The Creative Economy

How brands exploit time to make money

Ana Andjelic
5 min readJun 8, 2024

Today, money is made in mining the past.

032c calls this “the heritage problem,” referring to the newly-appointed creative directors’s habit to look into the archive and redo their brand’s iconic heritage. The tendency may not be, by default, original, but it works. Tiffany & Co recently launched a creative double-header, a campaign titled With Love, Since 1837 and Tiffany Wonder exhibition in Tokyo, both aimed at celebrating this brand’s storied past. Kim Jones has been doing something similar since joining Fendi. Gucci, building upon its original Vault idea, launched the story of its loafer, made iconic not only because it is unchanged in time but because it has been a prototype for the Gucci brand.

In the creative economy, past is the currency.

It pushes brands from production of new goods and services towards history, heritage and tradition. In the story-mongering, a brand’s old output is resurrected and the new output is enriched with motifs from the past in order to give them history. Today, for something to be modern, it needs to be archival.

Unlike the previous economic models that depleted our physical world, the creative economy exploits time.

Past is a reliable way of monetizing time (what worked once, is going to work again). “Anything that we are comes from our past,” Miuccia Prada recently noted. “There is this discussion of nostalgia, but that’s not at all the truth. We look at history to learn something. Taking a piece from the past is not conservative. It’s liberating it from its cage.” Raf Simmons adds, “You cannot talk about beauty without going to the past. You cannot erase the history of beauty, it is what defines our ideas of beauty today. We always go back.”

To exploit the past, a brand first needs to have it. If it doesn’t, it needs to invent it (see Ralph Lauren). The purpose of inventing heritage and tradition, and their narrative enrichment and embellishment, is to create cultural currency. In the creative economy, cultural currency equals economic currency, and creativity is the mode of its production.

Whoever has the best story, and the best way to tell it, wins. Best stories own time. They get to shape the narrative and define the history (see “The New Look”).

It’s lucrative to own time. As the ultimate currency, time increases price of something. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a saturated resale market. A reboot, a sequel, or a reissue also increases the value and the price of an original. Customers make a purchase with an eye on its future value in the resale markets. Dealers do the same. Thanks to their past, commodities turned investable assets with appreciating value.

In the economy that monetizes time, the ultimate goal is to achieve immortality.

Kering, LVMH, or Prada bid to immortality through their foundations, which are part of the cultural economy as much as Louvre. Immortality is, however, best achieved when a brand monopolizes one’s entire way of passing time. As Patrizio Bertelli of Prada notes, “we want to it be a mindset, an experience centered around the Prada brand … Creating an identity that transcends what we sell.”

For this transcendence to happen, different areas of cultural production need to fuse. Tourism and branding, film and television, gaming and fashion, art and design, architecture and content creation, and advertising and publishing are becoming a single brand narrative.

The Creative Economy Stack

The Creative Class

In the creative economy, the job of fusing different creative areas goes to the Creative class. Today’s new capitalists and traders are journalists, curators, critics, imitators, dealers and hangers-on. They move ideas around, propagate narratives, make connections, assign value to things and direct the consumer market’s attention.

Just as they exploit their stories, brands also exploit the creative’s class time. For the Creative class, there’s no distinction between work and non-work, and they spend innumerable hours creating economic value through their cultural output. This is their bargain: in exchange for being able to shape their job descriptions, flexible working hours and who they work with, creators have to constantly produce fresh cultural products.

For all the freshness of their cultural output, creators don’t make much new. Like brands, they turn to mining the past. Their actual output is interpretation and recombination. Being a Renaissance woman or man these days is a matter of necessity: to stay relevant, creators need to keep riffing.

Creative production

Creative production does not aim at originality (it takes time or something truly original to be created, and even more time for it to spread) and is less interested in ideas than in their biography. Biography of an idea, a person, or a brand gets dramatized and enriched, and we get Louis Vuitton transformed from a suitcase maker into an artist, Christian Dior into a hero in “The New Look,” and the Gucci family into a heightened drama in the “House of Gucci.”

The catch is that the creative embellishment of biographies does not itself stand the test of time. By design, these interpretations are meant to be trendy and constantly replaced by new interpretations of the same heritage and tradition. This is why the members of the Creative class who are at the helm of brands — like fashion designers, film directors, hoteliers, writers, luxury CEOs — are getting frequently replaced. To keep going, the creative economy needs interpretative newness.

Interpretative newness makes creative production circular. To get the always new angles, creative production simultaneously traverses separate cultural areas and time through self-reference and copying. In the circular creative production, reboots, sequels and reissues of an origination narrative are the main output. Get ready for Dior Part VII or The New Look told through the perspective of a cat.

Despite all of its reverence for the past, the creative economy is ultimately disrespectful of it. The past that the creative economy exploits had once been the future. Originality was such that it broke the confines of its present. Creatives whose biographies we admire always looked forward, never backward. To make creativity immortal, we need to give it a future by bestowing on it enough time to unfold in the present.

If you liked this analysis, there is more on The Sociology of Business.



Ana Andjelic

Brand Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Writer of “Sociology of Business.” Forbes most influential CMO.