How Art Basel Miami Beach Became a Major Draw for Marketers

Luxury mags and sponsors flock to art fair

Headshot of Emma Bazilian

Every winter, the fashion crowd—bloggers, editors, well- heeled customers—descends on a certain American city for a week of seemingly nonstop parties, many hosted by top-tier luxury magazines and sponsored by big-name designers. No, we’re not talking about New York Fashion Week. In fact, one of the year’s hottest fashion events isn’t technically a fashion event at all. It’s Art Basel Miami Beach, the art showcase that takes place each year during the first week of December

So how did an art fair, launched in 2001 as a spinoff of the original Art Basel in Switzerland, become a must-do for any luxury publisher worth its weight in Chanel? "There's always been a synergy between the luxury market and art," said Stefano Tounchi, editor in chief of W, who has been attending Art Basel Miami Beach since its inception. But over the past decade or so, he explained, art has become an increasingly important social currency among wealthy consumers. “People used to measure up in terms of how many handbags they had,” he said. “Now, they count Jeff Koons or Picassos or whatever they collect.”

Art patrons are also especially attractive to the brands underwriting many of these magazines’ events, added Tonchi. (W counts Ferragamo and Bulgari among the sponsors for its trio of Art Basel events this year, which include a launch party for W’s annual art issue and a luncheon in honor of famed art collectors Mera and Donald Rubell.) “It’s a certain audience that is not only rich but also adventurous and open- minded,” he said. “The people who are buying a Murakami or a Koons are probably the same people that are going to buy a $50,000 Louis Vuitton bag in collaboration with Rei Kawakubo or a punching bag by Karl Lagerfeld.”

Harper’s Bazaar is hosting its own multiday schedule of events at its Art Basel pop-up shop, including a breakfast hosted by Henri Bendel, a dinner for artist Rachel Feinstein sponsored by Vince, and a “day of beauty” featuring Givenchy, Natura Bissé and Dior. “We want to be there when the true art buyers arrive, and that’s what our sponsors want to tap into—the high net- worth individual,” said Bazaar’s associate publisher, marketing, Wendy Lauria.

Predictably, the growing number of sponsored events at Art Basel has created plenty of backlash. (This year, you’ll also find Vanity Fair hosting a Marc Jacobs shopping event, a preview of Elle Décor’s semiannual Art Basel show house and Architectural Digest’s “AD Oasis” VIP lounge.) “It’s become like Cannes where you have 20 parties every night,” said Tonchi. “Is it too crowded? Yeah. But you have an incredible concentration of wealthy people, so if you’re a fashion company, you want to be there.”

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.