Friday, September 25, 2009

A Brief History of the Language of Luxury

From the beginning wealth has been a sign of power.

At first power came from control of nearby territory
And the signs of wealth and power were special things from the nearby territories

Horses in Arabia
Silk in China
Pearls in Micronesia
Salt in Salzburg
Silver in South America

And each territory that was a kingdom
had its own signs and symbols,
its own code of
wealth called Luxury.

With time, new wealth and power came from trading between the territories.
And banking to support trading
And the navies to protect trading.

And the new signs of wealth were the luxuries
that came from far away places.

And these luxuries were added to the old.
Silk and spices in Europe
Woven fabrics in Africa
Thoroughbred horses in Asia
And luxury became a common code of wealth
across various territories.

In the industrial era new wealth and power came from manufacturing.
And providing energy to factories
or distributing things in cities.

And the new signs of wealth, the new luxuries,
were powerful things that moved.

And these symbols were added to the code.
Steam powered yachts
Private railroad cars

Over the centuries all these forms of wealth and
power and their concomitant luxuries had
developed slowly.

And the people who had them came to
be known as aristocracy and then old money.
And they stuck together
Transmitting the accumulated code,
the signs of wealth and power,
to their children, especially the boy.

Keeping it from their employees and the hoi polloi

(Carnegie was the exception that proves the rule.
He gave his fortune and information
away a library at a time to the last dime.)

The signs in the code included:

driving (or being driven in) the right cars,

having the right number of homes in the right places,
with the right art on display

wearing the right clothes and right accessories,

vacationing in the right places,

traveling in the right way,

dining in the right places,

reading the right writers,

listening to the right people,

going to the right events,

having the right kind of wedding,

going to the right schools

supporting the right charities

and doing all these things in just the right combination.

In the 21th century new wealth and power came from information.
From knowing, creating, manipulating, processing, storing, and
distributing information.
And from applying information to all the historic forms of wealth and power.

And the new sign of wealth and power:

the new luxury was knowing.

Knowing about health, beauty,

Knowing what to know,

Knowing whom to know,

Knowing who knew,

Knowing how to know

Knowing the people who were well-known

Even knowing how to remain unknown,

And the people who knew were known as new money.

They came from ordinary, un-monied families.
They quickly grew in number
Outnumbering the old money
They were too many, all at once, to fit in with the old money.
And their parents didn’t know the code.
Making it hard to learn the old money code.
But they had to communicate.

And since they were too many to be all the
same and had different information new codes developed
different from the old money code and different from each other.

Six codes developed, six ways of $igning.

Each included certain ciphers
(symbolic products, services and experiences)

chosen from the innumerable possibilities

according to the strategies they represented.

About how needs are met and benefits
selected. in an increasingly global economy.

Each code was communicated in a signature amplitude and frequency

Over different combinations of channels

Using different levels of redundancy
and different rates of obsolescence.

Each code varied from a norm, a state of equilibrium.

Each a different pitch (like the modem tones that send a fax).

Or waves of pixels that inform your computer screen.

Each made sense and was clearly under
stood if both sender and receiver
had a similar algorithm,

Otherwise the code was merely gibberish.

One could rave about the latest fashion trend the
other would perceive only an enigma

unless they shared a common rosetta stone.

Richard Baker

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The New Face Of Fashion: Sustainable Luxury

Looking Back

It is important to recognize that for all the tumult the economic crisis has caused consumerism is not dead, luxury is still something to which many aspire, and shopping in stores remains a significant cultural activity. That said, the Rules of Retail over the last 20 years have grown to include obsolete absolutes, such as:

• Aggressively developing a network of branded stores even in questionable markets

• Building flagship locations that were unnecessarily large and existed only for their advertising value

• Creating stores intended to have a short life span, and then relocate or significantly renovate them within 5 years

Reinforcing a message of disposability and over-indulgence, retailers promoted the concept of “fast fashion”, encouraging the consumer to replace their wardrobe season to season (or even delivery to delivery) as opposed to focusing on quality pieces that last. Additionally, many brands advanced the concept of “Lite Luxury,” with a more approachable and affordable product that lured a new set of aspirational consumers. This strategy created a deeper reach into the consumer market which was fueled by the expansion of available credit and the reduction of the U.S. savings rate. But these trends were not sustainable.

Looking Ahead

Going forward retailers should use available resources creatively to promote their brand’s message while anticipating the sophisticated customer’s tastes. This could include:

Living Green – This is an obvious facet of defining a sustainable retail landscape, but too many brands are satisfied with making minimal changes and layering on the feel-good “greenwashing” marketing messages. Instead we must look for significant ways to minimize the industry’s impact on the world’s resources, and it takes more than simply installing a bamboo floor to satisfy this objective. Looking at the organization’s construction and operational practices can facilitate a real green strategy. For example: recycling existing construction materials before demolition of a new space.

Grow Organically – Instead of opening store locations based on the best real estate deals, retailers should be more diligent in testing markets before committing precious resources. Brands can maximize the use of pop-up shops, designed in such a way to allow them to be recycled from location to location to explore initial market penetration. This allows the brand to determine if there is a reasonable appetite for their product before investing in a full flagship. Retailers can also band their brands together, gathering co-owned labels in one space, essentially creating a mini specialty store. This allows for shared services and reduces the amount of space and resources required for each separate brand.

Build Stores that Last – As resources become increasingly scarce, each store must increase its life span. Retailers should focus on designs that transcend trends and allow for timeless designs that will endure. Design should simultaneously allow for flexibility, minimizing the need for future physical modifications. The environment should convey quality and value to the consumer rather than disposable ostentation

Edit the Product – The size of a luxury store is largely determined by the breadth of the product line. A tight and targeted edit allows for adjusting a store’s size to better fit its specific market.

Be Fun and Accessible – The “new retail” should not be indulgent, nor can it be boring. Stores must be filled with surprise and discovery, revealing new things with each visit. Rather than the current obsession with brand consistency, focus instead on testing different ideas in different marketplaces and responding to local cultures and communities through design.

The New Rules

The future of Luxury retail will need to include a few simple principals:

Not So Big: Reconsider the pace of growth and test markets to determine that full resources should be expended

Not So Fast: Rethink the size of product lines, operations of the retail store and other in-grained assumptions in the current retail paradigm to allow appropriately sized stores to be designed and built

Not So Disposable: Focus on designs that are flexible that can transcend current trends and live longer

Not So Indulgent: Reinforce quality and heritage in developing creative environments that are fun and surprising
It is brands that take these tenets to heart that will be poised to thrive in the emerging environment. Embracing sustainability and crafting a new face of luxury need not be at odds; indeed by exploring ways to achieve both simultaneously an exciting new era of of design can be borne.

by Jeffrey Hutchison