The Surprising Reason Fashion Companies Care About the Car Industry

Jessica Schiffer
PHOTO:

Le 21ème

When you think of cars and fashion, your first thought is likely to be Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week—but the relationship between the two industries runs much deeper than that, as evidenced by the slew of branded cars and auto-stamped fashion that has been gaining momentum since the mid-1960s. Back then, this meant Lincoln Continental sedans decked out with Cartier chronometers, Pierre Cardin-designed Javelins, and a Ford Designer Series in collaboration with the likes of Givenchy and Bill Blass, to name a few.

Today, these partnerships are stronger than ever, with Missoni-designed BMWs, Victoria Beckham-helmed creative direction for Range Rover, and automobile brands like Bugatti and Lexus designing their own lifestyle collections (usually consisting of clothing, handbags, watches and more). Uniting these disparate worlds might seem a bit strange at first glance, but it turns out there’s some valid (and lucrative) reasoning behind it.

For starters, it helps diversify the male-centric customer base that car companies are often trying to transform. When Bentley starting selling $5,500 handbags, the brand’s personnel director explained to Brand Channel that it was an effort to increase their female customers, which only accounted for 12% of sales at the time. Porsche launched a women’s line in 2009 and with the same goal in mind, calling on tennis champ Maria Sharapova to help promote it.

And is it working? Well, you can bet this girl paid more attention to Fiat when they began collaborating with Gucci in 2011, unveiling a limited series of customised-Fiat 500s, complete with the brand’s famous green-and-red stripe.

But a recent article on Bloomberg highlighted a more surprising, and lesser-known, reason for these brand expansions. As the article points out, “Making autos is far more capital intensive and less cash generative than making handbags,” which is to say, the payoff isn’t as great as it could be. One way to remedy this is for car brands to create their own luxury goods, the production and sale of which allows for quicker, easier rewards. In doing so, they can also court better investors and receive higher stock, billing themselves as luxury brands on the level of an Hermes.

This tidbit serves as a fascinating reminder that fashion is more of a business than it’s given credit for, and that it can offer non-fashion brands newfound potential for growth. Sure, the aesthetics of it all are great, but it can also be wielded as tool in myriad, unexpected ways.  

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