LONDON, United Kingdom — On March 12th, it was raining heavily in Paris. The bad weather meant certain key items for a special Dior exhibition being staged at Harrods, the grand dame of London department stores, were stranded at Dior’s Avenue Montaigne headquarters. The majority of the exhibition’s contents had already been transported to the Knightsbridge emporium by a fleet of trucks and Eurostar. But faced with the prospect that the remaining objects would not get to London on time, Dior arranged for the missing pieces to be flown over by private jets.
Or so the story went. Olivier Bialobos, communications director at Dior, has since dispelled the 'private jet' rumour, but the sheer scale of 'So Dior,' a month-long, storewide promotion between the storied French fashion house and the iconic British retail institution, made the tale entirely believable. The event highlighted “every aspect of what made Dior what it stands for today, from the unique savoir-faire of the ateliers to the history of the Avenue Montaigne couture house… as well as a celebration of 60 years at Harrods,” Bialobos told BoF. While Harrods staged a similar promotion with Chanel, back in 2011, its Dior collaboration, which ended on April 14th, stood out for the expense and imagination that went into its making.
Every window along Harrods’ enormous Brompton Road storefront was filled with elaborate Dior-themed displays, which playfully combined branded merchandise with some of London’s best-known signifiers, from the Houses of Parliament to the notoriously bad weather.
“The creative idea was to play with the British sense of humour by giving typical London landmarks a Dior twist,” Bialobos told BoF. Think perfume bottles suspended to look like rain, paired with Dior umbrellas. Indeed, no detail was left unexplored; even Monsieur Dior’s 1972 recipe book, La Cuisine Cousu-Main, was referenced for dishes served at a temporary Café Dior, where visitors lunched on Dover sole and lobster rolls.
Meanwhile, inside the store, several pop-up shops sold everything from limited edition nail polish and Dior cupcakes, for £20 each, to Dior handbags customised for the occasion with the royal tartan of two Scottish clans and a one-of-a-kind timepiece encrusted with white gold, black ceramic, rubies, pink sapphires and diamonds, priced at over £250,000.
The promotion’s set piece was an exhibit spanning 20,000 square feet on the fourth floor of Harrods, tracing the history of the fashion brand, from its post-war heyday to Raf Simons’ current revival, with dramatic props and costumes, including a floor-to-wall façade of Dior’s Paris headquarters.
But was it worth the expense? Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Harrods and Dior answered in the affirmative.
"It didn't just meet our expectations but utterly exceeded them,” Harrods' chief merchant Marigay McKee told BoF. “Visitor numbers to the ‘So Dior’ exhibition were unprecedented and the Dior Café was fully booked every day."
“It absolutely exceeded Dior and Harrods’ expectation with over 50,000 visitors in one month. The sales were also tremendous,” echoed Mr Bialobos of Dior.
Reportedly, a number of products sold out on the opening night itself, during a glittering party attended by Dior chief executive Sidney Toledano and members of London's fashion set. What's more, the Dior business, one of Harrods' most successful luxury brands across multiple product categories, including beauty, fashion, accessories, watches and jewellery, has seen more than double year-to-date growth at the store, a result that McKee attributed, in part, to the collaboration.
And if ‘So Dior’ felt a bit like a theme park or museum, complete with souvenir stands, that seemed to be the point. It’s worth remembering that Harrods — with its seven floors of shopping and services, ranging from dog-outfitting to gold bullion exchange — is one of the biggest tourist destinations in London, itself one of the most-visited cities in the world, attracting thousands of affluent visitors from emerging economies, increasingly in search of their own London experience.
The exhibition “aimed to enhance our customer experience, attract new visitors to the store… and ultimately provide an exciting and engaging platform to celebrate the Dior brand at Harrods. The House of Dior created not only world renowned luxury product but also created a magical journey for the customer," added McKee.
Getting 50,000 people to visit the exhibition, immerse themselves in the Dior brand and perhaps come away with a souvenir or two is no small feat. But the experiential approach adheres closely to a simple formula laid out by celebrated retail strategist and author B. Joseph Pine: "A true experience is getting the customer to want to spend time with you... [and] the more time your customers spend with you, the more money they will spend now and in the future."
Another metric by which to measure success? A repeat performance. Both Dior and Harrods have confirmed that they are planning similar promotions in the future.
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a consortium of investors which has a minority stake in The Business of Fashion.