Does the Personal Luxury Model Have a Future?

Virgil Abloh, creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear declared recently that “streetwear is definitely going to die”. Case in point, the current model of personal luxury that in the past generated 271 billions of euro in 2019 , the larger macro-category within the wider industry that moves in excess of a trillion euros globally, does not seem able to produce the “antiques of tomorrow” anymore yet has elevated streetwear and other categories of products that are not necessarily associated with luxury to the ranks of couture creations.

For the second time in 40 years, we are experiencing a revolution in the luxury sector, a second wave of democratisation. Societal and technology advancements have undeniably redefined relationships and balances among diverse cultures, advanced branding systems and paradoxically a more connected but not necessarily better-informed clientele. In other words, we travel more but we learn less. We are socially more mobile than ever before, but we are more conforming to global trends. This time round, luxury seems to be losing its ability to redefine a social stratification in our egalitarian societies. The age of deference towards luxury seems to be coming to an end once for all but there seems to be a fragile system to replace the 'Ancien Régime'.

A recent report, conducted by American consultancy agency Bain&Co, outlined the fact that we are living in the New Normal era of luxury. The adjacency of the words 'New Normal' and 'Luxury Industry' should create discomfort among CEOs of leading brands and conglomerates. The disaffection of the younger generations towards the historic values of this industry is palpable. Millennials and Gen Z generate almost half of the sales within the industry and their relationship with brands is purely based on instant gratification and a courteous indifference to past of their preferred brands. This paradigm could potentially have the same effect that licensing had on brands like Gucci and YSL in the late 70s and 80s, dilution through vulgarization of their products despite an initial spike in sales and popularity.  The nurturing of new fashion clients, by definition loyal only to the latest trends, has naturally infantilised the exchanges among brands and patrons. Brands behave like social media, stylists and in some cases as celebrities too. This modus operandi has brought in healthy revenues but in most cases, there are high operating costs too, to the detriment of uniqueness.  It is quite disconcerting looking at how similar the offering of luxury brands is. One has to read the sign on windows to discern what brand had has reinvented a white t-shirt/sneakers/hoodie. This phenomenon has been already picked up by some impactful media players like Diet Prada. Luxury should be instantly recognisable by an iconic design associated to a fabled background.

Undoubtably, the luxury industry, cannot return to a model of exclusive products/clients only and should continue to surprise with interesting collaborations and expansions but should also look back at its core values to re-establish a truly intimate experience that instructs and develops clients in appreciating the timeless and not the fashionable only.

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