Luxury 3.0 is all about bringing exclusivity back in style
The luxury industry is in a state of flux. The very meaning of the word is being called into question: for some, it translates as plush leather armchairs, secluded cabins, unattainable experiences and rare commodities, privy only to the ultra-elite. Others, meanwhile, particularly those of the digital generation, consider themselves to be well acquainted with luxury lifestyles, since their favourite celebrities are only a Snapchat away. The food that these inaccessible icons eat, the clothes they wear and the holidays they take are publicised for all to see, taking away the sense of mystery and exclusivity that was once fundamental to the term luxury. As international creative design and branding agency Pearlfisher states on its website: “Once elitist and just accessible to the rich, luxury has now [been] democratised to become the aspiration of millions and is readily accessible to the masses.”
It’s a unique tension of worlds – a struggle of the times, laden with irony. Photo-sharing apps are overloaded with private jets, Rolex watches and wads of cash, sacrificing the very veiled, coveted nature of luxury goods. Does something still retain its grandeur and exclusivity if it’s splashed all over social media for the entire world to see?
According to a report recently released by the Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau, the current digital climate, dubbed Luxury 2.0, will soon give way to Luxury 3.0, where luxury consumers will revert to traditional habits and concepts. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be a decrease in digitalisation, but rather, a natural evolution towards Luxury 3.0, as Julie Wagner, chief executive of Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau, explains. “Luxury consumers are reverting back to ‘old-school’ concepts, and are increasingly seeking out more original and authentic experiences that cannot be seen or bought online,” she says.
This will influence luxury markets worldwide, including the Middle East, a region that global management consulting firm Bain & Company ranked as the 10th top luxury market last year. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the region’s key economies, where luxury is ingrained in society: supercars casually roam the streets, mega malls are an integral part of the urban fabric, and savvy consumers think nothing of splurging on the latest designer goods.
To understand where fashion is headed, one must comprehend its current state, within the framework that the Beverly Hills bureau terms Luxury 2.0. Bain & Company found that as of November 2014, 40 per cent of luxury retailers were still not offering e-commerce services, likely out of fear that they would tarnish their exclusivity. While the luxury sector has been relatively slow in building an alliance with technology, most brands have now adapted, and luxury fashion has taken a largely digital turn. All over the world, fashion bloggers are regarded as “influencers”, and social media is playing an increasingly significant role in driving online sales.
Earlier this year, dunhill launched its digital home, incorporating not only e-commerce, but also an interactive editorial platform called The Club. Then there’s Burberry, which, under Christopher Bailey’s direction, has embraced technology wholeheartedly, utilising social-media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat to promote the brand’s fashion campaigns and runway shows.
Locally, fashion retailers are embracing technology, too. Dubai-based concept store S*uce unveiled its Instashop earlier this year, allowing customers to easily purchase products posted on the social-media app, and in March, Fashion Forward, Dubai’s own fashion week, was covered as an international story by Snapchat. There’s an argument to be made that fashion is currently at its peak, at least within a Luxury 2.0 context.
The bureau’s report suggests that in the next stage, Luxury 3.0, online experiences and products will not hold as much appeal for consumers, who instead will seek out traditional craftsmanship, bespoke branding and fashion that is less readily available for mass consumption. The report hypothesises that pretentious logos on luxury goods will lose their appeal, while quieter branding techniques will prevail.
“The rise of a more discerning consumer, who eschews blatant brand signifiers, has put new pressure on brands, like Louis Vuitton, to adapt their communication strategies and product assortments,” claims Wagner. While the Louis Vuitton monogram stamp was popularised in the 1990s, the brand has opted for more minimalist styles of late, still incorporating the logo, but placing more emphasis on colour, structure and texture.
Labels such as Céline, Bottega Veneta and Mansur Gavriel are prime examples of the new-age handbag maker, artfully responding to the trend that Wagner calls “logo fatigue”.
While the rejection of patent branding methods may affect the international luxury market, it is unclear whether consumers in the GCC will be wrenched so easily from their treasured logo-stamped leathers.
“In Dubai, there is still a strong preference for heavily branded products and this is likely to continue to be the future trend here,” suggests Hamish Urquhart, general manager of Quintessentially, a private membership organisation that indulges lavish requests – from making upscale restaurant reservations to sourcing exotic animals for private parties – for its members. “Brand logos in the Middle East, especially on accessories, are a way of displaying your social status,” he says.
Another aspect of the Luxury 3.0 trend, as it relates to fashion, is the industry’s increased focus on menswear, and bespoke, tailored garments for male consumers. As Urquhart points out: “Men’s spending is overtaking women’s spending, and the market will need to adjust to this fact.” Menswear-dedicated fashion weeks first took off in 2012, and are now permanent fixtures on international fashion week calendars. “Bold and innovative designers are injecting newness into the once-stagnant category, and the male customer is responding internationally,” says Wagner.
But the future of luxury concerns more than just fashion – food, travel and other such elements must also be considered. “Our members have generally experienced all the money-can-buy experiences available to them,” says Urquhart. “They have earned their success and the next stage for them is to focus on the truly unique experiences that will fulfil them on a different, and more holistic, level.”
The evolution of the food industry, in particular, is an important indicator of where luxury, as a whole, is headed. An increased awareness of sustainability in food is a hallmark of the future of luxury, says Wagner. “Customers will pay more to know that the food they are eating is local, organic and ethical.
“This supports the local economy, reduces the carbon footprint of the food, and ensures that produce is harvested ripe and eaten fresh with all its nutrients intact,” she says. This is a lifestyle trend gaining traction across the globe – even in the Middle East, where healthy-food start-ups and eateries are booming. “It used to be a mark of luxury to eat food from the other side of the world, whereas now it is luxurious to eat locally grown, healthy and organic food,” says Urquhart. “The mentality is shifting, and there is more of a focus on eco-friendly options.”
This could also translate into the fashion industry, meaning that designers such as Stella McCartney, who refuses to use animal fur, and is at the forefront of this movement, may no longer be so rare.
Travel, from vessel to destination, is perhaps the most emblematic illustration of luxury. But for those accustomed to dabbling in luxury getaways, the usual travel packages, five-starred and all, are getting old. “When you have the ability to buy whatever you want, then the desire arises to experience things that no one else can. Trips into space, for instance, are likely only to be experienced by a few people in their lifetime, and this exclusivity makes these requests so special and sought after,” says Urquhart.
According to the Beverly Hills Bureau, one up-and-coming luxury holiday trend involves opting for hotels that offer Wi-Fi breaks or the opportunity to abstain from the internet altogether – a stark contrast to most travellers’ requirements today.
“The ultimate mindful treat for certain cash-rich, time-poor, digital native, next-generation ultra-high-net-worth individuals is to go off-grid,” says Wagner. She says that, to escape the unrelenting buzz of phones and other devices, reclusive retreats away from “civilisation” will become more in demand.
The fleeting, available for-all nature of modern luxury is a result of digital natives’ fixations on immediacy and constant connectivity. “This powerful group is greatly influencing future trends,” says Wagner, “thanks to their devotion to smartphones and social media. They have the same appetite for luxury, but different tastes and values from their forebears.”
Digital definitely defines the current state of consumerism, and it may also characterise the short-term future. But the long-term prediction is that luxury will come full circle, with an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship, as opposed to barefaced brand names and factory-produced designer goods. Socially responsible, environmentally friendly and locally sourced foods and materials may soon be the order of the day, along with a refreshing digital detox. Of course, new generations may simply take to social media to publicise their new-found, old-school-inspired and at times off-grid luxury experiences. Now wouldn’t that be ironic?
Read this and other stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, September 8.