Major international luxury fashion brands have always on consistently delivering creative aesthetics, ultimate innovation, product development, craftsmanship, finest materials and brand communications that would generate a critical surprising, WOW factor. Drawing on heritage even in a most subtle way is yet another a must for the credibility of the brand. Major luxury fashion brands must consistently earn their status as a trend setter.
Brand communications must convey ‘brand power’ and an effortless approach which is driven by ‘do not take yourself too seriously’ – mastered by very few luxury brands such as Hermes. Merchandising, retail design and advertising are nowadays facing the huge challenge of needing to address certain consumer profile targets differently, through different communications channels and also adapted geographically.
The pandemic has brought unprecedented changes in the perception of luxury, even over-turning the investment factor, i.e. products that are guaranteed to increase in value over time (watches, jewellery, cars, but even handbags – ex Hermes). It has also created a sense of lack of predictability and uncertainty because people are affected in the most direct way – it is their life which is threatened.
Luxury sectors have always been interconnected, for instance travel and watches or handbags / trunks. Luxury is lifestyle ! Luxury is about trends! Luxury is about self-rewarding! Luxury is decadent! Luxury is see and be seen! One would buy a fashion or accessory piece, a watch, a set of jewellery in anticipating of wearing those items at an upcoming event.
Luxury is about ultimate health, for example the finest organic based luxury cosmetics or fragrances – people nowadays buy products which appear to include the highest amount of chemicals hoping to wash any trace of bacteria and virus. Luxury is about self pampering, about wellness – a sophisticated Spa treatment seeking immediate results (i.e. anti-aging) or de-stress, improved sleep.
In this first part, we look at iconic heritage and historical luxury fashion and accessories brands which have been undergoing an incredible revival, especially since the beginning of this year and maintaining the course even during the pandemic.
Kering Group (formerly known as Gucci Group) acquired Bottega Veneta (founded 1966) in 2001 and for 17 years German born minimalist Tomas Maier was at the helm of its Creative Direction. Tomas Maier set about returning the brand to its original identity. He removed visible logos from all the brand’s products, highlighting the signature intrecciato weave, and returned the company’s focus to artisanal production, with the finest quality hand-made leather goods. For years, Bottega Veneta has been considered a ‘miracle’ considering its exceptional financial performance and growth in a world of luxury dominated by logos.
When Maier left in 2018, there was a void and a period of steep decline, the brand losing its appeal and desirability. Identifying an appropriate strategic Artistic Director seemed to be a major challenge for Kering. Then, in 2019, young Daniel Lee took over, initially with a very subdued approach, even creating a separate Instagram account which he has been overseeing.
His apparent or even ‘shy’ approach produced most innovative designs, starting with footwear, a luxury segment where creating distinctive pieces is not often seen. His designs were not extravagant or striking, yet, through their shape, they would be recognisable from a distance. Mention must be made that other luxury sectors like watches with even the major luxury players succeeding once in many years to achieve a shape and design recognisable from a distance.
This very daring approach, especially from the point of view of shape, instilled not only confidence but most importantly, desirability.
Since he took over, every single piece has become a cult, most importantly recognisable from a distance. Designs are daring and have an air of defiance – love it or hate it. Brand communications through social media is being intentionally scarce, almost like a continuous teaser. Some posts even appear as if someone has hacked the account and posted the photo taken on the lowest resolution camera of the early smart phone.
In fact, this apparently simplistic and laconic brand communications reflects a major credo which for Hermès has been an incessant recipe for success ‘In luxury, do not take yourself seriously’. Hermès has always insisted its product development and campaigns are not part of any marketing or brand communications strategies, going as far as insisting that the maison has no marketing department.
Lee has even been ‘mocking’ the brand, for the sake of showing power – without any intention of re-branding. He has also stayed true to the brand’s non-celebrity / brand ambassador associations – much like Hermes. His strategic approach has allowed price increases of up to 30% to 50% of what a handbag or a pair of shows would cost before his tenure.
There are no collaborations or capsule collections, no logos on products, no brand extensions and not product diversifications – brand seems to have no intention to re-launch its once very successful home collections (furniture, accessories etc). While other brands would immediately be tempted to expand and enlarge stores, Bottega Veneta brick & mortar stores remain very small, yet strategically located.
Moreover, in Shanghai, Bottega Veneta recently presented a transformation of a store, with an ‘artistic excuse’ into an ‘Invisible store’, an installation not aimed at promoting or selling any specific product or collection – not even a branding exercise.
While major luxury such as Louis Vuitton or Prada spending millions to ‘hide’ that not all their products are actually Made in Italy or France, but instead, Romania or Turkey, for Bottega Veneta, ‘Made in Italy’ is like a second skin, a natural aspect that needs no mention or awareness. Just by entering a Bottega Veneta store, one could feel that the incredible leather smell is Italian.
Coming up next week:
LANVIN / BALLY / VERSACE / LOEWE / BRUNELLO CUCINELLI / DELVAUX
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