Monday, 2 March 2009

Luxury in the downturn

As the tills stop ringing what will happen to luxury brands? Image sourced here.

Our attention in recent weeks has been firmly focused on the various fashion weeks and trade shows around the world but now it is time to take a breather from that side of the fashion industry and get back down to business. We love a good conversation about men's style and fashion so what better way to kick start the week than with a topical and multi-faceted one. The chaps over on Get Kempt recently ignited the fires of a good old fashioned chat on how luxury brands should respond to the economic downturn which is affecting us all in some way or another. Choosy Beggar started things off by calling for a return to 30s-style simplicity and durability. Get Kempt recall a time before disposable fashion when a man's wardrobe was like a house - he bought pieces of clothing and he maintained them so they would last, shirts were mended and ultimately their character was enhanced. There are merits to both of these points but over the course of this post we will explore our standpoint on the issue and we would love to hear yours. We have broken down our views into three digestible paragraphs: price, the role of luxury in trends against lasting quality and wardrobe staples with a difference.

Given the current world economic climate luxury brands are in danger of becoming largely irrelevant and they need to address a number of issues as soon as possible. As markets start to stutter and in some cases grind to a halt (Japan and Russian markets which recently booming are now in decline) luxury brands need to reach out to a new consumer. The real problem facing these brands is justifying the prices charged. For us the days of a name being enough are numbered and rightfully so. We applaud and are wooed by history but the label still needs to deliver. With increased competition everywhere you look it is inevitable that at least one brand will crumble and becomes nothing more than a style footnote. To survive, brands need to address their prices in light of the competitive and difficult market but, more importantly for us, they need to return to representing something truly special; provenance of and a story surrounding the product as well as great craftsmanship need to come to the fore. In short we are turn into complete suckas when we hear that our shoes are being crafted by the finest materials by a family of shoe makers who have handed their secret from generation to generation.

Disposable v lasting quality
Will this downturn see the decline of disposable, purely trend led and seasonal fashion? Probably not and would we really want to wave good bye completely...but there will be changes. It might be somewhat masochistic, but there are parts of me which feels that the recession we’re going through at the moment is exciting and dare I say it required on some level. There are a significant number of luxury brands which are failing to create anything, well luxury or covetable. For luxury to work the products needs to shimmer, shine and last, frequently brands fail to deliver on all three. There is clearly a counter argument though, which is easily shown by the importance of sites like hypebeast...the speed of consumerism is such that customers demand new products. Many men have become entrenched by this need to buy the latest, shiniest anything. This said, financial conditions seem to show that more people want less at the moment. The difficulty facing luxury brands at the moment is successfully tapping in this mindset of buying less, but buying quality.

We recently talked about the seemingly forgotten art of wardrobe building:

The art of wardrobe building is not fast or haphazard; instead it is developed and nurtured over time. A mans wardrobe may rather eloquently tell the story of his life less ordinary.

These inspiring words from E. Tautz forced us to purge, cleanse, organise and fix Steve's own wardrobe whilst devising a blueprint for the perfect collection of clothes. At this stage of our lives, luxury brands are a little out of our reach but we are (in theory at least) the future consumers of luxury so a selection of these brands should surely find a place in our masterpiece.

Wardrobe staples with a difference
Many luxury brands create highly covetable wardrobe and accessory staples. Yes, there will always be a place for basics but brands need to realise that basics should not necessarily equate to dull. We are strong advocates of classics with a twist. We can see little point buying yet another white shirt (aside from replacing another), but a white shirt of quality fabric with interesting detail means it feels like you're treating yourself while investing in something that will last. A Suitable Wardrobe has been one of our favorite reads since we entered the blogging game and he predicts that as 'hard times bring a turn to conservatism' people are less inclined to take risk and this extends to their sartorial choices. This attitude has certainly been noticed on the runways which have become a touch more formal in their vision for AW09. We still think that the market needs staples with a difference.

When we think of luxury brands our thoughts are instantly filled with fine leather shoes but there is definitely a sense that the industry has lost its way. We all love shoes and there is a certain romance that is attributed to hand crafted specimens but luxury brands have seemingly forgotten the romance and gone straight for our bra strap. Mr. Hare's debut shoe collection (interview can be read here) has hammered home the point to us that brands need to put elegance and craft back into an industry which in many instances has sacrificed quality craftsmanship for gimmicks. It is these distinctly old fashioned values and approach which should be applauded by all and adopted by the men's fashion industry on a whole. Over the course of the next week we will pick out some of our favourite luxury brands as well as the ones which frustrate us to try and create an idea of what makes a luxury brand great.

We could go on and on about this subject but we want to pass the ranting baton across to you whilst we catch our breath. Where do you see luxury brands in the months/years ahead? What would you like to see them doing? Please drop us a comment, an email or even better, write your own post on the subject (giving us the link after it is done). There is so much to say and we are sure you've got your own perspective on it all so please do share it.


