The Changing of the Guard

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There was a time when a royal warrant sealed a brand’s reputation. The stiff upper lip and old boys club of Burlington Arcade ensured you were at least halfway to becoming an icon. It didn’t matter if the profits fell through the floor as long as you kept your core customers and maintained an image of being a Great British institution then Old Bond Street and Savile Row would welcome you into the fold, but times have changed and with the advent of social media and an increasingly aware and fickle public, it was only a matter of time before the old guard got caught off guard .

When we think of British institutions, we could mention Simpsons, Viyella and Wedgwood – all of which have floundered. To their credit we still have the stalwarts like Barbour, Belstaff and Smythson and it’s comforting to think that these bastions of Britishness have taken their hunting jackets, handbags, accessories and notepads and they’ve learned how to market them to the masses.

In an age when most people research their purchases online before buying, it’s become increasingly necessary for iconic brands to recognise digital media as a platform for taking their brand message worldwide.

Burberry is at the forefront of this digital revolution and has shown itself to be one of the world leaders for initiative and creativity in it’s online and social media campaigns. It was recently voted number 1 out of 49 worldwide fashion brands in the annual L2 Digital IQ Index.

Burberry’s Facebook page alone has attracted more than 8.2 million fans ( that’s more than seven times the global circulation of Vogue). It’s Spring Summer 2012 womenswear show was streamed in HD through Facebook and created a link for everyone of it’s 8 million-plus fans to share through their personal page. If we think of how powerful a tool a Facebook page can be, then most brands should be updating their profile and courting their customers as often as a boy-band courts its fans.

Burberry have also made use of YouTube and their channel features videos of shows, ad campaigns and exclusive behind the scenes videos and interviews with it’s chief creative officer Christopher Bailey. It’s Art of the Trench website is a celebration of the iconic Burberry trench and the people who wear it and allows users to upload their own trench portraits from around the world.Since it’s launch in November 2009, it has had over 15.6 million page views worldwide.

The Burberry blitz on all things digital shows no signs of stopping or slowing down with evermore groundbreaking and innovative ideas. In September 2011 Burberry partnered with Twitter to create the first ever live “Tweetwalk” show premiering the Spring Summer 2012 collection with instant twitpics of every look.

The success and domination of world wide media by Burberry has pushed companies like Mulberry and Dunhill to recognise that iconic status is not always a substitute for innovation with their online business. Mulberry has invested in a Facebook page, Twitter account, blog and iPhone app. Their Facebook page is a charming mix of genuine customer enquries, fawning love letters to the Alexa, Bayswater and Daria and all out hard sell. The app allows customers to shop directly online, locate their nearest store and also access seasonal looks and catwalk videos.

It’s important to realise that almost everybody who shops with a “luxury” brand is going to have a Blackberry, an iPhone or an iPad. Anyone in the public eye knows that reinvention is the key to longevity and recently Dunhill launched its very first app Day 8, The Dunhill View. Day 8 is not a blog but is the world “viewed through the Dunhill eye”. It is a platform to translate the ethos of Dunhill and rather than acting as a digital innovator this app presents itself as a rather elegant and cultured editor. The Dunhill view is that “ interesting is not good enough, it must inspire and fascinate” and Dunhill’s sartorial viewpoint translates perfectly with this sumptuous slice of social media.

Every brand needs to create an online buzz and fashion exceeds all other luxury categories, with the exception of the car industry. A brand can no longer believe that they are bigger than any Facebook page, Twitter account or YouTube channel and it’s clear that brands steeped in English heritage can never think that they are “too posh to poke”.

Younger brands that are keen to refer to their British heritage are well aware of the strength of social media sites and the tailors of Savile Row have had to adjust to these interlopers over the last few years. Hardy Amies, “The home of British couture”, had to realise that when the high street starts copying your checks and undercutting your prices then it’s time to take to the internet and start blogging about your relaunch. Kilgour are not yet tweeting but they have made the concession of having a mini-movie on their website.

Anderson & Sheppard have been dressing the English gentleman since 1906 and now have a weblog on the progression of their apprentices. It’s not exactly cutting edge but at least we get to see their minions cutting patterns. Mark Powell is one of London’s most iconic and influential bespoke tailors. Renowned for his nostalgically and classically inspired tailoring, combined with experimental cuts and styling, he was one of the first to successfully bridge the gap between the traditions of Savile Row and contemporary street style, he regards Facebook as a necessary marketing tool:

“To keep your profile up and bring you to a wider and different audience you need to be involved in such things. It’s a cheap, quick and easy way of maximising your current press, history and what you do and sell. I don’t think they cheapen the brand at all as it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do. It definitely brings new customers, for example, I recently had a customer from Australia come to the shop after hearing me on a Modcast that was on my Facebook page.”

It’s a steep learning curve from dressing Winston Churchill to getting on the worldwide web but even these Savile Row stalwarts are aware that online movies and live streaming of runway shows are being used from high couture to the high street.

Too many brands that were redolent of a traditional Britain have now been retired to the country and have the all the time in the world to sip afternoon tea and eat cucumber sandwiches. Pick a brand, any brand and you’ll find one who is hungry for friends, followers and fans. Asprey has always been a name synonymous with quality, craftsmanship and design and have recently succumbed to the lure of Facebook and Twitter, even Fortnum & Mason the original tea emporium has a Facebook site.

Social media is no place for nostalgia and it’s time every brand realised that if you want to get ahead, then you best get an app.

by Daniel Warner

About The Author

Daniel Warner

Writer and journalist

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