The Rise of Lifestyle Brands & Culturally Constructed Identities

Earlier on this year, Gucci released their first homeware collection. It was hardly unexpected: the launch of Gucci Decor was teased at their 2016 runway show, with embroidered cushions left on the seats of all attendees. Instagram, of course, went crazy. Many have seen the iconic label’s foray into interiors as part a new cultural obsession with lifestyle brands. As Glossy puts it in their feature, “moving into décor allows Gucci to fully immerse consumers in their world”.

To be simply a “Fashion” or a “Beauty” brand is no longer desirable. And Lifestyle Brand has become the sought-after suffix that everyone’s aiming for. The end goal is now to “inspire, guide and motivate” your customer. Your product should “contribute to the definition of the consumer’s way of life”. We can see it in Gucci and we can see it in other trends too, like the designer athleisure boom.

Let’s look to the most lifestyle-y of all lifestyle brands: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. Spanning both content and commerce, the brand takes a holistic approach to marketing wellness and spirituality, as popularized by its founder. It’s essentially world creation. Goop builds a community centred around a value system and consumers can align themselves by shopping or reading. Whatever you think of Goop, it’s kind of what everyone’s aiming for. Brands now need to add value beyond the functional or aesthetic: they need to offer their customers something to construct an identity around.

How To Be Lifestyle

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Image via Supreme

So, if lifestyle is the goal, then how do you get there? Release a line of scented candles, Gucci would tell you. And there’s plenty of other designers moving into new product categories to round out their lifestyle offering. Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in collaborations and capsule collections. This is all part of the same cultural shift, and most interesting are the high street x designer partnerships. Talking about his recent collaborations, designer J.W. Anderson says: “Converse or Uniqlo serve an incredible purpose to me.” What Anderson hits on here is the power of another established, but external brand to strengthen the connection that his own customers make to his label.

Of course, the king of cross-market collaboration is Supreme. Louis Vuitton x Supreme landed in January 2017, and there’s a seemingly endless list of luxury brands that the streetwear label has leant its name to. It’s no surprise that luxury designers are looking to benefit from Supreme’s cultural position. It’s probably an understatement to say that Supreme has mastered “lifestyle branding” – their appeal is more cult-like. The icons and belief system that they’ve created align them so strongly with the subculture that they built the brand around. It’s now the mere presence of their name which is valuable as a means for other labels to bolster and secure their own identities.

Another huge part of the lifestyle strategy is “lifestyle content”, now seen as a near pre-requisite when it comes to building a luxury brand. And, actually, even Amazon’s onboard with this: they’re rumoured to be partnering with beauty publishing platform, Violet Grey. Amazon recognises that (while it has never, and will not ever, exist as a lifestyle publication) aligning itself with authority editorial content is integral. Content is the backbone of world creation.

Instagram & the Performance of Self

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The New York Times recently started selling branded tote bags. This, from David Rubin, SVP of audience and brand strategy: “as our focus shifts towards having a highly engaged, highly passionate audience, we ask – how do we help them express their connection to The Times?”.

It’s this idea of the tote bags as an expression of readers connection to The Times that’s really compelling. An interest is only valuable if it’s shareable; if it’s useful in demonstrating who you are. Of course, this is by no means a new phenomenon. For centuries, we’ve used aspects of culture – art, literature, cinema – to define ourselves. It’s a complex performance of identity. In Instagram culture, the performance is more distinctly visual. Private spaces are made public. And brands need to consider how their products will work as props in their consumer’s curated performance of their personal style.

Perhaps the most prominent example of branding that turned a functional product into a prop, is Apple’s Mac. Making appearances in coffee shop-located Instagram posts since what seems like the dawn of time, Apple turned the Mac into a visual signifier for “Creative”. Cultivating a prop that moves the performer into a desirable ‘creative-class’ by association, they’ve succeeded by giving their consumer something material to construct identity around.

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