Luxury Defined?

Isaac Mostovicz writes that that luxury brands are having to adapt to today's 'connected consumer' in order to provide them with the unique experiences that they desire...

I was interested to read this article on the definition of luxury and how brands are managing dual expectations of exclusivity and creating a dialogue with consumers.

The article says that luxury is “more than ‘something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary’… to be truly luxury you have to have an element of exclusivity.”

I have previously written on the importance of exclusivity for luxury brands in my articles on the recent trend towards exclusive experiences such as ice sailing, and the rise of ‘no-logo’ luxury.

The article raises the point that brands are trapped between investing in social tools – important to not get left behind, but counter-intuitively making the brand more accessible – and trying to maintain exclusivity.

According to a new study on ‘New Affluents’, the qualities that they value in brands are quality, aesthetics, uniqueness and authenticity, not necessarily a high price tag. They are looking for more brand interaction, and for brands to in a dialogue with them – even to be part of the product development process.

This, I suspect, is why we are seeing more luxury brands than ever throwing themselves into the digital media space, with brands like Oscar de la Renta using platforms such as Facebook to sell exclusive products. But they are also offering tailored services, with Burberry offering a bespoke trench coat service for $9,000 – exclusive, with an element of personalisation.

It is important for luxury brands to connect with their current and prospective consumers, and it is interesting to watch the different ways that brands are going about doing this. Kahro, (the Raleigh NC jewlery store that I founded) for example, differentiates itself by providing consultancy on what kind of diamond would best suit each individual, enabling the customer to make a choice which is both personal and which they are deeply involved in.

Luxury may mean different thing to different people, but if a luxury brand can differentiate itself by both remaining exclusive and interacting with its consumers, it will surely do better than those brands that refuse to change.

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Fake products making headlines

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Counterfeit goods are a major problem for luxury brands. They remove the exclusivity that luxury brands carefully cultivate and in many cases take the place of goods that affluent people would otherwise purchase. It feels like a victimless crime to purchasers–they might think that with these these goods so in demand and these companies so rich, a single purchase won’t make a difference. But enough people around the world are thinking this way that it is affecting the bottom lines of luxury companies. Authenticity is changing from necessary to optional, and two items in the media this month highlighted this fact.

The first is an article in the UK’s Independent about the fakery related to luxury goods, enhanced physical appearance (via surgery, botox or Photoshop), and ‘reality’ television. For decades celebrities have had a symbiotic relationship with fashion houses–the houses provide clothing and jewelry to make celebrities look beautiful on the red carpet, and the celebrities in turn mention who made their dresses, earrings and other ephemera. But recently a few celebrities (Renee Zellwegger, Courtney Love and Britney Spears are named in the article) have been photographed with counterfeit handbags or dresses, sending the message to the public that it isn’t just legitimate to purchase counterfeit goods, it’s glamorous too. Read the article here.

Earlier this month the BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs program You and Yours ran a similar story, about how the Italian government is cracking down on counterfeit goods. The government believes such goods are costing the country nearly $10 million a year, so it’s taking action by putting tougher customs controls in place and going after wholesalers and importers (rather than the street vendors at the bottom of the chain). You can listen to the whole interview with Silvio Paschi from Indicam, an Italian industry group against counterfeiting, here.

What can turn the tide to make authenticity absolutely necessary again? It’s a similar proposition to keeping luxury brands exclusive as they expand their masstige lines–luxury companies need get the message across that the luxury they offer is incomparable and inexorable–people need to know that the experience and prestige that true luxury offers can’t be matched anywhere.

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What does a connoisseur look for?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Connoisseurship, the thorough appreciation and knowledge of art or “matters of taste,” has traditionally only been discussed as a scholarly pastime. A connoisseur has put in his time and studied a great deal in order to understand his field and the players in it. He also knows exactly what to look for when he sees something new.

Not unlike the way buyers of diamonds consult the 4Cs before making a purchase (we’ve mentioned them on Janus Thinking before here), connoisseurs engage with four aspects of an item in order to fully comprehend it. These aspects are attribution, authenticity, condition, and quality.

Attribution: What is it? Who is the author?
The connoisseur attributes authorship.

Authenticity: Was it actually made by whom it’s attributed to? Is it really what it says it is?
The connoisseur validates authenticity.

Condition: Is it like new? Is it well worn? Has it aged gracefully or poorly?
The connoisseur appraises condition.

Quality: Is it flawless? Is it particularly intricate or nuanced?
The connoisseur evaluates quality.

Wikipedia reminds us that the connoisseur engages with these aspects “on the basis of empirical evidence, refinement of perception about technique and form, and a disciplined method of analysis.” The connoisseur must spend a great deal of time to develop these skills. Indeed a true connoisseur will have entirely immersed himself in what he wants to learn to appreciate.

That was certainly the case for William Ivins Jr, an accomplished curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1916 – 1946. Unlike most curators, he had no advanced degrees, had taught himself art history, and had worked for years as a lawyer and stockbroker. But his interest in art led him to review tens of thousands of prints. Varying a great deal in authorship, authenticity, condition and quality, the prints allowed Ivins’ to develop an eye for the phony and the sublime. As curator of the Met he amassed “one of the world’s most encyclopedic repositories of printed images.

Ivins did it without an MFA or DPhil in Art History; his story demonstrates that with time and passion anyone can become a connoisseur. Indeed, the next post in this series will discuss the decline of taught connoisseurship.

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