What is luxury? You could give a hundred answers to this question. One thing is sure, though: luxury is constantly evolving, and brands that fail to adapt can age quickly and mercilessly. So what makes a great luxury brand today?
Luxury brands are something special. Their strong aspirational value makes them stand out as celebrities in the brand world, with a following of enthusiasts that often exceeds by an order of magnitude the number of actual customers. Lately, though, luxury has gotten more complicated than usual.
Concepts such as quality, scarcity, and heritage have been challenged by the new velocity of things and the blurring of borders. Creating a luxury brand today – or steering an existing one – requires some extra sensitivity.
The world has changed: here’s how it affects luxury
Luxury used to be elusive, but simple at the same time. Yes, it was unattainable by most people, but not complicated. Luxury brands as we used to know them were similar to institutions, respected and almost feared, the product of a long and noble heritage. If you think about it, heritage has probably been the key idea behind most luxury brands so far.
It’s pretty evident if you just look at their identities, which are usually grounded in a 19th-century aesthetic. This reliance on heritage has clearly something to do with our idea of aristocracy: deep roots signal value before everything else. Nobody likes “new money”, right?
As you probably know, though, the world has been changing as of late. We had the Internet and we had globalization. Ideas have been circulating. People have been connecting with each other and peeking behind the curtain. Digital tools have allowed users to become creators for cheap.
What we have seen across the board is a challenge to institutions, all kinds of them. New ideas have become increasingly fast to sediment and grow, outpacing the ability of institutions to respond. We have seen this in politics, in culture, in creativity. And yes, in luxury. Old luxury brands, crystallized in their timeless bliss, were sleeping giants in a new world buzzing with fast creatures.
It is no wonder, then, that modern luxury seems to be defined by a defiant attitude, that looks to knock over tradition, breaking long-established norms. As fearless as confident teenagers, new luxury brands are keen to try new things, sometimes at the cost of appearing ugly: but again, this is just in opposition to the harmony and classical beauty that characterized luxury. This is the approach chosen by Sublimio when creating the Frontman brand.
Another trait of new luxury brand is the will to mix and connect. This, of course, is how younger generations think and act, through connections and remixes, where everything can mix up with everything else to make something new. Opposed to the solitary genius of the designer that marked old luxury, new luxury seeks collaborations and relies on the power of the community.
Which luxury brands are killing it
Once you get the hang of it, new luxury is actually quite easy to understand. Its champion brands really stand out if compared to the established ones.
Take Off White, the company founded by Virgil Abloh, that has been topping the Lyst Index as the most-popular fashion brand, ahead of Gucci and Balenciaga.
Think of Supreme, a brand that has managed to reach young generations by collaborating with almost everyone, from Nike to The North Face, from Lacoste to Oreo, and by making every kind of product. Vulgar? Maybe. Iconic? You bet.
Hardgraft might be another interesting example. This small-ish Austrian brand has been building its fame mostly online, putting an accent on quality and craftsmanship. Quite a traditional approach, but catering to the desire of new generations to put their hands on something less known.
This is, after all, an interesting trait of new luxury brands: they create their own cultures and communities, which share the same values and can sometimes appear “closed” to the outer world. While old luxury promised a global signaling of wealth (think flashing a Rolex), new luxury thrives on obscure references. Exclusivity is not defined by price alone, but by knowledge. It’s not what you have, it’s what you know.
A special mention must be made to Rimowa: the venerable 122-year-old luggage brand has been able to put a twist on its identity by opening up to collaborations with brands like the aforementioned Off White and Supreme, which put them on the map again.
What does a luxury brand need today?
This increasingly complex scenario means, of course, that creating a luxury brand today is far from easy, especially in terms of brand assets.
If old luxury brands could make away with a name, a logo and a pretty bare visual identity, new luxury brands must be ready to play across a variety of touchpoints.
When creating a luxury brand today you should have endless logo variations, your own typefaces, and identity elements for print, video, and web. You should also consider sound branding and scent branding.
You should have all the tools that will allow you to collaborate and mix your brand with other brands: this will require your brand to be liquid rather than set in stone. Don’t make it a temple, make it a bacteria.
This is how luxury works today.
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