If you've ever watched an episode of Project Runway, it's no surprise that big brands aren't shy about hitting the runway, evident in the show's various sponsorships featuring the likes of Lexus, Hallmark and Campbell's Soup. However, in the real fashion world, Pepsi hit the catwalk not once, but three times, partnering with a trio of up-and-coming local designers on collections inspired by the brand during a series of shows at Shanghai Fashion Week, which ran from Oct. 13 through Oct. 21.
The collections, by designers Just for Tee (see slideshow above), Content (see slideshow here) and Su Guang Yu (see slideshow here), were not an egregious display of red, white, blue and logos. Rather, they reflected a sophisticated sensibility, with the Pepsi spirit infused via subtle touches, such as choice of color, accessory or pattern.
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The idea was conceived out of Pepsi Marketing China, which collaborated with the brand's global design team, including PepsiCo China Region Design Director Gianmauro Vella and PepsiCo Senior Design Director Matthieu Aquino. Both work under Mauro Porcini, the brand's first-ever chief design officer who joined PepsiCo in 2012 after leading design at 3M.
Mr. Aquino and Mr. Vella were his former lieutenants at 3M and have been working with him in his mission to create a culture of design at PepsiCo.
The 2016 Spring/Summer Shanghai Fashion Week collections mark the second collaboration between Pepsi and Shanghai Fashion Week. They're also just one of a number of design-centric initiatives the company has launched since Mr. Porcini joined the company.
In Spring 2014, for example, Pepsi debuted the Pepsi Capsule Collection, its "first-ever global fashion line." It partnered with design-savvy brands such as Bang & Olufsen, Original Penguin, Del Toro, SHUT NYC, Gents and Goodlife on a series of products ranging from skateboards to shoes to clothing, all of which reflect the spirit of the brand via artwork created by global street artists such as Brazil's Ricardo AKN, the U.K.'s "doodle bomber" Hattie Stewart, Argentina's Ever and Jaz, Spanish artist Zosen and Netherlands talent Merijn Hos.The goods were sold at higher-end retailers such as Collette in Paris, Liberty in London and Bloomingdales in NYC.
For the following Fall 2014 collection, Pepsi partnered with Vogue Italia to launch the "Pulse of New Talent" collection highlighting the work of ten emerging global designers.
As with the Fashion Week lines, the various collections incorporated the Pepsi brand in fresh yet nuanced ways. According to Mr. Aquino, such initiatives are "not about sponsoring things and putting the logo everywhere. It's about creating meaningful stories that will engage the consumer on another level."
Mr. Aquino said working with the Chinese designers to infuse the Pepsi spirit into their Fashion Week collections was a "very subtle exercise. We want people to express themselves and be honest about what they want to create. We gave them a lot of background about the brand, showed them the brand positioning and past campaigns so they could feel the brand." They were required to use Pepsi colors of blue, red and white, but "It wasn't mandatory to use all three together. We didn't ask them to put logos, but you need to feel the connection to the brand."
Mr. Vella added, "it was all thinking about fashion as the final environment, the final space." The design team also released a limited edition Shanghai Fashion Week can, which depicts an intricate lace pattern of white over blue.
Together, the initiatives are meant to highlight the brand's lifestyle positioning and align it with self-expression, sport, fashion, music. Efforts such as the Capsule Collection are also a savvy way for the brand to elevate its licensing program. In China, especially, that's been crucial. Like many other big brands, Pepsi has to endurea plethora of fake merchandise threatening to sully its brand name. "There are tons of counterfeit products on the market, but for the last two years we've been elevating the quality of our output," said Mr. Aquino. "Our goal is to provide better and better assets for our partners."
Overall, design itself plays an especially critical role for Pepsi in China, which presents an increasingly intense level of competition from all over the map -- Western brands, Asian competitors and Chinese companies, who have been stepping up their own design. "All these great executions are collapsing in the same area," said Mr. Vella.