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business e-commerce Podcast product Retail technology

Mastercard: Creating experiences beyond transactions

Mastercard is on a mission to curate and create priceless experiences that money cannot buy, says Raja Rajamannar, CMO of the company, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast.

While credit cards have historically been about giving consumers speed and convenience, over the past couple of decades they have made strides into becoming an integral part of how consumers live their lives.

“We are a lifestyle brand. Lifestyle doesn’t mean it’s lifestyle for the rich and famous -lifestyle for everyone,” explains Rajamannar. “Everyone deserves to lead a beautiful life and to grow.”

On the one hand there’s the fact the technology is more seamless – gone is the swiping and signing, and in is the tapping and dipping. And if you’re shopping online, digital wallets mean you don’t even need to remember your password.

But on top of that today are perks focusing on giving consumers exclusive access to events, services and treats that help create an even deeper emotional connection between brand and participant.

A few years ago, Mastercard noticed a change in consumer behavior and strategically shifted its advertising spend into experiences. It now hosts over 750 experiences on any given day globally, from recreating the iconic The Rock restaurant from Zanzibar in NYC’s Tribeca, to enabling card holders to shadow Cirque du Soleil cast members in Canada. This strategy is based on addressing key consumer passion points, ranging from music and sports to the environment and philanthropy.

During this episode, Rajamannar explores creating emotional connections, gives advice to brands on how to drive loyalty through having a clear purpose, and reveals an industry first: why the brand is launching a sonic identity.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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business Editor's pick product Retail technology

Why Nike is betting on an Amazon-free future

Last month, Nike announced it would be pulling all of its products from Amazon in a bid to refocus its distribution strategy and “elevate consumer experiences through more direct, personal relationships”. 

Leaving one of the world’s biggest e-commerce platforms after a two-year pilot is a bold move. So what does the divorce mean for the sportswear giant?

In leaving Amazon, the company is joining a roster of others, from IKEA to Birkenstock, who have tried and failed to make it work on the platform. Amazon has developed a poor reputation when it comes to how it treats its sellers – and it’s doing very little to change it. But as retailers depart the platform to deliver a more personal customer experience – while keeping a tight leash on their product offerings – the e-commerce giant needs to start thinking damage control.

Selling on Amazon comes with an ever-changing set of challenges. While it has been busy expanding its fashion offering, the website is still designed for the convenience shopper, and not the one looking to be wowed or to discover a new favorite brand. Search ranking results can be confusing – for example, searching for sports shoes will not necessarily bring up the Nike sneakers immediately at the top of the page, even though it is a market leader. It is also often hard to find out whether you are buying the item directly from the brand, or a third-party seller.

Then there is the big elephant in the room: counterfeiting. Recently, The Wall Street Journal wrote that the website “increasingly resembles an unruly online flea market.” For the US site, it is now attracting Chinese sellers to post their goods directly to consumers, rather than through North American middlemen. This means a proliferation of sold goods that are deemed either counterfeit, or banned or unsafe for consumption, which are virtually impossible to keep track of.

But Nike’s exit is coming from a privileged position. It has built a community outside the retailer’s website, and will exist just fine without it. For brands of its caliber, this is a good chance to take a leaf out of the direct-to-consumer rulebook and create a distribution approach that not only gives it more say, but enables more direct conversations. 

Nike is now working on strengthening its relationship with other smaller retailers. At Foot Locker’s new NYC flagship, for example, NikePlus app users can reserve shoes in advance and pick them up from dedicated lockers.

On a direct-to-consumer level, it is launching services like the Nike Adventure Club, a sneaker subscription for kids aged 2-10 where for a monthly fee, they receive a certain number of sneakers a year. The brand is targeting time-strapped parents who live in areas that perhaps don’t have a shoe store nearby. Instead of restoring to the convenience of Amazon when their child has moved up a shoe size, Nike is hoping these parents will choose a box service with a trusted brand instead.

This is also a chance for the brand to test out the subscription model, and potentially apply it to other consumer groups in the future, says David Cobban, general manager of Nike Adventure Club.  “We’re starting to think about what other athletes have problems that could be very easily solved by a subscription,” he said. “This is the beginning of something pretty exciting for Nike.”

For all of the sales volume that Nike will be losing by exiting Amazon, the sports brand is hard at work building a tight strategy where convenience meets personalization, which will likely pay off in the near future. 

This is perhaps where Amazon continues to falter – both in the eyes of its vendors and consumers. Next day delivery and low prices come at the price of the user experience, which still leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to discoverability and bringing up (relevant) recommendations. 

