Emily Pitts writes:
Is the concept of luxury is stuck in the past? Leafing through the high end magazines, it looks so. It’s quickly apparent that 2009 ads sell the same products, and rely on the same concept of luxury, as they have for years; the traditional face of luxury is still impenetrable, aloof and other worldly. Whilst classic luxury pieces from Chanel or Hermes will continue to resonate as high quality investment items for a small group of rich consumers, the emerging values of the new “everyday luxury” market are quite different.
The Dutch design collective Droog suggest that “Luxury is really about scarcity“. And what’s scarce? “Care, silence, fresh air, slowness”. Brands that help consumers achieve some aspect of this in their lives will be connecting to a changing notion of luxury, as values around responsibility, community and self-reliance are emerging as the new consumer lifestyle aspirations. Though in part this has been provoked by recession, Futures Company research tells us that greater numbers are re-assessing what’s important in life; hence the spike in volunteer numbers, career breaks and socially responsible career choices such as teaching. Some brands in other sectors are successfully tapping into these desires; luxury may have look outside of the sector to learn.
The personal connection with the product that Nudo achieves by allowing customers to adopt an Italian olive tree from which they receive their own oil for a year, linking the consumer with the producer, is a good example. The Harrods allotment features webcams that allow consumers to view their food as it grows, which would certainly offer ‘slowness’. Burgerville supports local farms and businesses, thereby appealing to consumers’ growing social conscience. Brands that allow consumers to express their creativity are also prospering. Increasing numbers of knitting clubs, Anya Hindmarsh’s bag customisation service and the Observer Woman’s ‘Designer DIY’ series run this year bear witness to this. In the luxury market, Clarins offers a customised skin cream, My Blend, in a small number of top end stores. Personalisation is also a feature at the ‘uber-bling’ end of the scale, as Peter Aloisson’s jewel-encrusted mobile phones demonstrate.
But the challenge for many luxury brands is to move beyond this. Selling a de luxe designer handbag for its link to a wider set of values than brand cachet is not necessarily an easy bridge to build. Louis Vuitton made a good attempt with its ad campaign (picture at the top of the post) that focuses on the journey rather than the bag; the promise is, perhaps, that our personal journey can be as interesting as that of Gorbachev. Competitor brands need to follow suit, and re-adjust their focus on the part of ‘scarcity’ that really means ‘luxury’ to today’s consumers.