Champagne Mercier Cellar © Christophe Meireis
A post to celebrate the sunshine season. Having spent three weeks on the south coast of England in warm sunny weather, I travelled back to Switzerland by car and stopped off at the beautiful region of Champagne in France. You may be wondering what champagne has to do with contemporary art. Well, apart from the exquisite wine-making which is an art in itself, champagne is the perfect accompaniment to an art preview event, and vice-versa, art often serves as the backdrop to champagne soirées. Just like strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, they are unadulterated pleasure!
But what are the other associations? Well, the region of Champagne, with its rolling tapestry of vineyards and the elegant architecture of the champagne houses of Epernay, is a delight to behold and can certainly provide an inspirational canvas for many an artist. A visit to the cellars of Champagne Mercier, thirty metres below the chalky soils of Epernay, reveals another connection with art. Beautiful bas-relief carvings by sculptor Gustave Navlet and commissioned by the house's founder, Eugene Mercier, adorn the cellar walls.
Struck by the incredible value associated with champagne, and propelled by my lifelong experience in marketing and communications, I start to think further about the luxury wine segment and the parallels with the art market. Reading around this topic, I discover an intriguing article on the luxury brands sector and the high end wine industry co-authored by Klaus Heine and Michel Phan. Building prestige and authenticity emerge as key success factors for luxury brands and the authors argue that the champagne industry has set the benchmark!
So what can we in the art world learn from luxury wine makers? What measures do champagne makers implement to set this category of wine above all other sparkling wines?
Champagne Mercier Cellar © Christophe Meireis
Heine and Phan mention that authenticity is underpinned by a solid commitment to product quality and traditions. Place of origin is also used for authenticity-building. (Champagne of course has to be from this splendid region for it to be labelled champagne). Other techniques referred to in the paper include identity-driven brand management and a deep consideration of communications.
Clearly, prestige and authenticity are deeply ingrained in human psychology and Heine and Phan in their paper also talk about, ‘pure’, approximate and ‘moral’ authenticity. Moral, I find particularly compelling as it relates to brands that are emotionally invested in their products. Such companies, the authors elaborate, are passionate creators who love and deeply believe in what they do. And for me therein lies the strongest parallel with artists.
The mindset of passion can automatically lead to a desire to limit the volume of production the authors argue, thus creating rarity in their product which in turn can drive demand and lead to an increase in the perceived value of the product which can transfer to the price.
Of course passion is great but good business also relies on a degree of volume. In their paper, the two authors describe how companies may cut back on prestige and authenticity to embrace mass marketing techniques. The so-called ‘masstige strategy’ is used to make luxury products more accessible to broader groups of consumers and aims towards a ‘democratisation of luxury’ (Heine and Phan 2016).
‘On the one hand, champagne is considered to be the standard by which any sparkling wine is judged (Beverland, 2004), but on the other hand, it is one of the categories most representative of the masstige strategy, driven above all by the LVMH group (Moet Hennessy and Louis Vuitton) with brands such as Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. As the term masstige suggests, LVMH champagnes are generally prestige for the masses’. (Heine and Phan 2016)
The authors conclude that authenticity and prestige are interdependent, and that it is important to achieve a balance that best suits a brand’s identity. New emerging brands that wish to position themselves as ‘luxury’ they suggest, could adopt this approach to convince consumers of their values and consequently increase desire for the brand.
So with the impending economic downturn, how is prestige created and maintained in the contemporary art market? Should artists and galleries consider a masstige strategy? Points that are debated at art fairs around the world no doubt. During the brilliant Art Basel 2022 Conversations series, we listened to discussions about some of the tantalising collector activity and the resurgence of Paris as a flowering hub for the art world. We learn about how the high end of the art market has driven sales over the last couple of years and that although heading for a recession, works were still exchanging hands for several millions of dollars at the fair. High net worth individuals we hear, are not reacting to what is happening in the global economy.
We also learn that of the one million plus working artists in the world, only a tiny fraction are highly sought after. So what about those talented artists who fall outside of this elite? How do they create the perception of prestige and raise levels of interest in their work? A point that was poignantly raised by a collector in the audience in one of the debates I attended.
In the ensuing discussion we hear that there is an impression in the art world that one can’t buy something good without spending six or seven figures. It's also mentioned that there is a preference (I imagine as a corollary to the previous point) towards owning a part of a well known artist’s work rather than fully owning the work of a lesser known artist.
Thinking more around these ideas, I revert back to my reflections on the champagne sector, that has managed to differentiate itself from all other sparkling wines, that has created the perception of both authenticity and prestige whilst appealing to wider audiences and becoming affordable to the masses.
Champagne Mercier cellar © Christophe Meireis
So can this rationale be applied to new ‘art brands’ in other words emerging artists, so as to create an inflection point that sends perception and desire for their work northwards? Seems logical doesn’t it? It's certainly at the heart of THE GAZE's ethos and our quest to help pop the cork on emerging art talents and prodigies!
Please do share your thoughts on this topic with me.
For further information about Champagne Mercier visit: www.champagnemercier.com
To place an order for Mercier champagne visit: https://www.clos19.com/fr-fr/mercier-champagne/
Please do not forward the content of this blog post to anyone below legal drinking age and please drink responsibly.
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© Copyright Hazel Clarke 2022
Beverland, M.B. (2004). An exploration of the wine trade. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/eb008776/full/html, International Journal of Wine Marketing, p.Vol 16 no. 3, pp, 14-28.
Heine, K. and Phan, M. (2016). Authenticity and prestige. What luxury brand could learn from the wine industry. [online] Researchgate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michel-Phan/publication/305888901_Authenticity_and_prestige_what_luxury_brands_could_learn_from_the_wine_industry/links/57a837aa08ae3f452939498c/Authenticity-and-prestige-what-luxury-brands-could-learn-from-the-wine-industry.pdf [Accessed 9 Aug. 2022].
Jahoda, S., Murphy, B., Woolard, C. and Virgin, V. (2014). Artists Report Back A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists. [online] BfamfaPhD. Available at: http://bfamfaphd.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/BFAMFAPhD_ArtistsReportBack2014-10.pdf [Accessed 12 Aug. 2022].
Art Basel. “Art Basel | Conversations.” Art Basel, 15 June 2022, www.artbasel.com/stories/online-conversations?eventTypes=502&hostType=ART_BASEL&orderBy=endDate%20ASC%2CstartDate%20ASC. Accessed 9 Aug. 2022.
Champagne Mercier. “Champagne Mercier | House Established in 1858.” www.champagnemercier.com, www.champagnemercier.com. Accessed 15 Aug. 2022.