Companies and brands have leaned on established and emerging artists to cut through advertising clutter with new ways to express their brand messaging. The strategy has proven to be a winner recently for the likes of Gucci, which turned to many artists for campaigns and capsule collections, and is a winning formula indirectly borrowed from past directors, including Marc Jacobs, who at Louis Vuitton helped make Takashi Murakami a mainstream name and collaborated on sneakers with Kanye West, which arguably spearheaded the high-fashion musician collaborations that we see today.
Many labels have their recurring artist partners, have access to several that would not pass up once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, or started initiatives to help artists through funding, but while artists are being commissioned to create, one must wonder if it’s all worth it if it’s all about commerce in the end? Isn’t art supposed to speak to our lives and emotions more than our wallets? How can it be used for a moment and forgotten by the next season? These ideas are a glimpse into what makes the Gentle Monster marketing strategy so unique.
The Korean eyewear label has art deeply ingrained in its DNA and relied on special projects, such as its Quantum Project, to differentiate its branding from competitors. What sets Gentle Monster apart is its approach to art projects.
“Art is always important and not just for the brand,” said Gentle Monster Chief Marketing Officer Taye Yun.
We are very critical and careful on how we relate to art. It is not right to associate ourselves to art if we are selling something in return. That’s why I usually say we are more of a theatrical company rather than an art company. People can see that we are doing art, but we tend to burn all of our works after shows, because we only borrow art’s precious element to curate emotions. We are looking in ways to provide more pure space for artist to experiment their artistic freedom and expression without any brand pressure.
The label recently used its former SoHo retail location on 79 Grand Street to serve as a “pure space” for mysterious artist Marzypansy as a farewell to the store. Gentle Monster preferred to host the installation, entitled The Visitor, at its former location to honor the Grand Street store architect, Rafael De Cardenas, who worked closely with the brand on the space instead of holding a store opening party for its new 70 Wooster Street store.
“As a person, who is sick of attending store opening myself, I noticed how people reacted much better to being at a non-crowded space rather than being served at an event, especially for Gentle Monster store,” said Yun.
“I wanted to take a much more experimental approach in celebrating the move with closing ceremony and to commemorate something special for Rafael before the demolition. I also wanted to curate an exhibition that explains conceptually what Gentle Monster understands better than any other retail business out there. The key is that we decide by our emotions and have the emotional trigger be poetically applied to our business practice with deep sincerity.”
Marzipansi, which is spelled several ways, transformed the location into a linear art space that included aluminum foil furniture, kinetic energy experiments, several mirrors reflecting two people attempting to express their love for the other on a poor phone connection, and several photos of a sunset all connected by a red line that spans from the entrance and around the space.
Music composed by John King and audio from an original script written by Jonathan Lethem provided narrative for the open-ended sensory experience that was open to interpretation by attendees. The project left more questions than answers, which allowed for open conversation. Little is known about the installation, except that the artist(s) traveled to Morocco to NASA’s testing site for part of the production and the audio from Lethem’s show was recorded at legendary New York City theater La Mama.
Yun added, “Through the Marzipanzy exhibition, we wanted to make clear that people are not only seeing the visual beauty of the store, but they they are witnessing Gentle Monster’s emotional curation at play in a Gentle Monster location.”
The 70 Wooster Street store, much like the label’s many global retail locations, is also an “emotional curation,” featuring abstract elements, kinetic sculptures and installations inspired by technology and a dystopian future all designed and manufactured by an in-house team of architects and interiors designers. The 6,000-square-foot store also sports a full-scale digital LED display and space exploration-themed objects on natural elements like wood and tree branches and artificial elements like sponge and fabric.
The change in store locations was very quiet if you were looking for pomp and circumstance. Gentle Monster traded in fanfare for meaningful experiences that gratified longtime supporters and enticed curious minds. Art was not used to sell a product, or even to promote the brand, which speaks to the label’s outlook on art itself.
“We do not wish to affiliate with art nor speak on art,” said Yun. “However, we appreciate and sincerely approach art with respect.”
The approach is unique and has been successful for Gentle Monster. The industry projects the label’s annual revenue to be $250 million, and they are expanding its retail footprint into Europe, having opened two stores in London in August.