The rise in Social and Environmental awareness is challenging the ideals of status and exclusivity associated with luxury, giving way to a far deeper curiosity for the story that lies behind.
The Commercialisation of Luxury Brands
The luxury sector will see much of its future growth driven through on-line retail and social media. The pandemic has seen a meteoric rise in digital consumerism and where luxury brands once depended on physical retail, they are needing to adapt to a younger audience seeking far more. According to a Business of Fashion case study Gen Z could represent 40% of the luxury goods market by 2035. These digital natives will move between various channels for inspiration, products and price-comparison.
They want instant availability, and an abundance of choice. Where we once saved for that investment piece, the aspirational will secure a loan and invest now. Furthermore the pandemic has led to a boom in resale with The Real Real (www.therealreal.com), Vestiaire Collective and ThredUp all enjoying growth in second-hand luxury, which in turn grows the circular economy in keeping clothes in use. What does this mean for those who seek to position themselves in society through ownership, whilst others dream of acquiring something extraordinary. How does a competitive online marketplace align with the magnetism of scarcity?
What do Established Luxury Brands offer?
Modern Luxury requires innovation, with digital and social relevance. The kering Goup who own Gucci, Bottega Venetta and Saint Laurent are investing in an immersive online/offline experience according to their Chief Client and Digital officer, Grégory Boutté. This will be powered by in-store Apps and artificial intelligence to offer a more personalised customer experience; seamlessly purchasing online and collecting in-store, reserving on-line and booking a try-on or a personal stylist. The store then, is still an important touch point in showcasing aesthetic and building brand community, an opportunity to elevate the brand further through exceptional customer service and storytelling, which makes a brand unique. It is important that these stories are told so that authenticity is not diluted in our digital world. Gucci have also invested in the Gaming market allowing gamers to express themselves through luxury. It is a sizable market with a notable mix of high-income users, so luxury partnerships are on the increase generating in-app purchases. Gucci chose gaming platform Roblox to launch its first virtual sneakers, and offer AR try-on in their App which also allows customers to design their own sneaker; pleasure through engagement is key.
GUCCI’S first concept store in Soho New York; No security guards but instead ‘a cast of ambassadors trained to tell the Gucci story’. Furnished with sofas and a 3D cinema
Mulberry is a celebrated heritage brand, seen as fundamentally British with quality and craftsmanship at the core. From the classic Bayswater to the Alexa, they have sustained a modern approach to design and production through a passion for their craft, and the need to keep evolving. The brand has been successful with simple classic design that is relevant, especially now with more demand for timeless pieces that are beautifully made. Their unisex offer has a broad appeal, and commitments to secure more onshore production together with a ‘green charter’ focused on sustainably tanned leather and other green components – puts Mulberry in a strong position. They have offered repairs and restoration for decades to customers, who can also return their pre-loved bag for credit towards a new purchase. Pre-loved items are then offered for resale. “Our restoration and repair journey is ultimately part of our strategy for Mulberry to thrive within a circular economy, conserving natural resources and ensuring our products can find a second, third or even fourth home, or handed down from generation to generation.”Mulberry Exchange.
Mulberry’s best-selling Alexa Bag
Traditional brands come under pressure to become more Ethical
The extravagance of flying people around the world to witness a catwalk spectacle was under scrutiny before the pandemic, but now brands are challenging their creativity with film to shape the brand story and mood. In these surreal times models become actors. Guccifest 2020 was a 7-day film festival, a modern adaptation of showcasing a collection with a far wider reach. I think this has set a new bar. Balenciaga presented A/W’21 in the form of a video game called Afterworld; The Age of Tomorrow - using avatars to model the collection. Prada went virtual with their recent menswear catwalk show, offering an empathetic response to lockdown focused on the bodysuit, a onesie offering comfort and ‘a calmness of shape’. ‘This was not a time for exuberance’ Muccia Prada commented, favouring the virtual show as, ‘giving importance to all people, no longer just a restricted group’. Luxury cannot hide from the profound effects of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement – instead, the sector is being forced to reposition itself with a modern social relevance. Immersive virtual environments are changing the narrative to reflect the times. A compliment of physical events is still important for fashion media and professionals though I think there is a strong indication now that there is no going-back.
Prada’s onesie, A/W 21
Guccifest 2020 Overture of something that never ended
Consumers are demanding that brands become more ethical. If we look back at how Gucci came under fire and responded to the issue regarding Dapper Dan, we can see that consumer and community voice is becoming more powerful and there is momentum for change. Gen Z are growing up with climate change and witnessing the profound effects of deep-rooted social injustice. The negative impacts of fashion on people and the environment are not only confined to fast fashion - after all exotic, rare, exclusive traditionally were terms used, because products featured skins of rare animals, or were made by someone who had not been treated with honour and respect.
A thirst for transparency and information has made us all aware of the issues; my feeling is that brands who do not address sustainability will become less resilient and irrelevant. As we seek to learn more, we appreciate the real value and real cost of a piece - and its journey through many skilled hands. Uncovering a story of heritage and craft within a cultural context indicates a growing desire to connect. To quote Emma Watson,
‘It’s not enough for me anymore that it’s a beautiful item. I want to know who made it and where it came from’.
Gabriela Hearst was recently appointed as Chloe’s creative director to create a more responsible direction for the brand. Her much-anticipated debut collection focused on sustainability as with her own New York label; Low-impact materials, bags and coats from repurposed left-overs, recycled cashmere and the elimination of virgin synthetic fibres.
‘Hedonistic luxury will be totally dead after the pandemic. I think and hope that people will now opt more for craft and quality’, - Gabriela Hearst.
Upcycled coats, Gabriela Hearts’s debut collection at Chloe
Modern Luxury represents responsible and meticulous design, craftsmanship and honouring everyone in the supply chain. To be inclusive and honest. Luxury should be the best it can be at all stages of creation. Modern luxury suggests to me that ‘less is more’, a life investment in celebrating design and culture at its most elevated.