Collaboration Between Fashion and Spirits at a Tipping Point?

Oscar Wilde had once famously, and most provocatively, quipped: “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” And therein lies its beauty too, one might add. Intriguingly, this is also increasingly the case with alcoholic drinks.

While trend cycles tend to last longer than 6 months it is becoming an indisputable fact that drinking patterns evolve much faster and more frequently than they used to. These changes are not due to some inexplicable, rapid biological mutation of regional or global palates.

The on-going shift from vodka to whiskeys – or the proliferation of bourbon within that whiskey stable in terms of current market dynamics- should hence not be analysed only through the simplistic perspective of flavour profiles or even macroeconomic developments.

Alcohol is first and foremost, a lifestyle industry. In other words, the drivers of change are aspirational and start with symbolism and the semiotics of style. It is within that context that the relation between fashion and alcohol becomes clearer. From the ‘Mad Men ‘ effect making old fashioned cocktails suitably fashionable once again to immaculate fashionistas sipping Aperol spritz shortly before it became ubiquitous, pop culture and the zeitgeist provide the cues for both industries’ future directions, positioning and core message.

Collaborations, joint ventures and endorsements have historically proven the case in point. From rock icon Iggy Pop flirting with the underground through teaming up with Sailor Jerry for a limited edition clothing range to Karl Lagerfeld working with Dom Perignon or David Beckam becoming the face of Diageo’s latest single grain whisky venture – that relationship goes far back.

But it is Bacardi’s latest move to actually introduce the previously unheard of position of VP for fashion that finally formalises the affair.

Bacardi strutting the catwalk

In the new role, Akiko Maeda, previously VP of product and platform development for IMG Worldwide’s fashion business, will work alongside Bacardi’s marketing and commercial teams “to plan how the brand can work with key fashion industry influencers across events, social and digital”.

Is that a step too far? The facts suggest it is not. Bacardi continues being primarily focused on mature western markets where value offers the safest avenue for growth and fashion is – or at the very least is perceived to be – very democratised and relevant to a mass audience. In 2013, 91% of the company’s spirit volumes came from North America, Western Europe and Latin America.

Aspirational premiumisation has the potential to provide the spark that will boost Bacardi’s iconic brands such as Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire and St Germain or its recently acquired craft bourbon, Angel’s Share. The company’s strategic vision of prioritising marketing for digital media would also fit perfectly with the new role and it is an implicit acknowledgment of the importance of the Gen X and millennial segments, beyond the obvious targeting of the ever illusive female demographic.

Such plans will take much longer than six months to come to fruition. But the success – or failure – of the role will be closely watched by all major players. After all, they might join the part at a later stage, fittingly and fashionably, late.

Download “Top 5 Beverage Industry Trends by Country in North and South America” to learn more.