Is Luxury Dead?
Luxury for a millennial, isn’t cashmere or angora, couture or made in Italy labels. It is definitely not snakeskin, mink or exotic leathers. Luxury is a new kind of reflection of who we are, and who we are that extends beyond clothing. A couture house doing a political slogan? Louis Vuitton collaborating with a streetwear brand? This was simply unheard of before luxury went millennial.
Millennials, defined as those born between mid- 80’s and late-90’s, come of an age of interconnectivity, sharing their entire lives, opinions and dreams on social media. Millennials essentially live online, hence luxury shops are not only selling a brand and a status but instead an idea, a feeling, an ethos.
With the rise in influencer marketing, and perhaps the drop in the influence of marketing, how does one market luxury to a new consumer when they themselves have come up with an alternative definition? This is currently the largest pressing problem within an old-world luxury fashion house. Their response however, is altering the course of luxury fashion, leading to the pressing question. Is traditional luxury really dead? And if so, does anyone know what luxury is anymore?
Luxury is a Skate Shop
The most current and significant changes in luxury fashion is likely the pivotal appointment of Louis Vuitton’s new creative director, Virgil Abloh. The designer of Off-White has a background in Engineering and Architecture and therefore is not a traditional choice. Many are going as far as to question the decision due to his streetwear presence in Off-White and how this will translate to one of the most established houses in fashion and hence luxury as a whole. Maybe for those answers we can turn directly to the man himself. Abloh defines “luxury” as “a label determined by values, codes, and qualities,” adding that “its use and definition were the privilege of few until a new generation conquered its dominion and shifted the paradigm for good.” Further, he defines “streetwear” as “not a predictable clothing genre in a renegade designer’s debut collection as part of the fashion establishment, but one whose sportswear properties are undergoing a critical transformation into luxury.” With this statement in mind, it’s no wonder luxury is now considered in line with or if not, part of the rise in streetwear. It has gone from aspiring high fashion to becoming its leading force. This Paris Fashion Week alone proved that casual sportswear, hip-hop, and streetwear are the status quo.
So where does this leave the luxury fashion? Proenza Schouler’s cofounder argues that a well-crafted good quality product, which was once the sign of traditional luxury, now matters less to young shoppers such as millennials and Gen Z than it did to earlier generations. In fact, you can often find that $300 graphic T-shirt’s can be considered luxurious, such as those presented in Balenciaga’s new collections, as well as during Supremes collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Today it seems that millennials care more about if a product is unique or is brand orientated, as well as the overall image and story behind the piece, instead of whether it is deemed traditionally luxurious. Whether this is at a detriment to luxury fashion is still unknown, however this change in direction demonstrates the shift in overall consumption of casual, logo heavy athletic wear. Perhaps not leading to the end of luxury but the start of a new chapter.
Luxury is Online
As streetwear rises, growth in luxury purchases for millennials rises along side it. Millennials and Gen Z already account for 30% of global luxury sales, and are at pace to hit 45% by 2025, according to consulting firm Bain & Company. Unsurprisingly, like much of their daily life spent online, this has caused a rise in online luxury purchases and thus a reduction in traditional brick and mortar retail.
As e-commerce grows, new challenges emerge in the way millennials will be targeted. How do you sell a $1,000 bag, or a $3,000 coat, via a flat picture on a website? The name is a guarantee of quality in an endless sea of pixels, but the name has to conjure up a world too. The millennial buys the experience as much as the product, so will this fuel the overall ‘death of luxury’? Burberry has tried to tackle this issue and has led the way in technological innovation. They were in fact the first to livestream their shows, use social media to let consumers pre-order the collection, adopt a see-now-buy-now, and partner with Apple, WeChat, Google, Snapchat.
The power of social media as a whole is extremely evident in the fashion industry. With Kim Kardashian being awarded the CFDA’s first influencer award, and other top tier fashion influencers such as Aimee Song (@songofstyle) sitting front row of fashion shows such as Dior Homme. It comes as no surprise that the fashion industry supposedly spends more than a $1 billion per year on sponsored Instagram posts, despite their low engagement rates. This can be simply due to the fact that they post the type of content that simply fails to cause interactions from a community. Well, this was all before Gucci set the internet in a storm launching its first meme-based Instagram campaign titled #TFWGucci. This marketing campaign proved how memes, or today's social media culture, is a largely untapped resource by the luxury fashion industry. It was a particularly successful campaign as it was the first of its kind, Gucci opened the door for other fashion houses in social media, much like Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga has for streetwear.
Despite the success, does this overall reduce the ‘seriousness’ of a luxury brand in order to appeal to younger audiences? If so, where do they draw the line if there even is one, or are they simply adapting to the times of social media and meme culture?
Luxury is Sustainable
Not only is millennial success for luxury houses based on online popularity, but in their progressiveness. Millennials are most likely going to be vegan, ethically focused progressive individuals who care highly about the environment and animal rights, among a variety of other issues. Not to say those before them are not, but in particular sustainable fashion got increasingly ‘cool’ in 2017. The fact that fashion is the second dirtiest industry after Oil struck a chord with designers, Gucci decided to switch from fur to faux and the likes of Stella McCartney choosing only to produce ethically sourced goods speaks volumes on fashions altering stance on social issues.
In such a time where being conscious, politically and environmentally driven is the way forward, how will the traditional luxury fashion industry follow suit? In an industry where luxurious leather and fur jackets used to equate to luxury, how does one redefine this to fit the liberal youth. Is a depleting carbon footprint the next step for luxury? Or maybe in fact, luxury isn’t dead it is simply evolving into a more inclusive, diverse and accepting form of its previous self.
All in all, we will always have the mythically unattainable Hermes bag, the iconic symbol of a shiny Rolex and the interlocking CC of Chanel. It is instead the side-lines of luxury that are altering, the corners are rounding, and the lines are blurred in terms of what's defined as luxurious. Luxury labels are turning to sweatpants and sneakers for sales growth. Online resale sites, the likes of the Real Real are growing to new heights. With designer clothing rental companies such Rent the Runway taking over the US, these companies are forcing changes for luxury makers to adapt and evolve.
Hence, in a time where ‘ugly’ fashion is in, whether traditional luxury really is dead and whether the street wear bubble fuelled by ‘hype beasts’ will pop, only time can tell. The only thing we can say for certain is we’re excited to see where traditional luxury fashion is heading.