Luxury Auto Brands Increasingly Turn to Designers to Fashion Lifestyle Brands

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Luxury auto brands are well aware that their target audience is the upscale, discriminating buyer with disposable income—the same buyer, in fact, who is attracted to the high-end fashion world and who wants an increasingly personalized, exclusive retail experience.

That’s why the latest trend has luxury auto brands expanding into retail—even putting their brand names on non-automotive luxury products.

Bugatti, for example, unveiled an exclusive apparel and accessories collection last week at Milan Fashion Week consisting of two lines, “Ettore Bugatti,” carrying an “EB” monogram, and “Extreme Performance,” carrying the Bugatti logo. Included in the collection is an exclusive blue crocodile skin handbag for women, the shape of which is said to be inspired by the Bugatti’s front grille. Bugatti will open as many as 35 exclusive boutiques around the globe in the next five years to sell its collection. In addition, Bugatti introduced “Tailor Made/Bespoke” for customers only—an exclusive program in which custom-made branded products are created to a customer’s specifications.[more]

“Bugatti not only stands for benchmark technology and breath-taking performance, but also for art, design and a sophisticated lifestyle,” Bugatti Automobiles president Dr. Wolfgang Schreiber said. “This new lifestyle collection represents the DNA of our brand, and creates the opportunity to transport the aura and myth and this automotive icon into other aspects of life beyond the automobile.”

Bugatti is not the first luxury automaker to spin off a branded fashion line. Last month, Bentley started selling $5,500 handbags. Porsche, which created its own design label decades ago, launched a women’s fashion line in 2009 and came out with a handbag earlier this year, which was promoted by tennis pro Maria Sharapova, according to the Wall Street Journal. If “handbags” seem to be a theme, there’s good reason: Luxury auto brands want to attract more women, both as fashion buyers and car buyers. Ariane Reinhart, Bentley’s personnel director, told the Journal, “Only 12 percent of our customers are women, which isn’t good enough. We want to double this percentage within the next five years.”

Luxury auto brands are also taking a new look at retail-focused customer experiences. Earlier this month at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, the all-new 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class automobile was featured, but the event also highlighted “The House of Mercedes-Benz,” a full fledged fashion boutique set up in the main lobby. Claire Distenfeld, owner of famed fashion boutique Fivestory, said she created the boutique as a place “that touches each of the customer’s five senses,” according to a press release. Inside the boutique were such exclusive items as the Shwood for Mercedes-Benz Sunglass Collection, a limited-edition collection of wooden eyewear inspired by the wood accompaniments featured in the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Meanwhile, Lexus, anxious to project a more contemporary image to a younger audience, is trying a number of edgy retail approaches, one of which may well represent the next generation of car showrooms. The luxury auto brand recently launched Intersect by Lexus, described as which is described as a “unique space in select global cities where people can experience Lexus without getting behind the steering wheel of one of our cars. Guests will be able to engage with Lexus through events, activities, food and culture.”

Designed by world-renowned interior designer Mamamichi Katayama, the revolutionary concept first opened in Tokyo with locations in New York and Dubai to follow.

Interestingly, when it comes to cars and fashion design, what goes around comes around. Today it may be auto brands getting into fashion, but in the 1970s, car manufacturers were collaborating with the likes of Cartier, Pierre Cardin, and Oleg Cassini to bring fashion flair to vehicles. Those collaborations continue today, from a Gucci-designed Fiat to Range Rover’s creative director, fashion designer Victoria Beckham.

To see more auto/fashion collaborations, click through these slideshows from MSN Autos and the Wall Street Journal

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