NOVEMBER 2012 – On its 2012 EuroStyle Tour, BMW SA partnered with top-tier players to explore what it means to be a luxury superbrand.
Every minute of every day we are bombarded by branding. On television and in our real and virtual worlds, we are so accustomed to being perpetually sold to that we’ve become largely oblivious to it. As a result, for a brand to make us sit up and take notice, it has to offer something of value to our lives, an experience we would not otherwise encounter; the chance, essentially, to redefine our realities.
BMW is one such out-the-box brand. Far from resting on its illustrious reputation, the automotive giant works tirelessly to be relevant in an age of supersonic technology where, ironically, emotional drivers increasingly determine purchasing decisions. It differentiates itself from its competitors by offering its customers a three-dimensional brand experience and, as a result, has come to stand for far more than simply a manufacturer of high-performance products. Today, BMW is a life partner, a promise keeper, a dream maker – and its customers are its true brand ambassadors. Far from existing in a vacuum, however, BMW has made it its business to seek out strategic alliances with other thought leaders in the markets where it occupies top-of-mind status. The aim of the eighth annual BMW EuroStyle Tour to Munich, Lake Como and Milan was to share – with the companies and individuals that the BMW Group respects – the designs, experiences and principles that unite and benchmark seemingly unconnected brands within the premium market; to define that unmistakable ‘essence of luxury’ that bridges diverse sectors – from motorcars to yachts, furnishings to cuisine – through a shared authenticity, belief system, mission statement and values.
Take the example of luxury brand, Riva. The legendary yacht- and boat-builder asserts style, design and performance as the core of its business ethos. It is in the beautiful setting of Lake Iseo in Lombardy, Italy, that Riva’s impeccably designed crafts first feel the kiss of the water. Generations of craftsmen have fashioned these elegant vessels for detail-focused connoisseurs – and heady success in the powerboat-racing sector in 1950s and 60s brought the company unprecedented acclaim, making the name Riva synonymous with la dolce vita. Produced since 1962 and, undeniably, the default timeless watercraft, the AquaRiva is wholly unfettered by the whimsical constraints of fashion. The lacquered mahogany vessel’s wraparound windscreen and aquamarine interior mesh 1960s cool with an enduring elegance – the reason, no doubt, that it has been indelibly linked with A-listers from Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, to Sean Connery and George Clooney, not to mention various royals. Its distinctive soft, clean lines, meticulous spatial design and scrupulous attention to detail, plus, of course, the use of state of- the-art materials, are attributable to Officina Italiana Design, which has designed all Rivas for the past 25 years. Indeed, it is these matchless characteristics that make the new AquaRiva a noble heiress to a centuries-old history of excellence and craftsmanship.
Like Riva, BMW, too, chose the glamorous north Italian lake district as the venue for the launch of its stylish new Zagato Coupé, which, much the same as the boat manufacturer’s famed vessels, embodies the time-honoured and trusted. Exemplifying the hallmarks of motor design excellence, the Zagato proves that authenticity – the ability to stay true to who you are in a frenetic world – is a key differentiator for the endurance of a premium brand such as BMW.
Riva 1920 is another classic example of a brand that has succeeded in flouting fashion’s short-lived fads. The furniture company produces designs that defy time. ‘In the 1920s, my grandfather and father started the company. My brother, Maurizio, and I learned the secrets of wood carving from them,’ says current co-owner Davide Riva, explaining that the firm consistently ensures that the core assets of the brand, from the performance of the product to its design sensibility, are upheld in the furniture they craft. Respect for the environment is also crucial and recycling is taken seriously with the company constantly looking for ways to reuse wood and transform it into a stylish sustainable piece of art that can be passed down to future generations. ‘Unique items like our Claudio Bellinidesigned Venice Table and Philippe Starck place settings are made from briccole, the oak posts salvaged from the Venice Lagoon when they are replaced because of damage,’ explains Davide. ‘A magical metamorphosis restores the wood’s soul, giving it new life.’
Nature and aesthetics co-exist in similar harmony at the Vigilius Mountain Resort in South Tyrol, Austria, where words like ‘discerning’ and ‘connoisseur’ – so frequently bandied about in the hotel world – find a worthy beneficiary. Italian architect Matteo Thun, himself no stranger to these values, designed the eco-hideaway, located 1 500 metres above sea level, as a place where beauty lies in simplicity. Perched discretely on the flanks of the Vigiljoch, Austria’s landmark peak, the hotel’s ecological commitment is evident in the use of natural construction methods and sustainably sourced local resources, including grass cladding for the roof, 300-year-old timber for the rafters and internally heated clay walls. Accessible only by cable car and entirely devoid of the techno-trappings of urban life, television included, it is the ultimate camping trip minus all the associated inconveniences. ‘More eco than ego,’ as Thun succinctly puts it. Perhaps, like Vigilius, not egocentric, successful brands invariably have a strong personality that pervades all they do. Some have even become a form of currency in certain places. Bellavista, the producer of Italy’s finest sparkling wine, is a good example.
