The latest issue of Luxury Briefing (237) carries an article on the enduring importance of craftsmanship. Luxury Briefing is the international print and digital intelligence report providing news, analysis and opinion across the luxury industry.

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Nick Steyn, co-founder and partner at luxury brand marketing consultancy Anew, contemplates the enduring importance of craftsmanship in the luxury sector.

In ancient Greece, the word ‘poet’ meant ‘maker’.

In luxury, the makers - the craftspeople - are the true creators. The parfumiers, woodworkers, horologists, jewellers, winemakers, furniture makers and fabric designers, they are the people who actually make luxury. They transform the substance of the earth itself - the mud clay, the wood bark, the raw diamond, the ripe grape, the flower essence - into something unique and real.

And their craftsmanship is the one core platform luxury depends on: enduring, long-lasting quality.

Social commentator Peter York wryly said, "Luxury is a business model. If you are a luxury brand, the thing that you make is the brand”. That is, a brand’s painstakingly created marketing and presentation of desire, style, authenticity, zeitgeist and consumer understanding is what gives it value. (In many companies they have more people in marketing than they do in design). But in truth, it’s the longevity of quality craftsmanship that has underpinned the sector’s success over thousands of years.

It gives brands their stories. They can lay claim to having the original, the only, the newest, the oldest, the rawest, and the rarest. Good luxury brand narratives are based on craft. Practically, symbolically and psychologically the act of making something permanent, something beautiful, in an all-too-often ugly, impersonal world has always been valued. And it takes skill. To devote oneself to the task of craft, to toil away patiently.

And craftspeople are usually endlessly inquisitive about their work and its possibilities of different materials and production. Sometimes they reach far beyond what the market wants in a seemingly extreme - if bizarre - desire for total perfection. Which is the whole point. We see brands (in fashion, jewellery, and watches) not especially concerned with practicality but with the unexpected or the non-essential. It is how luxury brands show their total, pure, mastery and understanding of their world.

But it’s good business. It gives a good story: ‘we go to the ends of the earth for you’. Literally. Extremism of craft process, location, environment, nature, performance, and rarity characterise much luxury messaging. To quote Rolex’s latest Perpetual ad campaign on who wears their watch: “Explorers, adventurers, scientists, men and women who always broadened the horizons in the deepest point in the ocean, the highest summits of the earth.”

It produces excellence, but also in some sectors, irregularities or mistakes. In some sectors like fine wine, leather goods or jewellery, being hand-made is better than machine-made perfection.

Think ‘wabi-sabi’: the Japanese acceptance of transience and incompleteness. Imperfect art can be perfect art.

Because we live in uncertain times, being more aware of our vulnerability, and the fragility of being human, qualities of craft should be valued more than ever. Good and righteous, they have meaning. They are sustainable. They are the hallmarks of a civilised society. Vacheron Constantin’s current press ads quote designer Yiquing Yin: “I humbly search for the true, the good, the beautiful”.

So let us reconsider ‘luxury’ - a most unluxurious word - and return to the sector’s origins: well- made, excellent crafted products that are inherently sustainable. Many luxury retailers started out as simple, single-product artisans with meaningful purpose: to create perfect jewellery, luggage or wine, or a dress, usually in socially deprived times. They were expensive and of quality. Think the Hermés horse harness workshop or Louise Vuitton’s flat- bottom lightweight, airtight and stackable canvas trunks ideal for boat voyages. They were built to be durable and to last. It’s a strong relevant message and it taps into the innate desire all consumers have right now: to believe in something real.

Now some think, notably in Silicon Valley, that reality is overdone and the Metaverse is more interesting. Well, we cannot hold back the tide but we can observe that if luxury products did not have humanity and craftsmanship at their centre, life would be colourless and dreary, if not worrying. If everything was like everything else, where would the space be for individuality and for discernment? What would it say about us as people if we could not pass down all that craft skill and knowledge? A Genevan watchmaker certainly could not say “you merely look after them for the next generation.”

The very concept of craftsmanship says much about us as a society. Socrates was the first to articulate the concept of luxury 2,400 years ago. He identified the need for us to aspire to more than just food, clothing and shelter.

He believed a luxurious society would probably have more injustice and illness, but he acknowledged it to be inevitable, given how human desire expresses itself.

Just as the best art, theatre, books, painting, sculpture, and music lets ‘your soul and spirit fly' - as Van Morrison put it - so should craftsmanship celebrate creativity and reflect our constant quest for truth and beauty.

The great luxury brands understand.

Read more from our Brand Matters series:

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

The write stuff

You can read more of our views on luxury brand marketing for example, on matters such as:

The art of growing older, a luxury branding perspective

Luxury brand marketing is common sense

What makes a successful luxury brand?

How to conduct effective luxury market research

The craft of a luxury London branding Agency

Anew’s two founders deliver: insights from market research, strategic brand thinking, new brand names, luxury logo design, messaging, online and offline content, coffee table books and luxury brand websites. We help companies increase brand profitability through sharper insights, distinctive propositions, creative ideas and faultless execution.

To get in touch do drop us an email. We'd be delighted to meet for a coffee, either face-to-face or virtually to discuss your brief.


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