Last night I took part in the #MayfairCollective panel discussion talking about all things menswear in the lead up to London Fashion Week Men’s LFWM. Teo van den Broeke. Style Director, Esquire magazine, was a fellow panelist and said something interesting about how, on his recent trip to Milan, the luxury brands there told him they wanted to appear ‘warmer’ to consumers.
This is welcome news and also timely as their stand-offish approach is alienating consumers and becoming increasing sterile. They realise they've found themselves stuck in a luxury cul-de-sac with sales slowing and boredom setting in.
There was a time when the brands controlled the consumer. The consumer was supposed to be grateful that they were allowed into the luxury shop, buy the luxury goods and walk out with a luxury bag. Thank you, thank you, thank you...
Things have changed and the power is, now, in the hands of the consumer. The market is saturated, there’s more competition than ever and people are being short-changed with the quality of many of these ‘luxury’ goods.
Brand warmth comes from personality, inclusivity and a friendliness, which many brands, without a strong central figure, will find it difficult to find. It’s about tone of voice, retail environment and brand messaging.
This is a big shift for these companies and will take time. I think they need to think small to go big. People like to buy from people they know or feel like they know. They need to think about the cities and neighbourhoods they are in. They brands can have an overall message, but they need to tailor it for the specific consumers and locations.
They have stopped with the identikit shop fits, but it going to take instinct, trust and a more organic feeling of change, which these very rigid luxury brands will worry about. Addicted to control, it’s something they need to wrestle away from themselves otherwise it they will, eventually, suffocate their businesses or be replaced by those who do.
It should be remembered that the term exclusive, long touted by fashion brands in the positive sense of the word, is the opposite of inclusive. The opposite, to exclude, becomes a negative: a pushing away and a physical wall between the them and us.
Left - The LV Series 3 Sticker Wall - Take home a sticker of an item you probably can't afford
Luxury brands tread a fine line between wanting the masses to buy en masse - they have to in order to sustain these giant businesses - while keeping this positive form of exclusivity.
As brands find it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves in a crowded market, both in physicality and ideas, some are using that muscle to ‘educate’ the consumer and let them into this ‘exclusive’ world.
French brand, Louis Vuitton just opened a new, month long exhibition, opposite Australia House on The Strand, entitled LV Series 3, to showcase the thought processes their womenswear designer, Nicholas Ghesquière, had behind their current AW15 collection.
Like many of these things, it is a risk. You either leave with the brand going up higher or lower in your expectations. Obviously, the brand, spending huge sums of money, wants the former.
Rather than a wow, it wasn’t quite clear what you were looking at and then, unfortunately, you ask yourself, do I really care?
Brands have to be careful not to believe in their own myth and hype. They have to remember who put them there. Some of these things can have a touch of the Marie Antoinettes: the great unwashed allowed in, on their terms, to look, but not touch.
People are giving up their precious free time and making a journey to see these things featuring perspex boxes housing £5000 bags with the pretention that you should feel privileged that they are even allowing you in to see something you’ll never be able to afford.
I understand brands want and need to put their product on a pedestal in order to make it feel special, but it also needs to feel inclusive. If people are taking time out of their busy lives to frequent these things it needs to be on par or better than a museum show or don’t bother at all. These things are beautifully made and while there are two artisans demonstrating and making product inside the exhibit, you leave feeling like you don't know anymore than when you first went in.
It could be that I'm not a fan of Ghesquière's, but I went in wanting to be wowed and educated on why he's been given the top job at the world's biggest luxury goods company. It fell flat on that front. I left feeling that luxury brands need to remember that it’s important not to patronise if they want us to carry on patronising.