LV Gorbachev ad

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.

2 thoughts on “The new face of luxury

  1. Andy Stubbings says:

    Leafing through a couple of Taschen art books on fashion in the 1970s and advertising in the ’80s, it definitely does seem that luxury is stuck in the past, or at the very least that the visuals and symbols with it are. This sort of ad for London Fog ( is basically the same as the sort of ads that you find in a 1970s Vanity Fair magazine: pouting, aloof celebrity flaunts object in a quasi-coquettish manner, all in classic airbrushed tones. Luxury has become so out of touch with reality that it has become kitsch – the furthest extreme of this might be Diesel’s self-consciously ridiculous Fuel For Life campaign. You see this when you try and compile a mood-board of images, a sort of first-blush semiotic decoder of luxury if you will. The symbols of the traditional concept of luxury that first come to people’s minds – a Ferrari car, a Tiffany ring, a secluded Caribbean island – seem a little dated and almost a bit ridiculous, at least in the UK. When we asked a little further, we found that people around the office have a far more disparate and personal view of luxury, from taking a taxi to freshly ironed clothes to personal goose down pillows (I won’t mention who that was…)
    This takes me to a second point – these examples of “everyday luxury”, as you term it, Emily, are much more diverse and individual than previous icons of luxury. They also put more emphasis on an experience rather than material acquisition of luxury (this is in-line with a long-term trend we have been monitoring in which consumers say they are as willing to spend money on experiences as material goods). My provocation is this: can a traditional, well-known, large luxury brand like Rolex really deliver luxury in the form of personal, intangible experiences through what is essentially a mass produced product? Or to put it another way, how do you scale experience?

  2. The question is what really is luxury?

    It’s anything coming at a premium price compared to mass market products or services.

    Luxury markets have been growing exponentially in the past decades together with the wealth/GDP of all Western and Far Eastern countries. We have seen a worldwide proliferation of “self assessed” luxury brands like never before. It happened in any kind of Industry, from pet food to sportswear, from shoes to fine linens.

    Overcrowded and supercompetitive markets moved businesses focus from the product itself to marketing. The one able to scream its message louder stood out of the crowd and won the consumer. Marketing counted up to 80% of the price tag. A lot of sizzle and no steak!

    That’s the way it used to be!

    Tha global downturn that slashed US economy into the worst recession since 1929 was not only evil. Strange as it seems there is also a good side of it. The Great recession brought people back to reality, easy and quick money was over and the idea of an eternal growth at the same pace as the past decades has been replaced by the concept of sustainable growth.

    This changed consumer attitude forever. Focus is back again on the value of actual product.

    A brand name alone is not enough anymore to justify a premium price tag and luxury doesn’t mean just to show off wealth and social status accomplishment.

    New Luxury stands in a product’s superior key features that translate into actual benefits to the user. It’s that simple!

    The winner in today’s economy is the one able to deliver that luxury product to consumers in the most efficient/cost effective way leveraging the power of the internet and the new media. The internet make it possible to reach a target audience in a much more effective way than traditional advertising thus shortening the value chain and giving value back to consumers.

    Many traditional luxury brands still don’t get it. All that they do is making product more affordable by lowering quality thus not changing the way they deliver value. This is actually a runway to hell since poor quality will kill the perceived value of the brand itself in the long run.

    Only those businesses able to justify a premium price tag with real, tangible value will prosper and be the winners in the New luxury markets. All the others are condemned to decline and will strive to survive.

    New Luxury is good and is here to stay.

    No more sizzle please, just the steak !

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