Consumers may currently be fully onboard with the endless hamster wheel of speed and low value, but only time will tell if that will be enough to fulfill their more nuanced needs, such as creating emotional connections. Nike is betting on the latter.

How are you thinking about experience? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Each of the rules referenced above is matched by one of our products and services. Interested in how? Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Retail technology

4 technologies aiding in-store navigation

Big box retailers including Walmart’s Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Target are using a variety of interesting wayfinding technologies to improve customer navigation inside the physical store.

The result is designed to enable efficiency in the customer journey. This is in response to the fact that as online sales growth surpasses brick-and-mortar, customers are expecting more than just easy access to online products in physical stores, they also want to find them faster.

Cue solutions ranging from robots to augmented reality mapping. Read on for some of the strongest examples in the market to date…

Augmented Reality
Legoland Denmark augmented reality app

Home store Lowe’s was one of the first retailers to introduce an app with augmented reality indoor mapping. Instead of a 2-D image, this mobile service projects navigation signs and price specials on top of the user’s field of view – meaning they can see which direction to go in projected through their smartphones straight onto the floor or space in front of them. 

Outside of the retail space, Legoland in Denmark has recently experimented with an AR wayfinding app that helps visitors navigate around the park via a mini Lego avatar. They can also then receive real-time information on wait times ahead of them.

Voice Search
Sam’s Club Scan & Go app

Sam’s Club Now in Dallas, Walmart’s test store for technology, is also focusing on a mobile-first shopping experience. Its Scan & Go app helps customers easily access products with an integrated system using voice search for navigation. When a shopper tells the app what they need, a map directs them to the item on the shopfloor. 

Home Depot’s version meanwhile, allows users to use voice or visual search to find a specific item and then be shown exactly where it’s located within the store. Macy’s launched something similar back in 2016 with IBM Watson, which enabled users to ask question as to where specific products, departments, and brands were located, as well as what services and facilities could be found in a particular store.

Robotics
The LoweBot

From voice technology then comes robotics. Lowe’s was also one of the first to make it easier for customers to find help on the shop floor by deploying robot attendants. The “LoweBot” responds to voice commands, guiding customers through the aisles with smart laser sensors.

For Kyle Nel, executive director at Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the LoweBot resolves a common problem: “When I walk into a store and I want to know where something is I want to know right then — I don’t want to have to download an app — a robot can really help with that.”

Real-time Beacons
Target

Target is heavily investing in beacon technology for the sake of navigation also. It renewed its stores to use energy-efficient LED lighting with built-in Bluetooth beacons, which enable the store’s app to show customers their real-time location on the shop floor in a similar experience to that of Google Maps. They also help notify customers when they walk by one of Target’s “Cartwheel” deals.

Gatwick Airport has also invested in beacon technology as part of its £2.5bn transformation. Here, 2,000 indoor navigation beacons have been installed to help customers easily navigate around the terminals and reduce the amount of missed flights. Augmented reality plays a part here too, with a blue line mapped through the smartphone for users to show them which direction to go in.

The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more. 

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e-commerce product

Rapha launches custom cycling kits on demand

British cycling brand Rapha has teamed up with software company Unmade to launch a personalized design service that enables customers to create their own team kits.

Rapha Custom allows cyclists to design their team’s own kits by starting from a template, and then choosing from a variety of layouts (such as plain or chevron) and over 40 color combinations. To further personalize it, they can upload their team logos and add text. The software will then show photorealistic renders of the final design onto any photography, including lifestyle imagery of a group in any location-based scenario. Designs are digitally printed on demand, and delivered within eight weeks.

“When launching Rapha Custom we looked to address some of the biggest constraints for groups of cyclists creating custom kit,” said Ed Clifford, head of Rapha Custom. “The market was crying out for a design led and fully digital customer experience that was seamless in manufacturing and delivery. Unmade’s software provides us with a best in class system that is fully automated and integrated throughout the entire process.”

Traditionally, creating a custom team kit requires long lead times and a poor experience for the user, as well as from a production perspective, high manual involvement in the design and production of it. This service however offers brands seamless integration through a dedicated platform within the e-commerce site, and a much more efficient customer journey as a result.

Rapha Custom
Rapha Custom


“At Unmade it is extremely important for us to work in partnership with forward-thinking brands who share our vision for creating real change within the fashion and sportswear industries, through bespoke experiences and collections that are both innovative and efficiently manufactured,” said Hal Watts, co-founder and CEO of Unmade. “Working in collaboration with the world leading cycle brand Rapha has allowed us to expand our capabilities from a knitwear focus into print.”

