British products are often said to enjoy a certain level of credibility and desirability in Japan, a country which is also fond of luxury items and brand names.
With that in mind, three British brands recently teamed up to hold an event in Tokyo’s fancy Aoyama district, with the aim of showing off what the UK is offering in terms of quality, luxury goods.
Representatives of Johnnie Walker, Hackett and Aston Martin gathered at the House of Aston Martin to show off Blue Label whisky, tailored suits and luxury cars, respectively, to a select audience of Japanese consumers.
Ayato Bence Kaneko, Johnnie Walker’s brand ambassador for Japan, took guests on a tasting experience, aided by a display showing a virtual journey of its high-end Blue Label scotch.
Giving each participant a generous measure of the drink, along with a glass of ice-cold water, he gave instructions on how to sample the whisky, and what flavours and aromas to look out for at different stages of the tasting.
He explained the experience to BCCJ ACUMEN: “We came up with a movie that takes consumers on a journey through Scotland to really experience the depth, as well as the different characters and flavours, in the Johnnie Walker Blue Label”.
Kaneko said that his goal was to help more Japanese people understand the brand’s premium offering. “A lot of people know about Johnnie Walker Black Label here in Japan. Not many people know about Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which is a more rare blend.”
“Black Label has a lot of events in the year, in different parts of Japan, with a lot of consumers attending those events. As for Blue Label, to keep it as a luxury scotch whisky, we really focus on those consumers who are really willing to enjoy Blue Label in their lives”, he added.
So that’s the luxurious beverage market taken care of. What about clothing?
For that, the event welcomed Graham Simpkins, the global head of tailoring for Hackett, and a range of cloth sample books and gentlemen’s suits.
After an explanation of what Hackett offers—traditional English cut suits using mostly Yorkshire cloth, with the promise of something extra should the customer want it—Simpkins sat down to discuss luxury tailoring.
“You can’t rush quality. Quality is time, it’s labour intensive, and it’s about the attention to detail. So if you want something … high-end and very well made, you have to wait”, he said.
“The Japanese customer and the Japanese market love quality. They don’t want to cut the corners, they want the very best”, he added.
He explained that selling suits in Japan can be a very particular business. “In Japan they want attention to detail and, more importantly, they want it to be different compared to everywhere else. They don’t want to be run-of-the-mill, they want to be exclusive, they want to have that quality. So we have to change our collection to accommodate that”.
Displaying two cars—one new, one classic—prominently upstairs at the venue, BCCJ member Aston Martin also showed off one of its master designers, who sculpted a car from clay as the guests watched.
The company’s Senior Manager for External Relations Will Farquhar said the event was a good opportunity to showcase real British luxury. “We have a global tie-up partnership, Aston Martin and Hackett. So there was a good fit between the tradition of suit-making, the hand-craftedness, the making of the whisky, obviously all Aston Martin cars are hand crafted in Britain, we thought this was a good opportunity to showcase some of the best luxury goods coming out of the UK.
“The three brands together, we thought were a good match. They represent British gentlemen’s lifestyle, luxury lifestyle. The brands, particularly Johnnie Walker and Aston Martin have a very long history and tradition”, he added.
High quality tradition
So the brands can certainly delivery luxury in spades. But how big a market is Japan for the three brands, and for luxury British goods in general?
Kaneko answered honestly, “not as big as, let’s say, the United States, which is number one in the world, for Blue Label especially”.
“Scotch whisky is growing a lot in Japan since they’re out of Japanese whiskies at this point”, he added, referring to the recent shortage of locally produced whisky reported in Japan.
For Simpkins, Hackett is also looking at Japan as a growing market for the brand.
“We personally believe it is a massive market. It is the doorway to the whole of Asia and China and so forth, if you can get the Japanese market right. The client out here is very, very concerned—they know what quality is and they know what is good quality”, he said.
“Japan is a very important market—that is why we are looking to do a lot more going forward. We have been treading carefully because it is a big investment, but we are now very confident that we are going to roll out a lot more”, he added.
Farquhar, meanwhile, said that, for Aston Martin, the timing is right to be active in the Japanese market.
“I think Japan is a market that really appreciates a high quality tradition, hand-crafted. I think the Japanese consumer is willing to pay a premium for high quality goods and I think, also at the moment, particularly in Tokyo, this is a luxury goods market.
“This is also a country that has a certain affinity with the UK and seems to love Britishness, so I think this is an excellent time to be selling British luxury goods in the Japanese market”, he said.
“There is a certain affinity for the UK—for its music, for its culture, for its respect of tradition, and I think similarly there is interest [in Japan] in the UK now. Japan is very, very popular.” Farquhar added.
And what does the future hold for our three brands in Japan?
For Johnnie Walker, 2020 marks a special anniversary for the brand. As Kaneko explained, “John Walker, the founder of the brand, started blending in 1820, which becomes 200 years in 2020, when the Tokyo Olympics will come, which is going to be a really exciting year.
“I think it’s going to be really big for Blue Label as well—we are planning on doing something really special”, he said.
Simpkins also sees a bright future for Hackett in Japan: “The future is very, very bright, we are really excited about Asia and Japan and we are about to, hopefully, open more stores so we can offer the client in Japan more locations, so we can spread our brand presence across Japan to get more brand power out here”.
“We have an excellent future here”, said Farquhar. “We are expanding the brand, we are gently pushing the brand, we are particularly targeting the female consumer with our new cars that we are developing.
“We are bringing out an SUV in 2019. You’ll see a number of special, developed cars every year, and I think the future looks bright and long may it continue”.