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Otherway and Fortnum & Mason's Collaborative Relationship Highlights The Department Store's Character

by Rudy Sanchez on 09/01/2020 | 7 Minute Read

What’s inside the department store of your dreams? Is it filled with premium finds curated by retail experts? Perhaps it’s full of classics you pick up for special occasions or something new that you discover every visit? Does walking inside feel like a sensory overload, full of exotic smells, shiny objects, and delectable delights?

Well, what if you got to design some of the treasure inside this department store of your dreams? Sounds like a dream job for a designer, no?

For the last six years, design and branding studio Otherway and British department store Fortnum & Mason have forged a collaborative relationship, working on a broad range of products and projects, resulting in a wide-ranging murderer's row of luxury goods.

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Fortnum & Mason was founded originally as a side hustle by William Fortnum. While working as a footman at Queen Anne’s residence, he would collect the half-used wax candles, as the queen insisted on fresh ones every night, and eventually opened a grocery store, convincing his landlord Hugh Mason to become his business associate. Together, they opened the first Fortnum & Mason in 1707, and ever since, the brand has become famous for its hampers filled with curiosities and gourmet staples.

A brand with over three centuries of history, Fortnum & Mason has built up a considerable amount of pedigree and brand equity. Maintaining that level of prestige in consumers’ eyes can be tricky, as it’s a balance of respecting and honoring the past while being fresh enough to appeal to contemporary customers. 

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And that's all the more critical in a retail environment facing the challenges of a global pandemic. You need those same customers to keep coming back to the brand, and you need to create an experience while doing so.

“Working with a 300-year-old legacy is pretty exciting," says Otherway partner Ben Lewin. "Where there’s change, there’s an opportunity."

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“We have constant challenges to help Fortnum’s stay ahead of an ever-changing consumer,” he adds. “Opportunities come from making that heritage relevant in the modern world. To do that, Fortnum’s isn’t suddenly going to come out with a san serif logo. There are some things you can’t mess with. The color, the royal warrants, the layers of rich experience. But to stay relevant, we have pushed the brand into a more playful and contemporary creative arena, developing on their history of delivering both wit and warmth.”

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“From designing smart new product innovations like the Tea post (tea packaged up and delivered through your door every month) to launching the brand in full force across digital media at Christmas, it’s the more holistic, multidisciplinary nature of the way we work with Fortnum’s that allows opportunities to come through quicker.”

“Finding great people through Otherway has been incredibly powerful,” says Zia Zareem-Slade, Fortnum & Mason customer experience director. "They never come to a project disinterested or bored. Every single engagement is exciting approached with interest.”

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INNOVATION WITH A NOD TO THE PAST 

Part of the Fortnum & Mason magic comes down to the idea of the gift. 

It's precisely the department store you frequent when you need to find an anniversary present or birthday gift. You're searching for a one-of-a-kind trinket for a one-of-a-kind person, and their store comes littered with treasures of all shapes and sizes.

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Just take a look at the champagne Otherway designed for them recently, as it captures the brand’s connection to any kind of momentous occasion worth celebrating. It stays true to its core identity in an elegant, playful way, but it still has a contemporary appeal. The elephant on the box is executed as an illustration with an aesthetic plucked from the past, while bubbles emanating from the trunk feels festive and playful. The cream-colored backdrop stylishly creates a contrast that allows the grey illustration of the elephant to stand out, maximizing the chic shimmer of the bubbles.

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The birthday biscuit tin is another example of using classic imagery in a fun, modern way. The tins feature a cheerful marching band that gets illustrated in a vintage 60s comic-strip style, with an elegance conveyed through the use of the brand’s blue-green signature hue along with a touch of gold. Both whimsical and upscale, the packaging befits any birthday celebrations and feels like a tine your grandmother always keeps stocked with gingersnaps every time you visit.

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Another example of bringing a fresh, modern appeal to consumers to is the agency's work on the Oddi-Teas line of uniquely flavored teas, such as sundae, gin & tonic, and pistachios & clotted cream. Each box has a white top with gold accents, and the principal container comes adorned with somewhat abstract interpretations of the flavor. Since the teas are mostly experimental and inspired by Fortnum & Mason’s range of treats, the packaging successfully pushes the envelope, while anchored by the brand’s heritage.

The successful working relationship is also on display with 45 Jermyn St., a restaurant in the heart of the St. James area of London. While Fortnum & Mason own the restaurant, it doesn't feature their branding. However, it still exudes the refined trappings and premium appeal inspired by its posh and stylish neighborhood, and Jermyn St. icon Beau Brummell, using illustrations by Dutch artist Zeloot.

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AVOIDING COMPLACENCY IS KEY 

Otherway approaches every project with the retailer with the energy and exuberance they would if they were a new client, and why? Avoiding complacency fuels the dynamism and novelty of Otherway’s work for the upscale department store.

“We keep everything fresh," Ben explains. "We don’t want to be the same old. We always try to reset ourselves on what we do and how we approach a project. We speak to Zia regularly and get insight into what’s going on. We build up knowledge and equity on the brand. You come to each meeting like a new agency, from a passion standpoint, wanting to do the research, wanting to get a good end result."

That close relationship and rapport they developed give them a shared shorthand, as is often the case with successful partnerships. It also means that the Otherway team has a more innate understanding of their client’s needs, assets, and identity, certainly more than a new agency would.

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“To keep a long term client/agency relationship going, you need to keep pushing from both sides," Ben adds.

That’s a tightrope act for any agency to walk. A few years back, Fortnum & Mason had them design illustrations for a print campaign, one that championed stories from the past that consumers might not know, like having invented the Scotch Egg back in 1738 ( the perfect to-go meal) or bringing baked beans to the country. You can't write those stories off as curios; they are staples of British culture.

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“We kept talking about the archive, and the incredible stories Fortnum's have, and how other brands were having to fake it to make it,” Ben says. “But we had this treasure chest of content right at the heart of the brand. We pitched it as an idea one day, and it’s now become something that has lasted as core to the brand, all centered around a long term Sunday Times Magazine partnership." 

The agency balanced a thin line that undoubtedly looks to the past, but, as with so many of their other projects for Fortnum & Mason, they still manage to make everything evergreen and relevant for today’s consumer.

“We’re only as good as our last job," Ben says. "It’s harsh but true. You have to constantly deliver and truly understand the client. Brands are run by people, and you have to understand their problems, so they become your problems.”

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