I would be happy to argue that luxury has become one of the most globalised industries in the world. Rapid and aggressive expansion by super brands like Louis Vuitton, Rolls Royce, Rolex and Four Seasons, backed by powerful super conglomerates like LVMH, Richemont and PPR, has seen luxury permeate areas of the earth once better known for human rights conflicts than seven-star hotels.
At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, luxury has never been bigger – nor has it ever had larger levels of retailers, consumers, publicity and services. As the game moves at a breakneck pace, success in this industry has become driven by Darwinian thinking, where brands must quite literally, adapt or die.
Whether it be conforming to the consumer driven digital revolution, selling goods on the internet or responding to the need for personalisation of iconic products, it has been those brands quickest to embrace change that have remained the most agile and best positioned to absorb the effects of economic instability.
Difficult when you consider that luxury is unique, in that the customer and the Maison are always right. Keeping a brand “luxury” is just as much about dictating what that brand is and what it stands for, as much as it is about bending over backwards to give a client what they want. But in saying this, in 2012 it feels like the pendulum of favour may be swinging toward consumers. Brands seem to have conceded the need to deliver outside their traditional value charter – whether that is a Facebook page or Herm?s Sari.
The fruits of such logic are ever apparent when one looks at the products luxury brands will be taking with them into 2012 – products that are not only regionally and culturally thoughtful, but often made-to-order and sometimes designed entirely by the customer. Whilst 2011 was an active year for the launch of bespoke initiatives for brands, I can’t help but think it was just a taste of what’s to come. Vanessa Friedman often muses that three times makes a trend – if that is the case, expect to see a veritable avalanche of bespoke options in the coming twelve months.
Customization is nothing new – it is if anything, a founding principle of luxury – but it certainly is something incredibly popular in fashion and accessories. And in an era where luxury has penetrated the mass market and something afforded by the middle class, what could be more appropriate? The only thing more luxurious than a signature Burberry trench, is a signature Burberry trench made entirely to your specifications, which technology has now made a reality on a global scale.
Burberry’s Bespoke service allows clients to choose fabrics, patterns, designs, cuts and even colours. In addition, they can to scroll through various options in collar styles, cuff straps and mink linings, among others. The completed product is be delivered within four to eight weeks.
UK accessories brand Anya Hindmarch, established a dedicated bespoke retail space in London over two years ago, most recently launching online. Speaking with The Telegraph, the designer mused that “old-fashioned luxury is about having something especially made for you. It’s something that has a story.” Her Knightsbridge boutique has an on-site craftsman, developing an array of leather goods as diverse as £75 bookmarks, through made-to-measure wallets, to Hindmarch’s £15,000 crocodile-leather Ebury bags.
And as luxury menswear becomes more and more important to the landscape, it is unsurprising to learn that Louis Vuitton and Bally now both offer made-to-order shoes – and in the case of Vuitton, made-to-order handbags for women. Prada launched customizable eyewear and accessories options last year, Gucci moved into made-to-measure suits and shoes. Brioni recently revealed that 40% of its sales are derived from its bespoke products, stitched by hand in the Southern Italian town of Penne.
Regional influence has extended well beyond local inventory management and appropriate communications strategies. Today geography not only exudes overt influence on product design but seeks to compliment – or should I say capitalise – on local culture and religion. 2012 will make an example out of China, with the significant number of products designed by luxury brands, celebrating the Year of the Dragon.
Just this week, Vertu has launched a luxury dragon-themed mobile phone based on its Signature collection, with prices hovering above $20,000. Coach has collaborated with Chinese artist Zhang Lan on an accessories collection, adorning the brand’s signature designs and mahogany colour scheme with golden dragons rendered in a style reminiscent of traditional Chinese ink painting (Jing Daily).
Piaget threw an elaborate gala in Beijing to launch its Dragon and Phoenix collections, Shanghai Tang collaborated with Nespresso for its Dragon collection and Rolls Royce has released a limited edition Phantom for the occasion – unsurprising when they now claim to sell more cars in China than they do in the West.
Swarovski lauded the event with a jewellery and timepiece collection whilst Versace designed a collection of flashy accessories starting at $5000, for distribution exclusively in the Asia Pacific region. Blancpain debuted its “Chinese Dragon” Caruso, priced at 1.4 million Yuan (approximately $220,000), limited to a run of only 50 units worldwide.
Many of these sentiments were evident in India 2011, when Herm?s produced a range of Saris and Bottega Veneta its ‘Knot India’ collection, coinciding with its exhibition in Mumbai. Louis Vuitton was characteristically ahead of the curve back in 2010, when they feted Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, on a global scale.
Whilst pursuing these types of strategies is neither a surprising move nor a new one – particularly when you consider the fanfare that is Christmas – an increasingly diverse customer base is forcing brands into new territories and cultures that are not there own, as we have seen with the Year of the Dragon. But to remain successful, history suggests they must also stay true to their luxury positioning, the specialities and strengths of their own native soil and essentially, retain tight control their of brand image – easily achieved by controlling the products on the market.
The question remains, how far can brands travel in their quest to please consumers before they lose their own specific defining values and cultural heritage? Does a Sari made in France by Herm?s, hold real significance to an Indian consumer? How will products change again with the emerging strength of Brazil and continued prosperity in Russia?
With any luck 2012 will answer some of these questions, but as always, we invite our members to join the discussion below.