Beyond the customer-facing element of this service, Rapha will also be able to create time-limited content or designs for special editions, partner collaborations as well as internally, bespoke products on-demand for prototyping and short runs.

How are you thinking about e-commerce innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce Editor's pick Podcast

NET-A-PORTER on personalizing the customer experience

Rosanna Falconer and Matthew Woolsey

The future of e-commerce may not be about a traditional website at all, but about existing on multiple other platforms, expresses Matthew Woolsey, managing director at online luxury retailer, NET-A-PORTER, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

The company sees many of its big customers making purchases over platforms including Whatsapp, iMessage and WeChat, which have become their primary entry point to e-commerce through their relationships with personal shoppers, he explains.

“We want to be in the platform where our customer is engaging with content, seeing the product or speaking with the personal shopper. It’s about what’s best for her. We never want to be in a position where we are forcing or imposing a platform or methodology on our customers, because that’s the opposite of customer centricity,” he explains.

“It’s very easy to imagine a time when NET-A-PORTER doesn’t even have a website, in the traditional sort of desktop sense, and really what it exists as is more of a concierge, on-demand, service offering. I think that’s the future of where this industry is headed and it’s something we are really well suited for because we have that infrastructure, we have that service component but we also know a lot more about our customer than just what she is buying.”

Data is central to being able to personalize the experience for individual customers in this way, he explains, outlining how the company is constantly looking at how to give its personal shoppers greater tools through technology.

The company is currently experimenting with how it can use artificial intelligence to merge data between purchase history and fashion trends to give personal shoppers recommendations and ideas in advance that are personalized to the customer, for instance.

Eventually the idea is for this to be scalable across the seven million consumers NET-A-PORTER talks to, but hitting its EIPs, or extremely important people, is the core focus, given the fact this 3% of its customer base, make up 40% of its revenue.

Speaking with Rosanna Falconer at a FashMash event in London, Woolsey also reveals why the most expensive item ever bought via a messaging app is so significant, whether NET-A-PORTER would ever think about physical retail, and how to manage the modern day tension between algorithms and inspiration.  

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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business Editor's pick Retail

Community and causes: Highlights from the Fast Company Innovation Festival

Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.
Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.

Experiences that attract young customers, engaging with the community and taking a stance on social issues were the major topics of conversation at this year’s Fast Company Innovation Festival.

Speaking at the conference, brand experts highlighted the growing importance of listening to their consumers, and reflecting their lifestyles and values.

Shopping as an experience

“Experience today is a younger generation’s currency,” said Daniella Vitale, CEO of Barneys New York. “They’re less motivated by money and more motivated by an authentic experience.” At a panel about the company’s strategy for reaching young customers, Vitale mentioned the success of “The Drop”, an elaborate, experiential program that involved a retail model inspired by streetwear, as well as parties and workshops. “We were willing to forfeit profitability and sales for an incredible experience.”

Vitale stressed, however, that the program ended up generating a huge return on their investment by converting visitors to repeat customers while retaining the ones they already had. ”The Drop is way beyond merchandising. It’s about working with large-scale brands on creating exclusive projects.”

Companies as communities

Tina Sharkey, CEO of FMCG startup company Brandless, says the company thinks of itself less as a company and more like a community, which includes constant communication with its customer base.

Social networks are its go-to channel for those conversations. “We are constantly asking what do they think, what we can do better, what they are looking for?” Sharkey said. “People want to answer these questions because people want to be seen. It amazes me that direct-to-consumer companies think of [social media] as a channel as opposed to a direct relationship.”

For Sharkey, the brand becomes a platform for customers to be heard and for products to tell their own stories. For instance, Brandless does weekly Facebook Live events with its buyers so that customers can ask questions in real time. “Companies shouldn’t be creating false narratives around the products. The products need to be able to speak for themselves. Therefore the quality of the product is foundational.”

Brands weighing in on activism

For Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co, countries are so politically divided at the moment that CEOs have a great obligation to weigh in on causes. Recently, the company pledged $1M to gun control organizations, as well as signed a letter asking Congress to pass the bipartisan Dream Act. It has also also teamed up with over 200 brands, including Patagonia, in the “Time to Vote” campaign, which grants employees time off to vote.

