Sunday, January 30, 2011

Luxury Collaboration

As we look at retail and luxe designer collaborations, here is one from last fall with another angle. Pringle of Scotland & Serpentine Gallery. See more here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Magic of Luxury Goods

Above and below Bruce Weber's book for Cartier, 2009

Bernard Catry's article, "The Great Pretenders: The Magic of Luxury Goods," describes the importance of rarity. He suggests that luxury is quality, emotion and rarity but rarity is an illusion. Luxury companies want to give that illusion because exclusivity is tied to the feeling of luxury.

Fashion photographer Cecil Beaton was part of an elite social group called the Bright Young People, pictured below and he stated, "All I want is the best of everything and there is very little of that left."

Catry looks at rarity in Cartier's Must division which was a more affordable accessory line previously available world wide. Must gave more access to Cartier but took away its perceived rarity.

Must was entry level luxury much like those below, the Mercedes C Class, lower priced high end labels like Miu Miu, luuxury cosmetics, perfumes, accessories and designer jeans.

Catry acknowledges that there are natural forms of rarity along with other types such as limited editions.

Natural rarity is found in something like the heirloom tomato which is created from an older seed and can only produce more through chance open pollination. By contrast, Cartier's Love bracelet was presented through media as exclusive and rare even though it would be technically possible for them to produce more.

Techno-rarity occurs when the demand for something is greater than quantity due to production time. Couture is the best example which is a one of a kind time consuming labor.

Limited editions and collaborations are another strategy used to create rarity.

Information based rarity occurs when brands are virtually silent. Costes in France is a prime example of luxury invisibility.

Catry concludes by suggesting that the product brand, its heritage and its associations build the best type of rarity. For Cartier, its alliance with original works of art through its foundation and exhibitions achieves this corporate rarity.

Above Cartier exhibition materials and sword ornament designed by Surrealist artist Jean Cocteau for Cartier, 1955.

Luxury as Concept

Christopher Berry, author of “The Idea of Luxury,” uses a philosophical approach to luxury throughout history. He instantly defines luxury as simply an object of desire. But luxury is not always something expensive, rare or exclusive and can just be marketing. Berry suggests that like other goods luxury falls into four categories: sustenance, shelter, clothing, leisure.

Berry describes that we have different needs and wants. Needs are based on physiological survival while wants are intentional and privileged. This means needs are objective and universal, others can know your needs better than you, but only you define and express wants. Adults know what a child needs and then it slowly develops tastes and preferences that become specific wants.

Adults often bypass discussing needs and go directly to expressing wants. Needs are still a root but there is increasing specificity with wants and desires. A person may need calories, fat or magnesium, but the expression is towards a specific form such as a luxurious hot chocolate.

Below Maslow's hierarchy of needs rationalizes human needs into tiers of maturity.

Below, Berry also discusses instrumental needs, which are objects that help us accomplish other needs. We need to communicate and now there are more instrumental needs than ever.

"I NEED to check my email!"

There are extreme attitudes about needs and desires. The monastic life rejects fulfilling more than basic needs. At the same time society legitimizes wants, with clothing a key area in which most people have much more than they need.

As desire increases with specificity, there is an inclination toward refinement. Luxury then is defined in part by refinement, a demonstration of control and manipulation over materials in specific and sophisticated ways.

Socialite Deeda Blair, photo by Dean Kaufman

A.K. Damm beer: German character, French refinement

Comfort is associated with basic satisfaction. The affordable mass produced Barcalounger is advertised "no other chair satisfies," while the designer Eames Lounge from 1956, appealed to a more discriminating client. Berry suggests luxury pleasure still satisfies and offers something more.

Simply put Karl Marx saw all things as having a use value and mystical value. Some things like an apple or cloth grocery bag have high use value. A golden apple has low use value and a high mystical value and a Louis Vuitton bag has both high use and high mystical. Berry suggests that once a luxury good appears in high use, it much change. Luxury is a moving target. The classic Louis Vuitton bag became so copied by counterfeits in the mid 2000's that there was a resurgence in the more discreet check pattern and the rise of the alternate French luxury bag Goyard.

In conclusion of the first chapter Berry states what luxury is not - it is not simply ornamentation or just accumulating a lot of things. It is something of human desire that manages to translate cultures with appreciation. When oranges were introduced to Europe from India and Asia in the 15th century they were a luxury for royalty. Now luxury goods from Europe and America are also deemed luxury in India and Asia. Luxury aligns with trade and a global agenda.

