Brands use Fashion Week sponsorships to strut their stuff reach influencers—and just plain look good
When it comes to glitz few events in New York City can rival Fashion Week the semi-annual ritual under the tents in Bryant Park where leggy models strut the latest designer duds down the catwalk.
Well-heeled retail buyers haughty fashion editors hard-working photographers hip A-list celebs and hangers-on of every stripe descend upon the city in February and September as surely as the swallows make their annual trek to San Juan Capistrano. (The little birds arrive by air the fashionistas in limos but both are attired in black and on a mission.)
Fashion Week crowds follow the trends—but they also set them. These are some of the world’s ultimate influencers a fact not lost on a growing list of sponsors. The designers may get their goods photographed in Vogue but what do sponsors get out of it? How about brand building media exposure credibility and connections with the mucho sought-after influencer segment.
More than 100 000 attendees make their way through the Big Apple tents alone. Since its inception in 1993 Fashion Week has spawned additional but smaller shows as well. Miami with its ocean views hot sand cool drinks and beautiful women provides a perfect backdrop for swimwear fashion shows which take center stage for five evenings in July. This year Miami’s show featured 16 runway shows stretching from hotels to pools amid 20 000 attendees the most in its three-year history. In Los Angeles emerging West Coast talent mingles with established designers each March and October amid tents in Smashbox Studios in Culver City (attendance: 25 000). A variety of international shows exist as well.
“When we look at what customers like to do from a lifestyle perspective—using everything from surveys to database management—fashion is in the top five ” says Carol Goll former general manager-brand experience marketing at Mercedes-Benz (she left the company last month). Mercedes signed a three-year title sponsorship for all three domestic Fashion Weeks this past spring as well as Fashion Week in Berlin. “It’s a door for us to bring more women and more diverse audiences into the brand and helps reinforce that ‘leadership in design’ message that is one of the cornerstones of our brand ” Goll says. “It allows us to reach people in a new and fresh way. For us it just seems like a natural fit.”
Goll is not alone. Companies such as DHL AT&T Continental Airlines W Hotels MAC Cosmetics and Lycra are also on board attached to Fashion Weeks in a corporate bid to rub elbows with influencers media reps and celebs—and strut their branded stuff in and around the catwalks. Brands of all kinds want a piece of that action. Brand ambassadors from Splenda handed out cupcakes baked with the sugarless sweetener to waist-conscious attendees looking for a pick-me-up. Hershey’s York Peppermint Pattie used the New York venue as a platform for a low-fat high-style brand positioning. It partnered with designer Nicole Miller to create a collection of limited-edition purses—the ultimate arm candy—featuring everything from Swarovski crystal-encrusted evening bags to canvas totes. The purses launched at Miller’s fashion show and were sold in her boutiques last spring and at prices from $25-$1 000 all the purses sold out. Proceeds from the sale benefited cancer survivors. And of course the mints were served backstage. Sweet.
DHL uses its Fashion Week connection to entertain customers and earn potential ones in an industry where shipping fabric swatches samples and finished designs daily and reliably is absolutely essential. “This is an enormous opportunity for us ” says Lynne Koreman the company’s senior director-sponsorship marketing and corporate citizenship.
Outside of the runway shows sponsors vie for attendees’ attention in an atmosphere that is part trade show part carnival handing out product samples beverages snacks or sometimes a quiet interlude away from the blaring music and photographers’ spotlights. “The sponsorships go way beyond Bryant Park ” says Fern Mallis senior vp at IMG Fashion which owns and manages the property. “Many of the companies we work with are looking to connect the dots around the world.” (MasterCard for one is sponsoring a show in Asia and activates throughout the world of fashion.)
Some use Fashion Week as a launching pad for new products or services. Mercedes uses each event to tout specific models. This summer’s Miami Fashion Week for instance served as the backdrop for the CLK 63 AMG; last fall in Gotham the hand-tailored Ocean Drive concept show car was on display. “It all depends on launch timings and when the event takes place ” says Goll about which make and models get play.
“What’s key is to extend the presence outside of the event ” she says pointing to additional support such as targeted direct mail the Internet p.r. and advertising. “It helps to reinforce the message and the event has more legs. We also want to bring the Fashion Week experience to our customers and our prospects. This is a platform for doing that. For us it’s not just about one-off events. This is a thread that pulls through to make it a year of fashion.”
Mercedes activates on the ground and online via a branded microsite updated throughout the year. “It allows people to get the latest and greatest in fashion including highlights from the shows interviews backgrounds on the synergies between our brand and the fashion world ” she says. “Like fashion trends we want to stay ahead of it.”
At the events Mercedes tailors messages and programs for each venue but as title sponsor the auto brand is seamlessly woven into each event. Its name appears on everything from banners lining the city streets to lanyards for attendees. In New York this February it also provided financial support for designer Monique Lhuillier. In Miami it sponsored the Badgley Mischka show featured on the branded microsite along with supermodel Tyson Beckford who hosted a segment called “So Damn Hot.”
For others it’s all about getting some rub-off by integrating the product or service inside Fashion Week. Case in point: In New York DHL activated its sponsorship with a “Pick-Up Spot ” located in a prime front-of-house placement in the main tent where attendees could ship and receive products nibble on biscotti and sip espresso made on-site at a large espresso bar. “From a hospitality standpoint it gives us a broader opportunity to entertain customers and potential customers ” says Koreman. “From an event management perspective we had to get in and figure out the logistics of it ” Koreman adds. “How do we want to present our brand? How will we interact with people?”
One answer: DHL branded Fashion Week volunteers decking them out in the company’s trademark colors with red necklaces and yellow shirts. It also branded the customer service desk in Los Angeles. “Customer service is exceedingly important to us as a company and is a big part of what we do and what we speak about so being able to brand the customer service desk or an information [area] really helps speak to our brand ” says Koreman.
