Communication is thriving in our always-on digital era, yet ironically there’s a growing disconnect in human interactivity. Taking heed of this dissonance, businesses are turning to the intimate and authentic nature of podcasts to engage better with consumers, and ears are pricking up: Edison Research reports that this year in the US alone, some 62 million people are listening to podcasts on a weekly basis, spending up to five-and-a-half hours a day tuning in.
Luxury fashion brands, in particular, are experimenting with audio-first content to offer consumers the inside scoop. In 2017, Chanel launched 3.55 featuring conversations with influential names like Pharell Williams and the late Karl Lagerfeld; last year, Maison Margiela unveiled The Memory Of…With John Galliano, which acts as a poetic introduction to the house’s runway collections. Earlier this year, Hermès and Gucci joined the lengthening list.
Retailers are jumping on the podcast wave too: in January, luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled its series of recorded live talks which highlight its monthly in-store beauty events. Perhaps less surprisingly, fashion publications like Harper’s Bazaar and Man Repeller have also stepped on board, with the advantage of easily adapting their written and visual content to suit an acoustic audience.
“You only really think about the content of the conversation and it gives brands a chance to tell people who they are.”
Yet what are the real benefits of investing in something entirely conversational? Simon Collins, founder of fashion conference and podcast platform Fashion Culture Design suggests podcasts are a way to step back from outright commerciality and connect with today’s ever-demanding consumer: “People will always want more from brands: more background, information, knowledge, and interaction, and businesses are realising more and more that they have to engage with their customers beyond just selling them products.”
He adds that above all, brands want to be considered as lifestyle leaders, believing that “podcasts are a way to create original and engaging content and this lifestyle appeal.” But he goes on to stress the importance of content quality, as this directly reflects a brand’s identity and positioning: “You only really think about the content of the conversation, and that’s so stimulating because it gives brands a chance to tell people who they are. So the people they choose to associate with, and the people they associate their brand with, will help to define the brand.”
And they don't always need to be fashion-related: Collins’ guests range from established designers he has built relationships with to entrepreneurial friends. This includes Jeff Staple, a streetwear designer, retail concept owner and creative collaborator for numerous lifestyle brands, and Ian Schrager, a hotelier and co-founder of the legendary ‘60s nightclub Studio 54. “Everyone I talk to I either know personally or by reputation, so my podcasts are 100 percent candid,” he says. “It’s always really interesting, genuine conversations. It’s not just question after question.”
“Recording audio only seems to liberate participants in some way to be franker.”
This natural approach also works for co-founders of fashion podcast Bande à Part: Dr Rebecca Arnold, a senior lecturer at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and Beatrice Behlen, a senior curator at the Museum of London base their content on their weekly telephone discussions. Topics range from the philosophical to the analytical, including the power of fashion documentaries, the changing landscape of the department store, and the history of fancy dress.
For Arnold and Behlen, this format allows them to exchange thoughts and ideas authentically, thanks to its raw and unscripted nature.“We call each other regularly anyway, so we thought recording these calls would make for an organic feel, as we are having real conversations,” explains Arnold. “It’s spontaneously funny and obviously not scripted.”
The duo believe that audio content which embraces the flow of informal dialogue can empower honesty and authenticity. “Recording audio only seems to liberate participants in some way to be franker,” says Behlen, adding that this ultimately solidifies the trust between brand or speaker and consumer: “It helps move away from exclusivity, to make designers, photographers, models, brand managers and CEOs more accessible.”
In a digital age, hyper-connectivity is integral to the new luxury fashion consumer, who also increasingly craves more from their brand experiences; podcasts are clearly rising as a way to connect with and build deeper relationships with these consumers outside of the commercial realm. Whether or not the medium has staying power, Arnold and Behlen maintain that “the appetite to listen to other human voices and stories won’t go away.” Collins agrees, believing that “there’s always going to be a much richer conversation to be had,” and right now, podcasts have the capacity and the relevance to deliver.