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The tectonic plates of the luxury fashion market are constantly changing and brands have to respond to them in order to remain relevant. The idea of conscious luxury is one that didn't exist fifteen or twenty years ago. A luxury item was believed to be inherently sustainable: quantity was controlled to maintain the appeal of exclusivity; it was made to a high standard, often handcrafted in France or Italy. How luxury was consumed was also different because the pieces were kept and worn for a lifetime. But times have changed and deliberate luxury is now the epitome of our modern relationship with luxury goods.
Burak Cakmak, dean of fashion at the Parsons Institute, who, before being appointed professor, introduced sustainability practices at Gap, within the Gucci Group (now Kering) and at Swarovski, told the audience at the latest FashInnovation event in New York that luxury goods rebranding is strongly geared towards growth. “Luxury brands have adopted the fast fashion business model that has influenced every company at every level of the market, including luxury retailers. The four collections per year have turned into twelve, which has led to a higher amount of available products, with a lot of overproduction that is difficult to dispose of. "
Because today we can buy a polyester suit for two thousand dollars or Chanel denim for seven thousand dollars, luxury is no longer defined by the material. Since fast fashion fabrics have become the norm on the Paris catwalks, high-end brands are always looking for new ways to differentiate themselves.
What are luxury brands doing to stay relevant?
Products still have to be designed in such a way that the focus is on desirability, innovation and quality. But this trinity is no longer enough to satisfy today's customer demands for relevance, says Cakmak. "You have to include social issues like diversity, the MeToo movement, all the cultural influences that flow into our purchasing decisions today. That means brands are under great pressure to keep their relevance."
With the increase in middle income households around the world, brands are still expected to produce on a global scale. Everyone has the right to buy what they want, but that growth prospect can conflict with a brand's efforts to be sustainable and make it difficult to be sustainable. Is it a brand's responsibility to deliver as many products as the new customer needs, or should the brand be able to draw the line or draw a line on its own? For some luxury brands, a solution has been found in the streetwear model, which consists of exclusive drops and limited availability.
A certain irony, however, is that while luxury is becoming more and more inclusive, streetwear seems to take the place that was once reserved for luxury, with exclusivity and waiting lists. "Everything has changed in the past decade," said Cakmak. "Luxury became mass-market and streetwear became more luxurious. But the sustainability of streetwear is next on the test. How is it produced? Where does it come from?"
Who is today's luxury consumer?
When today's teenagers want a Hermès H-belt worn by their favorite musician or athlete, it means the luxury customer is younger than ever. You see the luxury through digital channels, keeping logos popular for instant visual gratification. However, the Birkin bag with its minimal lettering is also very easy to recognize and is therefore in great demand.
While big brands are still relevant due to the sheer amount of money they put into building brand awareness, Gen Z doesn't necessarily pay them their attention. Your appetite can be off the beaten track of the traditional luxury giants for a number of reasons. They see luxury establishments and prefer to shop locally, or they discover and share their knowledge of independent brands through social media. A streetwear item produced in limited quantities remains in great demand due to its enormous resale potential. Questions like: "Who has it?" "How many are there?" "How high will the resale demand be?" motivate this consumer.
Luxury resale is changing shopping habits
The advent of the resale market has changed how luxury consumers shop. They know how the purchase will be valued in three or six months. The resale market has been common in another area of luxury investment buying for decades, namely the automotive industry. As Sarah Davis, founder and president of the online luxury goods resale platform, Fashionphile, said on the same fashion innovation stage, “There's no luxury automaker that doesn't have its own certified used goods platform - if you want a used Mercedes, go to Mercedes. "
And Neiman Marcus’s investment in Fashionphile in April shows that the resale market will continue to dictate spending behavior in the luxury segment. Authenticity is the key for the company, which owns a 2,800 square meter warehouse in California that, according to Davis, includes 51 brands: "All ultra-ultra luxury, all used, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermès, Prada, Cartier, Bulgari, Tiffany. "
Conscious luxury therefore means thinking not only about production, but also about purchasing. Luxury consumers, who can afford to buy anything they want and who would never have thought of buying used anything before, are now choosing that option and seeing it as an opportunity to do the right thing.
Of course it's not a new concept. “We just took something that previous generations did,” said Davis, “but we added scale and technology. Our grandparents called these pieces heirlooms, but we now consider them investment pieces. "
The luxury market is also desperate to downplay its bad reputation - it is said to damage and destroy unsold products in order to protect intellectual property rights. A practice that made the headlines for Burberry in 2018 for $ 36 million worth of goods. But Davis is observing a change of attitude taking place in the luxury market: "There used to be this hostile relationship between us and the top brands, but now we're talking to all of them about how to deal with resale."
And for anyone wondering which items do best when reselling, this tip from Davis: "We still sell more Louis Vuitton Speedy bags than any other bag. The one you bought for $ 240 in 1986, you can buy today for." Sell $ 800. "
This is a translation of an English contribution by Jackie Mallon. Jackie Mallon teaches fashion in New York and is the author of the book 'Silk for the Feed Dogs', a novel set in the international fashion industry. Translation and editing: Barbara Russ
Image: Photos by Prayitno, source Louis Vuitton, Waikiki, Honolulu, September 25, 2014 and Erwin Soo from Singapore, Singapore - Louis Vuitton. Shop front November 9, 2012, source: Wikimedia Commons
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