In his second chapter, Berry considers Plato's description of the polis. He describes a basic needs city and luxurious city which is thought to be Athens. For Plato, needs are fixed while desires are insatiable. The luxurious city emphasizes quality and thus encourages a free and unlimited expression of the arts which has long been associated with luxury. In a more reasonable way, Aristotle saw all cities as offering some good in meeting needs and some indulgences. Paris is a city which meeds many basic needs but makes the expressive arts and cultural luxuries highly visible.

Plato's description follows contemporary models of socialism and capitalism which emphasize civilized care for all versus healthy competition to care best for ones self. The luxurious societies are full of contradictions however. Berry suggests wealthy citizens cannot defend themselves physically so their excess money is invested in armies, which was the basis of ancient Sparta. Luxurious societies value restraint yet extreme holiday safaris and extreme arts are common to them.

Abercrombie & Kent & Murakami at Versailles, 2010

The contrast of restraint and excess is a prime tension in luxury. Craftsman of luxury goods must demonstrate consistent, wise and durable work. Below artist Jennifer Rubell presents excessive amounts of catered food in galleries commenting on the world of luxury and decadence.

When Luxury is a Virtue

Here is a link to my article on luxury for the New York Times International Edition

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Prada & Global Artisans

Luxury Culture profiles Prada's latest project including global artisans from India, Scotland and Japan. In supporting this gesture Miuccia Prada stated her choice to include international creators "comes from a personal appreciation of originality." See more at Luxury Culture and Prada.


What is luxury? There are countless media representations of luxury. Luxe TV from Luxembourg offers regular documentary shorts on luxury products and services. The books featured below offer some of the current perspectives on the changing nature of luxury.

The websites below offer various portals into the luxury world. Net-a-Porter emphasizes luxury fashion, Luxury Society emphasizes luxury business while A Small World networks all types of luxury fans and consumers.

Luxury is often treated as a financial investment and business category. The chart below shows the way in which luxury is normally treated in industry sectors.

Luxury brands are typically treated as having significant brand history and equity.

We can also describe luxury conceptually in terms of the 5 senses and development of taste. The ability to discern quality and luxury is a skill informed by experience and supported by critical studies and research.

As a basic example, it can be difficult to discern water quality and the value of bottled by taste alone.

Below Voss, luxury "Artesian Water" uses a chic bottle design and strategic phrasing to distinguish itself. Voss sells for 4 times the price of conventional bottled water and was recently investigated for just being Icelandic tap water.

Below Perrier ad from 1980 associates bottled water with a historic setting of luxury.

What is authenticity? Authenticity is understood in philosophy and psychology as the true self and its honest expression. In terms of objects it is something that is both a genuine design object and something verified by social agreement such as an appraisal authority, sealed and labeled packaging or a certificate of authenticity.

While most items do not come with certificates of authenticity, product labels and advertising are used to create luxury identities and myths.

Two sides of authenticity. Above pure beauty, luxury advertising emphasizes a natural and genuine aesthetic that gives a sense of authenticity. Below luxury advertising emphasizes history as Brooks Brothers claims: "We invented the true gentleman and the true lady."

Above: The Louis Vuitton ad from 2010 showed their product made by a model and was criticized as mis-representation of authenticity.

Our Course Plan

We will begin with the concept, history and debate of luxury in society.

Above Holy Roman Emperor's crown 13th century and Queen's bedroom, Versailles, 18th century

Above: Countess Jacqueline de Ribes, Countess von Furstenberg with Guiness heir Daphne Guiness and Athina Onassis Roussel. Professor Mark Tungate describes luxury as “an elite brand doing its utmost to provide a personalized good or service to a high spending client. For most, living as a real princess is far from reality but every year luxury brands spend millions to convince us otherwise.”

We will explore the ways in which luxury brands appeal to the desire for status and bling.

Above: Cavalli and Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, 2005. Below the exhibition Embarrassment of Riches, Picturing Global Wealth, 2000-2010.

Alec Soth, Fondation Pierre Berge and Yves Saint Laurent, Moujik IV, Paris, 2007 and Martin Parr, Cartier International Polo Challenge, Dubai, 2008

Above: Cultural attitudes about bling vary. Sarkozy was criticized for flaunting his Rolex while the Kardashians are celebrated for countless endorsements and adronments.

We will investigate luxury and authenticity. What makes the product "real" is a complex set of factors many economists seek to understand. Most luxury goods have a high mystical value based mainly on the product history and integrity but also on how the continue their myth through advertising. While this means that luxury brands must oppose counterfeits, studies have also shown that buying counterfeits and imitation copies simply make consumers want to purchase the real thing later on.

Luxury is also being transformed in terms of authenticity by both digital technology and collaborations. These shifts are making original luxury more accessible to the masses.