If you have been following fashion for a while, there has been quite a shift with how luxury is defined. While the usual luxury brands are ever-present, these decades-old icons have undergone changes which include different design directions and the hiring of younger designers.
New brands pop along the way, and they try to stand out by taking the whole luxury thing to a different approach. Highsnobiety recently released their white paper on the New Luxury, and their findings are very interesting that it deserves a deep dive with how the culture is evolving. Here are some of my findings that piqued my interest:
The top 10 brands is an interesting mix.
While the top brands include familiar ones like Balenciaga, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Prada, it is interesting to note that newer brands like Off-White, Raf Simons, and Calvin Klein are part of the top 10 luxury brands. Heck, even Nike and adidas’ Yeezy brand are even part of the list. The implication of this is pretty straightforward: while the old luxury brands still hold their fort as the “must-have” brands, these newer brands understand the market, elevating themselves to luxury status.
The legacy brands are aware of this, which is why they hired young and upcoming designers to make their wares favorable to the younger generation (ie. Virgil Abloh with Louis Vuitton, Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga, Alessandro Michele for Gucci).
The definition of luxury is more than what we used to know.
These days, luxury brands are more than just the logo itself. Instead, they also represent beliefs as well. “While it still comes at a cost, that cost is now more closely aligned with knowledge as opposed to cold, hard cash”.
This implies that luxury is more than just the price alone: instead, consumers purchase these luxury goods because of their knowledge about the brand. This should explain why adidas’ Yeezy line is several times more expensive than the Three Stripes’ main line or its collabs: people purchase Yeezys because of their knowledge about Kanye West’s other work as a burgeoning fashion designer.
The same goes with why collabs with Diamond Supply, Concepts, and Kith are very pricey: the background/backstory of these brands is enough to command prices and to elevate themselves as luxury. “It isn’t just about what you wear, but also what you know.”
Luxury is buying into a lifestyle.
In the older way of thinking, luxury means owning a piece of their wares as a status symbol. These days, its more of being part of the lifestyle. Take Supreme and Off-White for example: while their wares and collabs look very plain (as compared to the legacy luxury brands), these streetwear brands command high (if not ridiculous) prices because they promote a certain kind of lifestyle.
By buying into a lifestyle, people spend money on these wares not just to flex, but also as a means of cultural currency—defined as “a knowledge that creates a perception around a product that elevates it beyond reductive notions of cost and quality”.
This is why those who have the plug or the contacts to certain hype products can get it at a lower price, and those who are late into the game are more than willing to pay more than the actual price. “It creates a feedback loop where those in the know are serving a consumer base of people who don’t but are willing to pay extra for that validation.”
So before you go criticize people who spend ridiculous amounts of money for streetwear (I myself am guilty of shelling out almost Php 6k for a Nike X Supreme cap), you have to understand that people who do so are buying into a coveted lifestyle dictated by today’s trends.
It is more of active participation than commerce.
Money aside, one of the more interesting findings of Highsnobiety’s white paper is the idea of active participation. Thanks to social media, the use of hashtags, mentions, and witty captions, along with well-curated feeds, help in fueling the desire for these luxury goods. Even if tour shirts like those from Kanye’s concerts or Virgil Abloh’s inaugural show with Louis Vuitton are sold at ridiculous prices (and we know how much they actually cost), the purveyors of the New Luxury do not care, as they are paying for the experience of being part of the event. For those who can’t be physically present at these events, owning a piece of it—be it a shirt, cap, or jacket—equates to being part of that event to an extent.
Because of this thinking, those who patronize particular brands believe not just in the brand itself, but also share the brand’s values—of which they can relate to. It is not enough for a brand to be exclusive; they have to relate to the consumers (or perhaps their target audience) as well.
There is still a place for physical stores in this mindset.
While we live in a digital age where we love the conveniences e-commerce stores bring, those who believe in the New Luxury find equal importance with physical stores. Brick and mortar boutiques like those of Commonwealth PH, Sole Academy, and Titan (and even reseller shops like Kx.Start and Popcorn) bring in a more personal, intimate experience to the consumer before making a purchase. To make both ends meet, Highsnobiety suggests that brands should go for mixed retail experiences.
Both physical stores and e-commerce shops have their own perks: the former lets consumers feel and touch the products, while the latter helps them in comparing prices. In both cases, active participation reigns supreme. Using Barney’s as an example with their thedrop@barneys—an experience where consumers get to interact not just with the products, but also the designers behind them—the new experience helped in welcoming new customers while keeping their branding relevant in this new age.
“The winners of tomorrow will be the brands that manage to adapt to their changing surroundings consistently,” Highsnobiety publisher David Fischer said.