The 2014 AMEX Publishing Luxury Summit ended last week and its theme was Luxury Without Borders, inferring just how global the concept and the reality of luxury has become. The speakers and subjects were diverse, from understanding the importance of visual storytelling and the definition of time being a luxury, to recognizing the implications of technological connectivity of luxury buyers (especially Millennials). Yet all had the overarching idea of relating to companies who succeed.
To understand the deeper meaning of the theme, it is crucial to know the knowledge and data backing it up. Many of the statistics below have been extracted from the Knight-Frank Wealth Insight Index 2014, showcasing just how global the luxury stage is right now. The number of ultra-wealthy individuals across the globe rose by three percent last year. Nearly 5,000 people joined the ranks of UHNWI (Ultra High Net Worth Individual) in 2013, taking the number of individuals with $30 million or more in net assets to over 167,000 worldwide.
The number of UHNWIs worldwide has expanded by 59 percent since 2003, more than doubling in the Middle East, Latin America, Australasia and Africa. North America gained 1,500 individuals (a 3.5 percent increase) as Europe gained nearly 2,000 (3.3 percent increase). Wealth Insight forecasts that the ranks of the ultra wealthy will grow by 28 percent in the coming decade, reaching around 215,000 individuals by 2023, while the number of billionaires is expected to rise to 2,315 by 2023 — a 148 percent increase.
With those numbers in mind, here are five insights into the global luxury bandwidth discussed by speakers at the 2014 American Express Publishing Luxury Summit:
Arne Sorenson; President and CEO of Marriott International
"It has been a positive challenge to expand the idea and reality of luxury meanings into areas of the world that had no luxury for decades, sometimes even centuries. What we are doing at Marriott is transforming our iconic brand by infusing new ideas that underscore new brand messages. We also have created a new campaign called Travel Brilliantly. One of its dimensions asks our guests for newer ideas that may make our hotels better for them. It is a communitarian, collaborative idea, one that has garnered great results. Throughout all our brands, we are changing how authenticity is defined — in earlier years, guests at the Ritz-Carlton loved overstuffed couches and English Hunting Scene paintings; that defined luxury to them."
"But now, a newer authenticity is defined by how well the destination is infused into the hotel and guest experience. Guests now want to have the destination reflected in the hotel in different, experiential overlays. And to that end, we are adding a group of lifestyle brands: Edition, designed by Ian Schrager, and the Autograph Collection — hotels that have a history and destination culture to them. These are infused with legacy, luxury, and exceptional service. We also opened hotels in areas not specifically associated with luxury — Lagos, Nigeria is our latest. These are in addition to our luxury brands, The Ritz-Carlton, Bulgari and JW Marriott, and the JW Marriott Marquis."
"Right now and in the future, we are seeing different, younger global guests, those connected to technology all the time, with a strong sense of destination, [and] know many other HNWIs and UHNWIs in circles of friends. What is crucial to them is the same as what is crucial to me — it is not the status of the travel but the richness of the experience. And our brands seek to further define that richness with a kind of contemporary dimensionality on multiple levels."
Carter Cleveland; CEO Artsy
Carter is the Founder and CEO of Artsy, a start-up (which began in his Princeton dorm room) with the mission to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. He was also included in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list.
"All I really wanted to do was to create some way of accessing art for everyone. I believe that Artsy technology can create deep connections between commerce and education. Also, because of Artsy, a new generation of collector is being created, both high end, and high end later on. There will be Millennials and then generations behind them. We have the largest database of contemporary art ever; and our stat is that 97 percent of those that earn over $500,000 do NOT collect art, and only three percent are art consumers. We feel we can change that."
"What we really want to do is try to make art as important as music. I mean, can you imagine turning on the radio and not hearing music? That is because music is accessible to everyone. We want to make art as accessible as great music. We also feel that Artsy is as much about art education and art history as it is about commerce. We see value in this, and the more interested people evolve into collectors, the better it is for everyone. We see art following in the footsteps of luxury consumer purchasing."
Dennis Freedman; Creative Director, Barneys
Prior to becoming the award-winning Creative Director at Barneys, he was the founding creative director at W Magazine. His awareness of what is needed to align the passions of the luxury customer with greater social issues was one of the topics discussed, and one that was cutting edge, disruptive, and memorable. Carrying this theme further, he presented a short black and white film by Bruce Weber, conceptualized by Dennis, on the lives and challenges of two transgender teenagers living in Oklahoma.
"As I am a member of the LGBT population, I realize how little we have worked with the "T" part of it, and I wanted to make the lives of the transgender teens more accessible to everyone. We are a visual population, and seeing things — from our moving windows at Barneys to seeing films like this — allows greater understanding of social issues and consequences. Giving the consumer a chance to see action helps make them more aware, seduces them in a way, to change perspective from passive to active. A good thing! Of course we have had some failures, but I embrace failure, as it is a step in the education process to greater success."
Emmanuel Perrin; President and CEO, Cartier
"When I came to Cartier in 2010, I promised I would go to all 250 Cartier stores in the world to see how they worked. And I did. It is important for me to understand best practices everywhere. Cartier is different because I like to think we are associated with the right thing. When you need the right thing — birthday, anniversary — you go to Cartier. And that also relates to different parts of the world, with different celebratory rituals. But even that is changing. Five years ago, we had no iPhone. Young people are really connected and they can buy and learn from the iPhone. They do not need to go into a store. If I had one suggestion, it would be focus on what you can do and serve the client with great respect."
"If I worry about anything it is that Cartier is a family business, it has been in business 167 years. And like a test drive, or babysitting, you want to give the business, or the car or the baby, back in the same shape as you found it. Hopefully even better."
Arianna Huffington; Chair, President and Editor-in-Chief, The Huffington Post
"The first two metrics are the acquisition of money, the second is of power but the third is most important, the acquisition of well-being. We live in a collective delusion. Great success, without more balance, can lead only to great burn out. We must become more mindful, more giving — we will be better, more mindful people, and will achieve a greater, more sensitive work/life balance," says Huffington.
AMEX Publishing was acquired by Time Inc. earlier this year, and the Summit (in my humble opinion, after five years attending) has changed in tenor and texture. Its subjects seemed intellectually diverse and educationally compelling, while the discussion were less about the subject of luxury and more about what luxury can actually do in the world. These five speakers — and many others — created moods that were inspirational and mindful. The CEOs, directors, and founders spoke about the scalability of brand meanings and messages, and how art and design are essential to live a more enabled life. The summit helped me see that the concept of luxury now includes greater access to global populations and is thereby infused with a greater humanity and philanthropic spirit, thus creating new messages in this exhilarating contemporary world of luxury without borders.