“So, what do you know about Luxury Retail?” asked the interviewer. “Sir, in Luxury Retail we sell expensive products,” replied the candidate. “And?” the interviewer persisted. “Here the customer is the ‘rich’ king,” the candidate answered with a big smile. The interviewer laughed and continued,” Can you name a few luxury brands?” “Sure, sir. Versaake, Louiss Vuittan, Zeghna-” “Interesting way of putting them across. How are the three different from each other?” the interviewer scratched his head. “They are all the same. They sell high quality luxury fashion,” came the reply.
(credit Brand Uniq)
On March 6th Hermés launched its first foray into the highly profitable make up category, headlining with a new lipstick. Distinctive cases are made from lacquered, brushed and polished gold metal. They are rich and effortless. A little bit space age and offering an indulgent magnetic click when you replace the lid.
Luxury is not an adjective
The proliferation of ‘luxury’ has accelerated at an unprecedented rate. As huge populations in emerging markets become more affluent, brands in categories such as fashion, watches, and jewellery have risen to meet this new ‘need’- expanding rapidly and making their wares available to anyone who can afford them. Omni channel strategies have given new meaning to ‘instant gratification’ and the brand extension concept pioneered by Christian Dior in the 1950s has been stretched to new heights (or lows) as logos are overlaid on accessories and trinkets. And business is BOOMING. Look at these numbers: LVMH €53.7 billion in 2019, up 15%; Kering €15.9 billion in 2019; Chanel €11.1 billion in 2018, up 10.5%.
But I’m curious. How luxe can a lippy be? What is real luxury?
I had a cheeky hot cross bun for breakfast today. I say ‘hot cross bun’, what I should have said is M&S Luxury Hot Cross Bun. And it was pretty nice – better than a normal one, I think. More fruity. But was it luxury? It was a bit more expensive. If it had come from Tesco it would have been ‘Finest’, Morrison’s ‘The Best’ and so on. But was it luxury?
“Luxury brands often lack transparency and have become very profit oriented. The segment is dominated by 3 conglomerates that are publicly traded companies, in a continuous pursuit to acquire independent luxury brands. Many feel these luxury brands have lost their luxury DNA, and have abandoned their artisan, family-oriented roots.” (credit Brand Uniq)
Here is the root of the challenge for luxury. The sector is dominated by brands that as a result of their ubiquity can’t really meet the criteria of truly luxury goods. Surely a real luxury brand is one most of us haven’t heard of.
What criteria? Well, the brands are no longer rare or exclusive. Their goods are not usually crafted by an artisan. They are no longer exclusively made in the country of the brand’s origin. And when they are - e.g. Chanel Métiers d’Arts (which is amazing stuff ) – they are shared so widely that the actual rarity of these goods is easy to forget.
“Many luxury products have been moved to low-cost manufacturing countries with questionable labour practices. Few luxury brands are openly admitting this practice; however, consumers are starting to take notice." (credit Brand Uniq)
There should be a recognised definition of Luxury
These observations are focused on fashion. In a lively conversation amongst clients and colleagues recently we agreed that the plethora of £500 branded t shirts and the like don’t really cut it. So, what constitutes a luxury item:
Can a smartphone be luxury? Probably not. Too ephemeral
A car? Like a Rolls Royce? Depends where it’s made (England); but how much of it is actually a BMW? (The Rolls-Royce Ghost features a modified version of the BMW N74 V12 engine, called the N74B66). Make up your own mind
A Watch? Definitely. Particularly since watches have virtually no necessary practical function. Christopher Ward are unusual. Note they are not the most expensive
HiFi? This is interesting. Some of these components are hand made by experts and craftsmen. They last for years and perform a specific but non-essential task brilliantly. Luxury? Could be
A yacht? Absolutely. But the ‘community’ that comes with it… be careful what you wish for
A Wax Bar? Nope. (But if you’re tempted, it’s on Mortimer Street)
I reckon there should be a recognised definition of Luxury. Like the Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) of France. The Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) guarantees that all AOC products will hold to a rigorous set of clearly defined standards. They effectively protect the integrity of agricultural products.
So, why not the same for Luxury? If a brand wants to claim to be Luxury, all those bags need to be made by hand in the country of origin. From the best materials. According to processes and tradition established over generations. By recognised, accredited and properly paid craftspeople. It’s a start.
These practices have sustainability built-in and would rapidly gain a following amongst people who care about something.
All the rest will be happy with overpriced landfill. It will still be expensive. But it won’t be Luxury.