Levi’s isn’t afraid of losing customers, Bergh said. “When we took action on gun control, I got lots of emails of people saying they would stop buying Levi’s, but I also got thousands of other ones from people saying they would buy even more from us.” The risk seems to be paying off, however. “We’ve had four quarters of double-digit roll growth. That’s on top of last year’s 8% growth. So our business results are actually accelerating.”

Bergh also said that becoming political was never an issue for the talent the company works with. “Having the courage to stand up and take a stand has always been a part of our lifeblood, and it’s who we are. And our employees expect it.”

Are you thinking innovatively enough in your brand messaging? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce Editor's pick Retail

Alibaba expands Singles Day for 2018 with new retail strategy beyond China

Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba
Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba

Alibaba’s annual mega-sales day, known as Singles Day, is set to be bigger than ever this year as it introduces its “New Retail” strategy, which further connects online and offline shopping.

The event, which takes place on November 11 every year, is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2018, with the ambition to top last year’s record-breaking $25.3bn revenue in 24-hours. The focus will be on expanding scale and reach, according to the e-commerce giant, which includes moving beyond its home in China.

“Over the last two years, we have pioneered the concept of New Retail to accelerate the digital transformation of the offline,” said Alibaba’s CEO, Daniel Zhang.“We are excited by the impressive results achieved to date and will continue to be the driving force innovating for merchants and customers in the coming decades.”

As for geographical reach, platforms in the Alibaba ecosystem (TMall World, AliExpress and Lazada) are focused on bringing the event to overseas shoppers. Lazara, for example, will host its own festival for customers in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Moreover, Alibaba’s TMall plaform is already offering 500,000 items for pre-order as of October 20, following a see-now-buy-now fashion show on the same day, which enabled the company to respond to any insights on demand.

This year also includes a new focus on independent retailers. The retailer is working with 200,000 mom-and-pop shops which have been upgraded with Alibaba’s technology tools, such as AR-enabled discounts in-store and online promotions. 

Other brands including L’Oréal and Starbucks have also announced plans in place. L’Oréal China will launch a series of pop-up stores allowing customers to interact with virtual mirrors using AR and AI as well as vending machines, according to Hagen Wuelferth, the beauty group’s chief digital officer.

The shopping day’s extraordinary growth over the past 10 years aligns with China’s appetite for digitally-enabled experiences, which have not reached the same level in the West.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Retail technology

Mulberry focuses on omnichannel experience with new London flagship

Mulberry's new London flagship
Mulberry’s new London flagship

British luxury label Mulberry is introducing a connected retail experience at its new London flagship store, as part of a wider strategy focused on customer experience.

The brand is working with payments platform, Adyen, and mobile assisted selling platform, Tulip, to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping. In store, this will include mobile checkouts and an endless aisle feature, where customers can purchase items that are out-of-stock in-store, online. Additionally the store will also feature click-and-collect and two-hour same-day delivery across Central London.

Using Adyen’s platform, Mulberry will also be able to offer overseas shoppers their preferred local payment methods.

“I’m excited to be opening our new global flagship at 100 Regent Street where we have created a rich and vibrant store concept that brings to life all the elements of British landscape and architecture that inspire us,” said Johnny Coca, the brand’s creative director. “The pace and energy of Regent Street captures the spirit of Mulberry and is the perfect setting to unveil this new chapter of our brand.”

In celebration of the launch and London Fashion Week commencing, Coca and Stephanie Phair, chairman of the BFC, will be co-hosting a supper club this Friday (September 14).

On Saturday (September 15), the brand is inviting customers in-store to enjoy cocktails and become a #MulberryMuse for the AW18 campaign through a bespoke interactive studio that creates customized portraits that are played onto the store windows.

The London flagship launch comes following Mulberry’s major push in Asia earlier this month, through a four-day event in Seoul called “Mulberry x Seoul”. The initiative featured a series of events including a runway show at the K Museum of Contemporary Art showcasing the AW 18/19 collection, which was also broadcast live across social media.

Mulberry’s new London flagship

For the remaining days the same venue also hosted a gala, while customers could further discover the brand through a pop-up store, a selfie studio and films. The initiative also gave brand fans the chance to win gifts and buy a limited edition handbag, which was only available in Korea for two weeks.

“Korea was the second [biggest] country in terms of revenue so it was important to be part of that expansion and to communicate more about the brand and its heritage to the Korean customer,” said Mulberry’s creative director Johnny Coca about the event.

