Photos courtesy of Luke Dyson
The word “partnership” bears many interpretations according to the context in which it’s used. In a romantic setting, for example, a partnership could be an emotional and physical interconnection between two (or more) individuals who care for one another so deeply that compromises are made in order to sustain a healthy, lasting relationship. Business partnerships, on the other hand, are typically an arrangement between two or more parties that collaborate to achieve their mutual interests.
For Jo Vidler, elrow’s Creative Director and Georgia McDonnell-Adams, Absolut’s Senior Global Experience Manager, collaboration, compromise and trust are key. Magic is an added bonus.
“Magic,” Jo emphatically replies when asked what “partnership” means to her. “Partnerships to me are definitely collaboration. They are opportunities for human on human to get super creative. It doesn’t even have to be in decorations and things like that; you can be creative in finance and all sorts of things. It’s a really amazing way of creating a magical experience, a product or whatever it is.”
In Georgia’s eyes, partnership is also about being humble and having the emotional intelligence to communicate in ways that resonate with one another. “There’s an element of being vulnerable too because if you think about it, in a partnership, if I put something on the table and you don’t necessarily think it’s the right thing, I have to be vulnerable to allow you to criticize that [idea] or vice versa. So I think being brave and vulnerable is definitely a part of that.”
While it might seem that a leading vodka brand and a whimsical event production company are a natural fit, there’s much more that takes place behind the scenes than a consumer might think. “From a brand perspective, we’re always looking after very specific components when it comes to sponsorships,” Georgia says. “Where is our logo on this, where does our bottle sit here? What’s the hierarchy of messaging; where do things fit? I think when you’re coming from promoter world, maybe those things aren’t as important as selling tickets to the consumer and the consumer journey that they see. So from our side, it’s about moving that gold post to be a little more flexible on things that are important in a more traditional sponsorship and we’re adamant on having. We need to compromise on things like that because the end result is a collaboration of two things coming together.”
It’s not always smooth sailing, but one of the major prerequisites of a successful partnership is being open to growing and learning together. “It can be challenging when you’re doing things one way all the time and then you’re trying to explain to someone else, who’s coming from a completely different world, ‘It’s okay, it’s meant to be like this’ or ‘No, it’s meant to be like this,’” Jo explains. “It’s been a really interesting journey to see how both parties deal with that because you have to be able to have compromises and just let things go. The biggest thing is that you need to be able to trust each other. Over the last year, we’ve been working really hard on this and making sure that we trust each other to create what we’ve committed to.”
Though it’s been about a year since elrow and Absolut officially entered their three-year partnership, The Gardenarium is the pair’s largest and most important creative collaboration yet. The day-into-night festival, which debuted at Ibiza’s Cova Santa on July 31, brings to life both brands’ beliefs that we are all human, and everybody is welcome on the dancefloor.
This, then, leads to the next question: “What does success look like?” Georgia’s response is twofold: “One, there’s a line at the door to get into our event and that’s a very easy, tangible piece of success. But the other side of success that not everyone sees is a really good working relationship. I don’t think that’s easy and that comes back to your first question, like, ‘What is partnership, how does that work and what can you compromise on and learn from each other?’ It’s been a journey; we come from two very different worlds even though on paper it looks like you fit really well. But once you dig deeper, we’re different worlds structurally and how we work and do things.”
Jo, on the other hand, views the relationship between elrow and Absolut as a romantic affair. The two are happily engaged.
Perhaps most intriguing about The Gardenarium is that it’s its own institution. The festival sprinkles in bits of magic that one would expect from a typical elrow party, merging theater, music and art. Yet The Gardenarium team took things five steps further to give fans an even more wholesomely absurd, larger-than-life experience, which began at the Imagination Concierge, hosted by London-based performance collective Shotgun Carousel. Guests also had the chance to attend SUCO Sessions on the roof, live drawing sessions with Dolly Gorman, and a sacred cacao ceremony – hosted by Cosmic Pineapple – deep inside Cova Santa’s cave.
It’s an interesting turn considering The Gardenarium is elrow and Absolut’s first deep dive into the wellness space. Together, the duo strive to show partygoers the importance of showing up for themselves, being present and noticing their health on the dance floor and beyond.
“For both of us, being well, keeping your head in a good place and being in the now is important,” Jo says. “People forget how important social gathering is and how actually that makes us really happy and changes things in our lives. There will be people here who have never tried a cacao ceremony. Having that opportunity to try things that you might see at another event – but that other event is a little bit untouchable to you – is powerful.”
Georgia’s hope is to demonstrate that wellness is easier to attain than one might think. “Wellness can sometimes be misconstrued as having to do yoga every morning or running a marathon, where actually wellness can be looking after yourself by coming to events like this and being social and experiencing cacao. It’s also an enabler for us. Being able to leave your shoes at the door and having a night where you let go is important for wellness as well.”
And as far as the music itself goes, The Gardenarium’s roster distances itself from elrow’s usual suspects like De La Swing, Kölsch and Patrick Topping. This time around, we’re seeing Seth Troxler, Gideön, Heidi, Horse Meat Disco and Hot Chip, among others.
“In our festivals, we diversify our music more and The Gardenarium gives us a platform to be able to work with other artists and create a unique creative space,” Jo tells me in The Den, which has yet to open its doors to the public. “Seth has been playing for us for a long time. But Hot Chip and people like that? No – they’re not people we’d usually book. And for elrow, this is amazing because we want to diversify anyway. We are diversifying. And this is a really good platform to test the grounds and give to people that perhaps don’t want to go to elrow, another opportunity to experience our party but with different genres of music.”
Laddering back to the notion of compromise, Absolut and elrow were challenged to book talent that would appeal to both brands. “For [Absolut], we came to the table being like, ‘Alright guys, this is the kind of world we live in when it comes to music for our brand. It’s a little different to what you guys have for yours. How can we meet in the middle?’” This is what middle ground looks like, and it’s a pretty good place to be.
As is the case with most brands doing something spectacular, Absolut and elrow have quietly entertained the ideas of expansion and world domination. They’ve hinted that down the road, fans can expect to participate in the sheer fun, lightheartedness and comicality that is The Gardenarium across 30 additional experiences in 11 markets, such as the US and other European countries. Absolut will also host Pink Cathedral experiences at elrow Town in London (August 17) and Amsterdam (September 7).