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Inside the Experiential Luxury Trend

With high-end buyers valuing participation with their luxury, brands are here to provide both

We were told that the future of shopping was ordering your next pair of Louboutins from a carefully curated online shop while in the comfort of your own home, curled up under cashmere covers and sipping tea. But as the rise of pop-ups, limited-edition drops and exclusive events proves, buyers of high-end goods want to get out and be part of the action.

In fact, many reports suggest that buyers—especially millennial buyers—prefer to spend their money on experience rather than possessions. And luxury brands are happy to oblige. Last fall Chanel hosted a one-day-only pop-up at Soho’s trendy workspace The Wing. Guests such as Jacquelyn Jablonski, Hanne Gaby Odiele, Cindy Bruna, Sistine Stallone and Leigh Lezark were given membership cards, which provided access to makeup touch-ups, charcoal-infused cocktails and tarot card readings. What made the experience unique was the ability to network with other influential women over a game of ping-pong (and if you wanted to purchase a Chanel Boyfriend watch on your way out, well that could also be arranged).

Hermès also recently travelled across the country with the Hermèsmatic dip-dye scarf concept shop. This interactive and orange-hued “laundromat” let loyal customers refresh their favorite scarves with a complimentary dip-dye. The pop-up travelled to cities and neighborhoods that don’t have Hermès boutiques, which, according to Robert Chavez, chief executive officer of Hermès USA, allowed the company to “surprise” both loyal and potential clients by showing the scarves “in an unexpected way.” In Los Angeles, the pop-up also attracted prominent guests such as socialites China Chow and Jade Iovine and blogger Jenny Cipoletti.

These experiential moments help buyers bond with other interesting people. (It’s one thing to buy a scarf, it’s another to share the story of how your grandmother bought it for your mother in Paris when she was a young student and now you are updating it to give to your daughter.) They also help buyers connect with the brands.

But that engagement also has to feel authentic. The luxury Swiss watchmakers Audemars Piguet have been creating experiences for their customers since the 1980s. The company has a long association with golf and twice a year, they invite select customers to play with brand ambassadors including Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett.

“The average price of one of our watches is $40,000. If you can afford to buy a watch, you have access to a whole lot of experiences already,” says Antonio Seward, Audemars Piguet’s North American CEO. “Our relationship with our brand ambassadors and our clients is more than transactional. For customers that love golf, we are taking them behind the velvet rope.”

“Everybody talks about experience now,” says Seward. “It has become a platitude. It’s become our challenge to create an experience that gives you goosebumps.” For example, Audemars Piguet’s most recent golf invitational brought 72 watch collectors to Dubai to not only play at the exclusive Els Club, but hang out with pros of the course. “We get messages from our guests saying it was the best day ever,” he adds.

Audemars Piguet is also a patron of the arts, and at Art Basel in December invited clients to a private dinner inside Lars Jan’s “Slow-Moving Luminaries” installation. Prepared by chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, the intimate, family-style service was truly a once in a lifetime “goosebumps” moment. After all, one may not recall the contents of a swag bag after a month, but “you will always remember how you interact with the people,” says Seward.

For 2018, Audemars Piguet will offer new experiential highs by opening a lounge on the 29th floor of its New York headquarters. Here, guests can view exceptional timepieces and take in a World Cup match in a relaxed atmosphere.

All this is not to say that e-commerce doesn’t have a place at the experiential table. Luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy’s new online platform Clos19 is actually selling services, excursions and hosting opportunities through its famous champagne, wine and spirits houses. Launched last November, founder and CEO Stephanie Watine Arnault describes Clos19 as a concierge support team that helps its clientele create their own exceptional experiences.

Clos19 is also organizing trips that offer exclusive access to the finest accommodations, cuisine and locations. In 2019, for example, you’ll be able travel by private plane to the South Pole and  sleep in a luxury campsite. Or indulge in a week-long sailboat excursion off the coast of New Zealand by sailboat, with trips ashore for fine-dining experiences and Clos19 tastings.

The advantage of this unique service, says Arnault, is that customers benefit from direct access to luxury brands and their history of hospitality, while using “the digital world to communicate in a contemporary and playful way the values of the art de vivre, always putting the consumer at the heart of the experience.”

Maybe money can buy happiness after all.

Main image: Soho’s all-female workspace The Wing, where Chanel hosted an exclusive pop-up last year.
Image: Courtesy of Chanel