Brands Looking Forward, Look Back (Way Back)

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\"gracearticle1\"Many of the most successful rebranding efforts of the last year, the most forward-facing of them all, have all used the same weapon of choice: their archives. Brands as highbrow as Dior, to as proudly lowbrow as Levi’s, have looked to the creative history of their designers to add a layer of narrative and credibility to the contemporary context of their brands. And while this type of endurance-branding may be partially a result of The Great Recession, Millennials. Are Eating. It. Up.

This is because Millennials are natural researchers; many of us were somewhere between 18 and 8 when Google arrived in our homerooms. While we haven’t always had smartphones, we have always had access. I don’t need to tell you how this has manifested in our shopping habits online. But much less is known about the compulsive way many Millennials forage online archives for stylistic inspiration. Think Netflix “binge-viewing,” or better yet, a “Google K-Hole” (an allusion to a Special K or Ketamine bender, in this case resulting in days lost to Googling). Online archives such as Getty Images or Google Image Search welcome us, for free; which is why it is easier than you may think for an influencer Millennial to pick up an obscure Fellini reference. We are such active researchers that we tend to forget what we saw, where. We can get to the point that we have to rely on our browser’s history tab over our own brand fidelity and crowded memory.

Millennials are likewise gravitating to services, software and products that make researching easier to do. Privacy concerns aside, Google Glass will be an exceptional tool for the Millennials giving us the power to passively catalog just about everything throughout our days. Pinterest and Instagram allow us to catalog, note, and receive feedback on purchases before they are purchased. Shazam now tells us what brands characters are wearing on TV. We are well, and cheaply, equipped with an inventory of image and information.

It is because of the convergence of all of these online services that Millennials have been majorly receptive to collections that give us more of the brand’s history. Brands – retail and non-retail alike – are responding to this. Take, for example, Beyoncé (with her own personal brand), who revealed that she has a state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled digital storage archive of her entire career (Millennials every-where scrambled to find the job listing of “Beyoncé Archivist”). Facebook’s year-end customized reports of our own years give us all the chance to have a personalized, digital archive – of sorts.

Not all brands have risen to the occasion of rediscovering and chronicling their history as Millennials are apt do, though they should. The three major retail brands noted below have tapped into this archivalist spirit. When faced with the need to rebrand, they turned to their archives to reinvigorate their brands – whether directly reproducing archival favorites or reinterpreting pieces from the archives to inform what is freshly and essentially theirs. And the resulting influencer accolades are only the beginning of the payback for them.

\"gracearticle2\"Raf Simons in the Dior Archive

Take, for example, Raf Simons’ much-anticipated debut collection for Dior, released this past fall. After the media frenzy of John Galliano’s removal from Dior, the brand was in desperate need of rebranding. Enter the dark horse, Raf Simons, known for his hyper-modern creative direction of Jil Sander. Based on his reported intensive study of the Dior archive, Simons produced a breakthrough collection that cut through what influencers felt was a recent staleness of the brand. By tapping into Dior’s original creative direction, Simons was able to promote the essence of the brand, while also bringing it up to date. The collection was a critical and commercial success, opening the door to the Millennial influencers (who were much more interested in Raf Simons’ career at Jil Sander at the time) to Dior as covetable, and unbelievably chic. By contrast, the equally-as-anticipated Yves Saint Laurent debut of the season from Hedi Slimane (who deviated from the legacy of the brand) was poorly received.

Levi’s Past as Prelude

At the opposite end of the retail spectrum, Levi’s was faced with a rebranding mission. They found that their oldest pairs of jeans were selling for thousands of dollars across the world on eBay as collectible heritage items. Taking their brand’s sizing and fit standardization to the next level, Levi’s developed a Levi’s Vintage line that reproduced exact replicas of popular archived models (down to the paper found in the label and the copper used in the buttons). In 2011, Levi’s dedicated a website overhaul to their Vintage Collection Archive page online, so that denim heritage enthusiasts could find Levi’s archival research aggregated into one hub, with supporting video content and vintage hand drawings of each model. By tapping into the denim heritage enthusiast’s realm and becoming a source of historical, archival content, Levi’s is seen not only as a brand that respects the history that their own product fostered, but one that actively restores and archives that history for their ardent followers.

Coach and The Archivist

However, one of the most comprehensive legacy-based rebranding strategies that developed over the past year has been at Coach. In need, commercially and culturally, of rebranding, Coach renewed their legacy leather focus through the simultaneous launches of their Legacy brand, updating archived models with color and prints; and launching a Heritage Baseball Collection – inspired by Miles Cahn’s (creator of the Coach handbag) interpretation of the way a baseball mitt’s leather ages.

Coach’s strategic decision to focus on their legacy was heavily dependent on the timing of said decision; the release of their Legacy collection came at the height of American-Made push. While Coach hasn’t produced a collection stateside in decades, their brand is very heavily associated with classic American style and fashion. It was exactly the time to ask Millennials, dogged by The Great Recession, to reinvest in the legacy of classic American style.

In February 2013, Coach commissioned photographer and brand collaboratorextraordinaire Todd Selby of The Selby to create a short video (, profiling an employee of the Coach archive in “The Archivist.” The film accomplishes two things: it connects The Selby influencer-laden audience (which follows him across the world on trans-Siberian train rides with Louis Vuitton, or reads about his sustainable foodie adventures in T Magazine) to the Coach brand. The vintage and re-released Coach pieces are a cool-girl-on-a-budget staple in the hippest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Coach also reconnected this new customer base with the history of the brand, reminding them that Coach has always been a legacy retailer, and the more recent label-heavy branding was just a blip in their otherwise very consistent legacy-based track record. The Coach of today says, “You know, Ali MacGraw wore our bucket bag when she was dating Steve McQueen…”

Millennials support brands that, by design, tap into their history in order to connect with new consumers. We are the most likely to buy into legacy and history because we are actively filling any gaps in our knowledge on any topic of interest. We do this because we are comforted by continuum and being a part of brands that stand the test of time. Because of that need for security, archives put a sense of terroir back into the retail experience for us. Or, they provide one great diversionary Google K-Hole! We are at a rare crossroads where brands are rebuffing themselves with archival information, and Millennials can’t get enough of this. We deeply support brands that open the door to the past to us.

So the key question for iconic brands: why aren’t you using your archives?



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