Five forces behind luxury fashion’s transformation

Most exciting creations today combine luxury reference points with the raw, visceral nature of street culture. This, of course, isn’t new. Ever since 1968 Paris riots, Yves Saint Laurent took what he witnessed on the streets of Paris and filtered it through his own high-end vision. Vivienne Westwood and her high-fashion punk came next, followed by Raf Simmons, Hedi Slimane and others.

What makes the mix of the opulent and the raw attention-worthy is that it dismantles conceptions about luxury design. Modern luxury is today firmly placed beyond any traditional categorizations, and that is a good thing.

The worlds colliding creates a conundrum for the luxury strategy, which now needs to be smarter than ever. It can’t be just about cultural appropriation (think Valentino’s cornrows’ fiasco from last year). It needs to appreciate — and participate in — culture it borrows from. Similarly, focus on mere aesthetics won’t get a brand very far in the modern cultural context. To stand apart and successfully compete, brands need a clear and strong brand identity. This identity needs to move at the speed of social feed.

Today’s luxury strategy is about creating modern culture by combining identity, speed and community. Here are five forces that emerged in the post-luxury, post-street categorization that inform it.

Limited Edition: Modern luxury consumers are all about having experiences, information and products that no one else has. Flair for the obscure, reflecting a taste meticulously cultivated and nurtured with a collector-like obsession, is luxury’s new currency. To be known by a small, elite group of fans both builds a brand’s equity and ensures that a brand is lucrative in the long run.

Creative networks: For the longest time, fashion brands were built by editors, critics and brand managers working at the handful of conglomerates that control the industry. Today, they are built by fans. To succeed, brands need to simultaneously build upon what’s already out there and to use their existing networks — be it Instagram, WeChat, a local nightclub or a favorite DJ — to test and spread their ideas.

Clothes, not fashion: Cool is not what critics tell you it is; it’s what the street demonstrates. Successful brands are built through their products, designed specifically and uniquely to be worn by the end customer. This is a simultaneous enforcement and subversion of luxury: just think Buscemi, which projects a kind of opulence that seems straight out of the Dolce & Gabbana circa 1994 playbook — but it delivers it in a thoroughly wearable way.

The culture of #Revolution: Protest is the prevalent cultural attitude circa 2017 and beyond. Everyone from Zara to Dior encourages us to rebel against something or, at least, to look like we do. It’s the L train’s aesthetics of angst, made appealing globally to fit the mood of the political and social unrest.

The Language of Reference: Streetwear fans know that many of the greatest designs to ever be seen on a t-shirt, pair of sneakers or a hoodie were borrowed from outside the industry. Mining the wider culture for commercial purposes is not new — think back to Carven’s appropriation of katakana, Stussy’s linked “S” logo or, more recently, Gosha Rubchinskiy and Junya Watanabe’s use of cyrillic. The result is fashion that doubles as cultural commentary.

This article was originally published in Luxury Daily.

Strategy Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Forbes’ one of The World’s Most Influential CMOs.

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