Luxury labels are increasingly looking to diversify their storytelling strategies, and over the past few years this has included taking the brand on the road to markets it has a solid customer base, or a huge potential in. Last week, Tommy Hilfiger hosted its Tommy Now runway event in Shanghai, China. The event acted as an anchor to a content ecosystem that helps customers – who are often new to the brand – better understand its DNA. This strategy and more was the subject of our latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast, featuring Tommy’s chief brand officer, Avery Baker.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Campaigns Editor's pick Retail

Tiffany & Co. dips NYC in its iconic shade of blue with experiential campaign

Tiffany & Co
Tiffany & Co

To celebrate Paper Flowers, the first jewelry collection under new chief artistic officer Reed Krakoff, Tiffany & Co is color-dipping a variety of New York City icons in its well-recognized “robin’s-egg blue“.

For both fans and unsuspecting city dwellers, Krakoff hopes this campaign will offer a sense of “unexpected discovery and joy”.

Between May 1-4 passersby walking along Prince Street up to Seventh Avenue will be able to glimpse the paper flowers that have been hand-crafted by Tiffany’s creative team, or see one of the many yellow cabs now dipped in the iconic shade. While this takes care of spaces at street-level, Krakoff also made sure to lighten-up the commute for anyone travelling on the subway by immersing select staircases and MetroCards in the uplifting color.

Krakoff told Vogue that when creating the concept of the city-wide installation, he was inspired by what Audrey Hepburn’s character embodied in Breakfast at Tiffany’s: “The juxtaposition of wearing a floor length gown and a tiara while holding a paper bag with coffee and a pastry,” he said. “The idea that luxury doesn’t have to be formal.”

To make it easier for anyone eager to seek out the colorful makeovers, Tiffany has provided a custom Google map that points to the precise locations.

Tiffany & Co
Tiffany & Co

This is not the first time the newly-appointed creative has made headlines with his innovative engagement strategy. In November 2017, Krakoff opened the very first Tiffany café, located on the fourth floor of its Fifth Avenue flagship. Dedicated entirely to the cult Tiffany blue as well, it enables customers to experience the brand in a whole new way; completely engrossing them in the Tiffany lifestyle.

With retail stores increasingly struggling to persuade shoppers to visit their stores, the experiential approach ensures that Tiffany is fully in control of the customer experience. By leveraging the iconic shade of blue that has been adorning the packaging and marketing materials from its inception, Tiffany ensures that customers will instantly draw the connection between the color and the unique heritage of its brand.

UPDATE: As part of the launch, the brand also debuted a short film starring its campaign spokesperson, actress Elle Fanning, to the soundtrack of a remixed version of ‘Moon River’. The short shows Fanning walking and dancing the streets of New York, paying homage to Audrey Hepburn’s famous scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where the character sings the now iconic track.

The 2018 version receives a rap interlude by A$AP Ferg and sees Fanning donning a hoodie while showcasing Tiffany & Co. jewellery, a creative direction that is undoubtedly aiming to give the brand a fresher look while presenting it to a younger audience. The remixed track can now also be found separately in Spotify.

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Editor's pick technology

Rebecca Taylor to debut 3D installation with Google Tilt Brush at NYFW

 

Rebecca Taylor illustration by Wesley Allsbrook 3D google tilt brush
Rebecca Taylor’s Google Tilt Brush illustration by Wesley Allsbrook

Rebecca Taylor has teamed up with Tilt Brush by Google for an in-store installation during the brand’s fall 2018 NYFW presentation.

Tilt Brush is a VR app that lets users paint in three-dimensional spaces, thus rendering any room a blank canvas for interaction. At Taylor’s Meatpacking District store, guests will be able to immerse in a space that uses light-infused 3D projections, further enhanced by Tilt Brush and augmented reality effects.

To achieve the feat, the designer collaborated with Wesley Allbrook, an illustrator who is part of Google’s Artist in Residence campaign, to create the 3D environment; and Pendnt, an independent art studio, to introduce AR elements.

“One of my favorite quotes is from Roald Dahl, where he talks about watching the world with glittering eyes because the world’s greatest secrets are hidden in the most unlikely places. This quote really resonates with me because I love the idea of finding a little bit of magic in everyday life and translating that into my collections. I want our customer to feel inspired when she’s wearing our clothing, and I think this collaboration with Tilt Brush really allows that magical vision to be brought to life,” Taylor told WWD.

The installation will be open for interaction on February 7 by invitation, while consumers will be able to visit the store, pre-order the collection and experience the Tilt Brush project from February 8.