Situated to the sun-kissed west of the Franciacorta zone, its wines compete with Reims’ finest. The glacial soil here is stony and perfect for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that go into Franciacorta. Winemaker Mattia Vezzola’s special cuvée is produced in limited quantities and is lauded as a Gran Cuvée of matchless quality. Indeed, the only other region whose bubbles enjoy such distinction is Champagne. The ancient metodo tradizionale technique of using small barrels gives the Chardonnay grapes a distinctive feminine edge, while the labour-intensive process of riddling (remuage in French) to which the bottles are subjected daily, produces a persistent creamy mousse, a fine strawyellow hue and a bouquet reminiscent of peach blossom, honey and hazelnuts. Rather than forcing nature, the attraction of Bellavista’s Franciacorta is that it works with the secrets of its surroundings, so that the poetry of the land is revealed in the pleasure of the toast.
While consistency of message is vital to the way in which a brand connects with the consumer, it also needs to relate on an emotional level. Celebrated architect Dame Zaha Hadid understands this concept implicitly. The award-winning Iraqi-British architect designed BMW’s striking factory in Leipzig, Germany, as well as the landmark ski jump on the Bergisel mountain, an important Austrian landmark used in both the 1964 and 1976 Olympic Games. A structural masterpiece that balances towering concrete with steel entwined negative space, the visionary construction seamlessly integrates a ski ramp and lifts with a café over some 40 metres of the Bergisel, providing an unparalleled vantage point from which to enjoy alpine landscapes while watching athletes fly over the Innsbruck skyline. Providing spectacular views of the town below, the tower’s iconic silhouette extends the topography of the ski slope into the sky above.
Equally sculptural and visually arresting, the Zagato Coupé is the result of a one-off collaboration between BMW and famed Italian coachbuilder Zagato. BMW’s decision to introduce the world to its extraordinary new automobile on the banks of Lake Como was no spontaneous quirk. It is here, in the gardens of the palatial 500-year-old Grand Hotel Villa d’Este, overlooking the famous glacial lake in Cernobbio, Italy, that the Concorsa d’Eleganza, an annual exhibition of the world’s most coveted classic and concept cars, is staged. Indeed, celebrated pianist Franz Liszt could well have been referring to the marriage between BMW and Zagato when he penned the words, ‘When you write the story of two happy lovers, let the story be set on the banks of Lake Como.’ While the Zagato inevitably demonstrates the persistence of BMW’s age-old pledge of excellence, the superbrand knows better than to simply rest on its credentials. Reinvention and flexibility, it understands, are key to brand sustainability. While the company has at its foundation a clearly defined, well activated brand strategy, BMW also, importantly, has an intimate understanding of its customers’ needs and an ability to anticipate their desires. In the same way that the aforementioned premium brands appreciate their clients’ concern for protecting the earth’s natural assets, so BMW Group shares a commitment to enhancing environmental sustainability and energy efficiency. Its ActiveHybrid 5 illustrates the point perfectly. Merging past and future, the ActiveHybrid 5 sees the traditional build quality that defines BMW meet the very latest in hybrid technology. Forward leaning kidney grilles, a low horizontal grille and wheel arches synchronise with the rear of the car to create a lithe, perfectly integrated aerodynamic design. Adrian van Hooydonk, Head of Design at BMW, puts great store in quality and innovation and points out how the vehicle’s hybrid technology combines exceptional performance with emission free electronic mobility.
These, then, are the flashpoints between tradition and modernism – and common to all of the world’s most celebrated brands is the ability to balance heritage with foresight; to stay true to original time-tested values but still constantly innovate and always to be relevant. Given the ease with which the group is able to embrace change and move effortlessly with the times, it’s no wonder that BMW South Africa has retained its title of Coolest Corporate Citizen in the Sunday Times Generation Next Brand Survey 2012. On receiving the award, Bodo Donauer, Managing Director of BMW South Africa, possibly summed up the secret to the brand’s durability better than anyone else: ‘BMW has become far more to South Africans than simply a manufacturer of vehicles.’