We delve into the intricacies of desire in the context of luxury brands for our sixth article in our series of ‘Brand Matters’ for Luxury Briefing, . This is the renowned international magazine providing news, analysis and opinion across the luxury industry.

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“Something there is about you, that strikes the match in me… that brings back a long-forgotten truth, and the spirit in me sings… you're the soul of many things.”

Dylan on desire. God knows how much has been sung, written and painted on this subject.

But, worthy or unworthy, noble or ignoble, we all have our needy take on it. Craving, longing, yearning, pining for or owning some luxury piece. An item with a desirability that has been created in part by us. Brand marketers are the purveyors of Better Life imagery and yellow-brick-road futures heralding the glory of marvellous promise and unending success…

It takes desire to create commercial desire: that and skill, pricing and positioning and before that production and the right distribution and targeting of customers. Oh, and a few other things that might help: originality, superlative quality and craftsmanship to help crank up the rational and emotional levers to raise a product above the ‘yeah, alright, not bad’. Making something extraordinary takes talent, time and energy. And that’s just the beginning. Bestowing psychological benefits of status, prestige and belonging also takes thought. Polishing the apples on the market stall isn’t as easy as people think.

I’m not knocking it. Taking pleasure in material luxuries can ground us, bring us meaning, and create memories. What may be trivial, irrelevant, or indulgent to one person might be enormously desirable and profound to another. A rose is useless in a practical sense. To ask about the purpose of a rose is to ask about the quantitative value of love or the meaning of a bird. But if having the rose gives depth to your life, and makes you feel more alive, then… wonderful. Expressions of beauty and grace - as many luxury goods are - can help make your world a slightly better space.

I want to look at the practical commercial presentation of desire. One key technique is the balancing of distance. Good art direction can create enough space to be aspirational and desired, but enough intimacy to communicate craftsmanship and quality. I’m greatly indebted to Saatchi’s Richard Huntington who singled out the creative thoughts of the great US choreographer Twyla Tharpe on this.

Creating the right distance is a dynamic at the heart of much luxury brand visual communication. Let’s consider how writers and artists approach this issue. Every creative person has a focal lens they work from.

Some find the greatest inspiration and productivity in seeing the world from a great distance, and some like seeing it close up.

Some prefer a view that is deep, seeing the world in its most expansive form, taking it all in from sky to earth. The whole picture. From a long distance away we see the majesty, the universality of life. (Think Ansell Adams’ photography)

Some see the world in close-ups as if it’s entirely in front of them. It is the small that they are focussed on. (Think Roth/Updike). Every detail is scrutinised intimately as though under a microscope. Close-up is, well, close-up; it is intimate. It is the weft and warp of the fabric, the grain of the leather, the knot of the wood. Miniaturists can have a big impact. (The Mona Lisa measures just 30" x 21"). Huntington writes: “In both the deep and the shallow, we see truth and reality, each equally powerful and each equally profound. And it is at these opposite ends of the spectrum that creativity feels most alive, vibrant and vital.” Much luxury imagery uses this distance dynamic, juxtaposing high production concept visuals next to small product close-ups. Luxury cars and jewellery do it especially well.

And we use distancing in the use of people. Beautiful figures in aspirational out-of-reach lifestyles  - in effect a ‘better’ version of the consumer. You can be like me if you buy this. That promise of a desirable lifestyle and identity.

We use distancing in the use of different times and places. Heritage is a crucial building block in luxury brand building and playing with the past, or using a brand’s past as the basis for its present narratives and displays of innovation works well.

We use distancing in the use of language. ‘High Watchmaking’, ‘High Horology’ or ‘Haute Horologie’ is used to describe watches made with the finest techniques, the most complicated functions, and the most intricate details. Most people don’t know what a high watch is.

And if you know how to pronounce A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet or Jaeger Lecoultre – or indeed Krug, Pol Roger, Goyard, Givenchy, Hermès, Hublot, Miu Miu, and Cerruti… welcome, you’re in.

We don’t merely sell products; we sell uniqueness, an introduction to a club, differentiation, exclusivity, and dreams, experiences, and stories. Of course, distance is involved. Much of what is on offer is unobtainable to many.

Luxury brands must invest heavily in cultivating imagery that appeals to emotions, aspirations, and values - because that is how products are turned into objects of desire that go beyond functionality. The challenge is ensuring the brand is never some “big rock candy mountain”: a seductive sugar-sweet fleeting experience that has little taste, and no substance.

Serious successful luxury brands have an impactful, beautiful, surface promise that arouses the desire to know and buy them — but also the depth to fulfil that desire. As Keats had it, "A thing of beauty, it is a joy forever".

Read more from our Brand Matters series:

  • The enduring importance of craftsmanship here
  • Why craftsmanship's vulnerability will win in the tech world here.
  • Creativity: From Origins to AI here
  • Luxury is ageing gracefully here
  • Thinking luxuriously here

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