicate to our readers differently having truly experienced a product, but we will also want to share it with friends, family and our followers on social media. Not because we have to, but because we want to.
The perfect example is a few weeks ago, when I accompanied Dom Pérignon to Iceland for Sphere magazine, where we were awed by the incredible effort made to allow us to experience the release of Dom Pérignon P2-1998. As the company said:
“P2, the Second Plénitude of Dom Pérignon, is an intense, precise and vibrant facet of the wine, like the landscapes of Iceland. The experience revealed Dom Pérignon’s Second Plénitude around four magical places in Iceland: Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Gígjökull glacier, Dyrhólaeyjarviti lighthouse, and a private party in a secret place.”
As we travelled between the otherworldly lava fields, majestic waterfalls, dramatic cliffs overlooking black beaches, historic lighthouses, active volcanoes and melting glaciers, we drew parallels between the layered complexity of the Champagne and that of the country’s spectacular landscape. Much like this island of only 300,000 people, the opening of a bottle of P2 is like embarking on a journey thorough a new universe.
No longer is a glass of wine just a glass of wine or a holiday just a holiday – these are journeys to be experienced and shared. With that in mind, here is a peak inside our Iceland adventure.
Nowadays, when you can fill a shopping trolley with “luxury” chocolate, fabric softener, dessert and loo-roll, you do get a sense that, in terms of marketing, the l-word has reached its “masstige” limit. Increasingly, we seek the “authentic” as an alternative and this is where a brand can truly excel. If it can offer an experience that is impeccably curated, leaves nothing to chance and appears effortless while at the same time introduces an authentic story, a craft, or an absolute sense of place and belonging, then that brand has struck gold.
I was fortunate enough to participate in one such experience recently—a tour of the finest retailers in London’s St James’s organised by Food Lover London. We enjoyed a behind-the scenes appreciation of cheese shop Paxton & Whitfield, La Maison Maille mustard boutique, wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd and Fortnum & Mason with afternoon tea. I came away with enduring memories, not simply of the delicacies on offer, but also of the stories told by the hosts in each establishment.
The food and drink was delicious, but as those sensory memories fade, I am left with a desire to hear more stories: about the great British cheesemakers, who struggled through adversity to deliver a truly unique product; about today’s best-selling liquors that were concocted for special, discerning customers 150 years ago; and the driving passion of artisan creators to make each and every product the best it can possibly be.
It reminded me that often the most authentic and memorable of exceptional experiences only happen as a result of having the right people there at the right time, be they hosts, concierges, shop assistants, drivers, chefs, chambermaids or whoever. Thank you to Harry, Tom, Francis and Ciara for sharing your stories with us.