What is luxury? “The no-need need”

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Having analysed almost every model of luxury branding for my PhD thesis, I ultimately decided that Dubois and Paternault’s model was being the most complete and explanatory power. D&P propose 6 attributes of luxury brands:

They are:

extreme quality
aesthetic appeal
and time incorporation

Despite being an excellent distillation of the nature of luxury brands, these criteria are clearly insufficient to explain the full range of luxury experiences.

Superfluousness is clearly a ‘qualifying criterion’ for luxury. That which is needed cannot, de facto, be luxury. But all the other criteria are open to challenge at some level.

Extreme quality, for example can be challenged by brands whose quality is utterly questionable – TVR sportscars, for example or more pertinently, Ferrari itself.

Expensiveness is less open to debate. Even allowing that expensiveness is a relative term, both in competitive terms, and from the perspective of the individual, some luxury brands are not differentiated on price.

Examples here would be brands that pull of the trick of becoming discretionary, while being functionally similar. These are brands that attract the attention of connoisseurs by branding heavily on the basis of being ‘an acquired, specialist taste’. In spirits, for example, limited release batches, or special finishes can be luxury brands, without necessarily being more expensive. From a marketing strategy the point is to sell greater volume to heavy users rather than increase margin on individual units.

Another example would be limited release handbags, or signed copies of books, which are luxury because they require effort and expertise on the part of the brand purchaser.

Scarcity is a very marginal criterion and has been widely challenged in branding literature. In the east social ubiquity does not undermine perceived brand cachet at all. In the west the growth of masstige brands like Molton Brown cosmetics has been dramatic.

The value of aesthetics is superficially the weakest criterion. We can all think of brands who have brutal aesthetics – Bristol, Hummer cars or Toughbook computers spring to mind, but they are still luxury on other measures. These sort of brands do at least have distinctive aesthetics, though, which appeal to connoisseurs, and lean on their brand heritage – but consider Lexus. Definitely a low-level luxury brand, but with zero aesthetic appeal.

The most intriguing category is ‘time incorporation’. When people talk about craftsmanship, or discuss a designer’s style, or talk about the quality of the purchase experience, this is what they are alluding to. Luxury brands compress and distill the process of design, manufacture and ownership of a product into their relationship.
When individuals buy a Ferrari, they buy 60 years of racing heritage. When they buy Chanel, they engage in nostalgia for a bygone age.

Based on Dubois & Co’s criteria, I wonder what the world’s most luxurious brand is…Rolex? or Patek Philippe? Linn Hi-Fi?

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