DHL couriers also are on-site loading and unloading multiple pick-ups each day especially on load-in and load-out days. “From a sponsor perspective it’s wonderful being able to help fellow sponsors move their items ” she adds. “In New York a large contingent of people shipped things from our booth; a lot of media shipped tapes and information all over the world.”
In Miami this past July DHL partnered with Cia.Maritima a Brazilian producer of high-end beachwear. Besides its international delivery and logistics expertise DHL “delivery men ” shirtless hunky models outfitted in red shorts and yellow hats raked the runway free of sand immediately before the start of the show. The delivery guys and girls also mingled with the crowd posing for snapshots which then were on display in DHL’s hospitality area. Attendees got to take them home in a magnetic frame for a branded souvenir of the event. DHL cohosted the designer’s after party with sponsors Cuca Fresca a super premium brand of sugar cane rum and the Brazilian sandal brand Havaianas in The Raleigh Hotel Penthouse. (The brand also attaches to Fashion Week Live a traveling fashion show for consumers that launched in Houston and San Francisco this year.)
“Part of the reason we got involved was to bring more focus to the fashion industry and let them know about our capabilities ” says Koreman. “We’re speaking to the industry in its own language by being involved with the events.”
AT&T exclusive wireless provider of Fashion Week offers its subscribers an insider’s view of the shows such as trend reports and fashion tips by designers and TV personality Robert Verdi host of Metro TV’s “Full Frontal Fashion.” In Miami it dished up “The Daily Front Row to Go ” a mobile version of the show’s daily newsletter with up-to-the-minute images of the shows and behind-the-scenes footage.
Then there’s the hospitality. One Scottsdale a new luxury retail and lifestyle community that broke ground this spring in upscale Scottsdale AZ finds its Fashion Week sponsorship aligns its brand with key fashion and luxury demos that it hopes to attract into its development. “Our goal is to show retailers that we understand their consumer ” says Irene Carroll vp and general manager at One Scottsdale. The developer finds Fashion Week the ideal venue for entertaining executives from Chanel Tiffany & Co. Hermès and other exclusive fashion retailers. In addition to its booth under the tent One Scottsdale partnered with IMG and Vogue Italia in a Fashion Week launch party held at chic New York restaurant Bette.
At Bryant Park One Scottsdale’s efforts are “very high-touch ” Carroll says with simple handwritten invitations and reminders and gift packages sent to its clients’ hotel rooms. “They serve as reminders that we know their consumer as well as they do ” she says. “Sometimes the little touches make a difference. They help keep your name in front of them.”
Everyone Can Play
Hey don’t get the wrong idea. Fashion Week is hardly reserved for the mega-brands. Smaller trademarks such as Imperia Vodka are benefiting from the rub-off as well. Imperia served pomegranate cosmopolitans in the lobby bar of the New York tent and backstage at the W VIP Lounge an invitation-only hotspot for celebs and Fashion Week A-listers. Imperia isn’t new to fashion-related events. It has also hosted the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and Billboard Music Awards as well as the fashion shows and after parties for Baby Phat Philip Lim and other designers.
“We follow the fashion industry not [just] the events themselves ” says Drew Beaver director-communications at Russian Standard Vodka USA which owns the brand. “We’re looking to reach people who actually set trends… and the people who follow them and take their advice.”
Unilever’s Sunsilk brand a new sponsor in Miami gave out more than 97 000 samples of its DeFrizz Straighten Up Anti-Caida and other haircare products from its Fashion Week cabana and throughout the city for nearly 100 000 consumer interactions. In addition three Sunsilk “Hairapy” guys (that’s short for “hair” and “therapy”) provided commentary on the hairstyles seen on the runways to the show’s daily newsletter. Street samplers raked in hundreds of entries into a national promo offering a trip to 2008 Fashion Week in New York.
“Sunsilk understands that hair is one of the most important aspects of achieving a great look ” says Cynthia Stafford Unilever marketing manager. “Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Miami Swim provided the perfect opportunity to shine the spotlight on hair as the ultimate accessory.”
For brands with a strong design aesthetic sponsoring an individual designer is a worthwhile tack. Such a sponsorship often evolves into a partnership adding additional design cred to the brand. It worked out that way for Brizo the upscale division of Delta Faucets. Its connection with fashion designer Jason Wu now in its second year has developed into a full-scale partnership that transcends Fashion Week to include a fashion show this spring at an old train station in Indianapolis where Delta is based to a line of collectible dolls inspired by the brand. “There is a sleek look to our product as well as Jason’s ” says Ann Beriault vp at Young & Laramore Brizo’s lead agency. “At every turn he has become part of the nomenclature of the brand.”
Brizo’s collaboration with Wu gets it 25 tickets to his Fashion Week runway show which the company gives to key consumers and influencers. Last year Brizo held a party with Harper’s Bazaar for 700 of its closest friends including actress Mira Sorvino. “That was a small but we’re hoping very noisy group who will talk about the party later ” Beriault says.
Giveaways at Wu’s shows have included a Brizo-inspired necklace designed by him and a “dream journal ” aimed at encouraging trendsetters to record their dreams as a way to tap into their most deep-seated design inspirations.
The price? All over the board. There are levels of sponsorship with Mercedes-Benz at the top as title sponsor. Under that come customized sponsorship programs that can run across multiple events. IMG doesn’t disclose figures but did indicate all of its sponsorships are in the mid-six figures. Title sponsorships are into the millions.
But hopefully worth the price. “I love the energy there ” says DHL’s Koreman. “In New York there are fabulous people watching but there is also a wonderful energy and buzz that is terrific for the fashion and retail industry—and our piece of that.”
Indeed looking good… is feeling good (dahling).