Unknown said...

totally agree; i can see some brands which haven't evolved failing now- or at least, downsizing; it seems a little obscene to be buying anything expensive at the moment. it's also pretty safe to say that the inflated prices we've seen in recent years need to stabilise - no off the peg shirt should cost more than £150 for example. im going to give this some more thought and post later on this week; definitely food for thought tho! xS

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'll give this some serious thought and will get back to you.

John said...

The future of luxury brands should be in the hands of the consumer. If those who can afford to shop for high end brands are spending less, then they should educate themselves about what they are buying and then buy from a brand where the price reflects the true quality of the product.

For far too long many "luxury"/high-end brands and fashion brands have priced their products way above what their quality dictates. It is time for the consumer to educate themselves and for us to share the knowledge and buy brands that really showcase quality craftsmanship. We should also consider who the purchase benefits - where is the produce made? What is it's environmental impact? Ultimately, do I want to give this brand my money? Recommended reading: (particularly for consumers of fashion handbags!)

Something else to consider - what about those of us who couldn't really afford to buy luxury brands in the first place? For example, a trip down Bond Street for the afternoon is completely unlikely, but the odd bit from Reiss, Liberty etc is more likely? I think a shift from mindless trend-drive consumerism towards thoughtful purchases is in order. Fortunately I think trend-driven obsolescence is something that the Menswear market can take a step back from on occasion, but we are still guilty of thoughtless purchases as consumers. I am reminded at this point of the design philosophy of Japanese brand Muji , to strike the right balance between price and quality of the product (something I think they have failed to do in their clothing unfortunately, but that is a different conversation). This is something we should aim for as consumers. Try to buy something that is a well made as you can afford, invest in something that will last and throw away the notion that wearing an item of clothing too many times is unfashionable. Dress for your own individual style, not to a trend. When I think about the pieces of clothing that I have in my wardrobe now, the pieces that are old (more than a year) are always the "investment" pieces I have bought, that were maybe a bit more expensive at the time but have lasted much longer than the cheap disposable crap I have bought over the years. And I am still wearing them. A pair of quality shoes are timeless and can be re-soled and repaired to live another day...

When you buy something that costs that little bit more but that you know is of great quality, I think you are more inclined to take care of it too. We should give our garments a little bit more love! And I think your point about repairing clothing is spot on too. Items can take on a new character or become something else altogether. Great article, I look forward to the continuing discussion :)

Mr. Hare said...

Before the commodification of Luxury at the Hands of LVMH, The Gucci Group, Mr Bertelli et al, luxury was luxury and fashion was something else. Fine shoes were made in Saville row. Gucci, Vuitton and Hermes made leather goods and accessories. Burbery made rainwear. Chanel was unaffordable but everyone could save up for the perfume. Hip Hop went to Dapper Dan for its monograms. Designer jeans and sunglasses were unnecessary.
Somewhere along the line luxury became something that was not only accessible to everyone but it became a measure of our worths.

Luxury is a choice. Buy one that will last and has had enough aesthetic consideration put into it by a truly creative individual that it will remain relevant throughout time or buy a cheaper one and replace it when it dies. Luxury or not luxury. Very simple.

A marketing genius or two, the likes of which we have not witnessed since John the baptist, blurred that choice and the world forgot what luxury was.

Fashion and luxury are often confused but seldom the same thing. fashion is the interpretation and execution of new ideas on a continually replenishing cycle to a continually replenishing audience. Luxury is the product of the application of dedicated craftsmanship to carefully nurtured fine materials offered to those who have made the choice to afford such items.
The two need to work with eachother, and should to create a perfect situation both for products and for the consumer, but they are not the same thing.

Under these conditions the luxury market will continue to do what it always has done, which is always be there for those who make the choice.

TheSundayBest said...

I'd like to see them show complete disdain for their customers by making gaudy, flashy crap with their logos splashed all over...

wait a minute...

Style Salvage Steve said...

Wow, great to see such detailed comments from you guys. We always love reading your thoughts, especially when they are as articulate and well thought out as these!
xs: I couldn't agree with you more and look forward to reading your post.
John: Thanks.
John: Thanks so much for the link. Fine reading. Thoughltess purchases are sometimes the best, it is the curse of the modern world. That feeling of paying for something and then carrying at home is an awesome high. For me personally, I am trying to limit such purchases to a minimum (but I couldn't just go cold turkey) whilst thining and saving for the majority of my purchases.
Mr. Hare: Good point, here is to luxury meaning just that. It would be nice to see the end of a diluted luxury at the hands of the commodification by the likes of LVMH and the like.
The Sunday Best: haha Sir.

Candy Collins said...

Luxury is the product of the high quality and high price and it is offered to those who can afford such items. When you buy something that costs that much more but that you know is of great quality, you are more inclined to take care of it.
And the main reason, among a few others, behind the desire to have luxury item is ability to show to all that you can afford it - deepness of your pocket in short.


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