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Luxury brands choose hand-painted murals for advertising

By Jackie Mallon


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Fashion |Interview

Hermès hand-painted mural ad campaign Ph Kevani

While AI-generated artwork and digital media solutions dominate the world of contemporary advertising, an analog movement has been gathering pace among luxury brands for several years. FashionUnited speaks to Kevin Bartanian, CEO and founder of Kevani, an out-of-home (OOH) media sales organization specializing in urban-scale media assets. Kevani is credited with jump-starting the digital outdoor advertising industry in Los Angeles, but he explains why hand-painted murals are proving to have lasting appeal.

"A painting conveys a sense of individuality, it stands out and communicates that a brand’s products are not run-of-the-mill, that they’re unique,” he says. “Every hand-painted mural is essentially an art piece which resonates well with luxury brands.”

The requests for hand-painted murals started coming in a decade ago from brands that existed when hand-painted murals were originally around a century ago, like Chanel. This style of advertising is in keeping with the message of heritage brands, creating a sense of nostalgia around the brand at a time when everything seems to be fast-paced, virtual or generated by machines.

Representing the craft and handmade expertise associated with luxury product, brands can win in the battle to stand out by wall art advertising in select locations. And when market trends are overwhelmingly going one way, they demonstrate themselves as leaders representing an alternative direction. The retro aspect of hand-painting creates an emotional connection, not dissimilar to that provoked by an artisanal crafted pair of shoes or a Birkin. “Art is something that people have feelings about, and you view art to experience something,” says Bartanian. “A piece of art means something different to everyone; combine that with the fact that it’s created by an actual person.”

Hand-painted murals build community engagement for luxury brands

The very process of creating the mural can play into the brand's marketing strategy. Artists at work in an urban space automatically build buzz, curiosity, and stir engagement with the general public. Kevani artists are careful not to introduce the brand logo until the last minute and risk photos being posted of the unfinished artwork online, the kind of engagement brands usually don’t want. Commuters pass the developing artwork every day, anticipating the final reveal. Says Bartanian, “The process of painting it is a fun and interactive experience for the brand, painters, and passersby, so you have the effectiveness of the campaign but you also have the community aspect of it.”

MCM hand painted mural in Los Angeles Ph Kevani

Bartanian describes his company's role as providing the canvas for advertisers but says he is also aware of the importance of doing right by the space and those who live there. The process of creating art on that scale starts off with providing the specs to the creative agency tasked with conceiving of the artwork. Then, using their high resolution imagery and color proofs, the Kevani team scale the artwork on projection, create multiple panels, start mixing colors and, in Bartanian’s words, “we go to town.”

The canvas can be an 8000 square foot wall on the side of a building or a 2000 square foot sign, but the process is the same. “We start sketching, then painting. This can take a week or two depending on the work's complexity, and we can have multiple painters working on different panels or there might be two or three stages when artists are working together.”

Kevani enlists muralists from a company called Walldogs who are accustomed to creating hand-painted public art, on buildings and for municipalities, the artwork often featuring media, entertainment or sports figures. “A collective of artists from different parts of the country all fly into LA and work together on a project for a week or two and then leave again,” says Bartanian. “There aren’t a lot of professionals who can do this work because muralists are quite unique and the space of commercial art is quite specific.”

Gucci and the popularity of mural art in fashion

Since 2017 one of the most high profile examples of fashion murals has been the Gucci wall in NYC’s Soho, mecca for luxury shopping. Owned by Colossal Media the 2500 square foot space has featured a varied roster of artists, some even discovered by Gucci’s former artistic director Alessandro Michele on Instagram. Before that, in 2010, NYC lost its longstanding iconic DKNY mural on Houston Street, a gritty black and white monument to downtown cool, the cityscape painted inside the brand's towering letters. Since then, there have been murals by brands such as Rag & Bone, and Adidas and NYC still occupies the lion’s share of mural art locations in the US. But Shinola, Chanel, Givenchy, Paul Smith have all taken their wares to the walls in cities such as LA, the second most popular location for murals, according to Bartanian, but also in Miami and Chicago, the next most popular cities.

“You can't just paint anywhere. It’s also to do with entitlements, permitting, and city restrictions,” explains Bartanian. “Many of these walls were already hand-painted, but at some point they moved to vinyl which was a cheaper product, was quicker to paint and to change out. Now the demand for hand-painting has come back, some of those walls have been reconverted. The demand drives the location.”

L’oreal, Hermès, Burberry, are some of Kevani’s top clients that have adopted hand-painted murals into their advertising budget. 80 percent of their luxury clients will consider hand-painteds while also purchasing digital media and incorporating AI-generative art into their creative strategies. But in some ways the mural is a counterpoint to digital. It is analog writ large and Bartanian says that the trend will continue due to the limited inventory. Restrictions fuel the exclusivity of luxury.

“There are only so many places that we can activate this sort of advertising and not a lot of walls you can paint that advertisers want to be on," he says. "Without the supply demand stays high. The location has to make contextual sense and fit the brand’s profile but also has to pay homage to the environment."

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