The Victoria and Albert Museum is no stranger to high-end shopping malls. Located in London’s affluent Knightsbridge district, the V&A counts Harrods and Harvey Nichols among its neighbors. For the museum’s latest initiative, however, it has ventured 5,700 miles away into Shanghai’s K11 art mall with a pop-up store.
Backed by online retail giant Tmall and housed in one of the Shanghai’s iconic cultural destinations (think MoMA Design Store but on a scale to match a city of 24 million people) the month-long pop-up is the latest example of the V&A’s ongoing courtship of culturally engaged Chinese urbanites — sometimes known as art-lennials.
Presenting itself as a mini experiential exhibition, the V&A collaborated with domestic fashion labels 4iNLOOK and BASTO as well as international brands Twinings Tea and Lomography to create a series of wenchuang goods which are creative, culturally-connected products that have become hugely popular in China over recent years. Since signing with global licensing company Alfilo Brands, the V&A has focused on developing wenchuang goods to suit Chinese tastes. In the past year, its collaborations with skateboarding brand Vans and cosmetic company Bobbi Brown have been well-received. Beyond simply catering its gift shop options for the surge of Chinese tourists visiting London, the V&A sells its wares on e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall.
Labelled with the tag ‘Spark Your Curiosity’, the pop-up is part of Tmall Club which aims to create quality experiences in leading Chinese venues for cosmopolitan millennials. While western museums may not prioritize tailoring their brand image to younger generations, in China the explosion of cultural interest has led to domestic institutions from Beijing’s Palace Museum to Sichuan Opera Theater of Chengdu reaching these audiences on e-commerce platforms and social media.
For international museums seeking to grow their brand recognition in China, working with the country’s leading technology companies such as Tencent and Alibaba is increasing essential.
Though the V&A’s Shanghai pop-up will only last a matter of weeks, it shows a new angle of approach for a western museum and if successful could lead to more such efforts for the world’s leading institution for art and design.