Memo: H.E.N.R.Y. and Tiffany Blue

Nearly eleven years ago, the then-41 year old musician rapped, “My favorite hue is Jay Z blue.” A lot can change over a decade: tastes, ownership of Tiffany & Co, or even the public awareness of a rare painting by famed artist Basquiat. At the center of LVMH’s controversial approach to realigning the brand with the core of influence (hip hop) is the role of Tiffany’s robin egg blue and a rare painting. Rachel Tashjian wrote on the petty controversy for GQ Magazine:

By employing the most famous couple in the world, and securing a painting by the most famous, or at least coolest, contemporary painter, Arnault is bidding to make Tiffany blue as lusted-after as Hermès orange—a global symbol of exclusivity and desire (and the rare French crown jewel not in the LVMH umbrella). [1]

Beyoncé Knowles Carter and her husband, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter are no strangers to Jean-Michel Basquiat. In fact, they own one of his vaunted paintings. A prized possession while the late artist roamed the streets of New York, today his works play a larger-than-life role in the idea of black artistry, success, and commercialization. Before his untimely passing, the artist was often angered by his lack of recognition in his own city – one that claims him today as one of its prized engineers of culture. But there is a specific culture that holds his influence even closer. There is a direct line between Basquiat, hip-hop culture, and the influence of the Carter family. It’s this pedigree, one of the most influential in all of consumerism, that the Arnault family tapped into for their reinvention of the Tiffany brand. Its suitability can be argued but its effectiveness cannot.

A never-before-seen Basquiat flooded Twitter feeds and, apparently, LinkedIn discussions on Monday morning. The reason for the release: a new Tiffany campaign starring Jay-Z and Beyoncé, who’s donning Balmain and the Tiffany Stone, posed next to the painting. The Basquiat’s backdrop is Tiffany’s robin egg blue.

The campaign sparked debate over whether or not the deceased artist would have supported his work being used in a luxury ad spot and in general generated buzz for the iconic brand, which was bought by LVMH last year and has been undergoing a rebranding to appeal to younger audiences. To do so, the company has leaned into hip-hop, hiring ambassadors like ASAP Rocky and tapping Nas to narrate ad spots already. The Bey and Jay campaign will last a year and mark a major new campaign for the brand.

Alexandre Arnault, the son of LVMH boss Bernard Arnault, was given the keys to Tiffany in January, becoming executive vice president of the company. At 29, his influence is critical in bridging the gap between the Tiffany of the Audrey Hepburn generation to the upcoming luxury consumer. There are some questions raised. Beyoncé and Jay-Z are among the biggest musicians in the world; they are not Gen Z-engineered TikTok stars but they do seem to own the keys to aspiration. And the reveal of a previously unknown Basquiat speaks to old money, not a new definition of luxury. But Gen Z is not necessarily the target, it’s the HENRY. As 2PM wrote in 2019, the HENRYs (high earners not rich yet) are an important demographic for brands to appeal to:

They gain from the association by maintaining relationships with valuable long-term consumers who may likely grow up-market. This directly and indirectly improves the lifetime value of the brand.

Evidenced by Tiffany’s campaign, which makes some strategic choices in switching up the jewelry brand’s approach without going too far outside of its comfort zone, the goal is not just to reach young people. It’s to reach “up and comers” with the means to become customers, if not now then very soon. Arnault wants Tiffany blue to be the envy of one of retail’s most critical consumer segments. But first, LVMH wanted us to know that it is Jay Z’s favorite blue. The Carter family has an otherworldly influence on the consumerism of the haves and the will haves. And this is what Tiffany & Co’s new management hopes to leverage.

By Web Smith | Editor: Hilary Milnes | Art by Christina Williams

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