(Feature image credit, with thanks to LVMH)
Here's the fourth article in our series of ‘Brand Matters’ for Luxury Briefing, the renowned international magazine providing news, analysis and opinion across the luxury industry.
You can read the full text below.
"Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.” I know, I know. It doesn’t sound like a cheery start to a piece on luxury brands, but that’s the wise Saul Bellow observing the importance of our past. And history is important in luxury.
Compared to others, luxury brands are unusual in this one metaphysical sense as their ‘birth’ is more crucial to marketing than most. ‘Founded in...', 'Established in...', and 'Since...' are core features of much messaging and logo design. Like ageing humans, ageing brands have to keep doing things that give their existence purpose and meaning. Which is excellent news for marketing departments and branding agencies.
With luxury branding, this means continued devotion to expressing the playbook: craftsmanship, obsession, founder vision, and originality. You know that story by heart. And the heart is what counts in its telling. More than most businesses, age is often a significant part of the luxury story. But making a creative and relevant present from a sepia past is always the marketer’s challenge. Truly, existentialist marketing.
Because older luxury brands must continually ask themselves: Why do we exist? What greater purpose do we serve? What does our history mean? How do we remain relevant now? And other soul-searching questions. Here, we celebrate how old can mean strength, power and relevance through being vintage, stylish, cultural, familial, and classic — and brilliantly marry it all with contemporary rejuvenation and/ or innovation. It is a difficult act to pull off, and successful companies tend to their great trees of life thoughtfully whilst letting the green shoots flower. Here are some thoughts on how luxury has always worn it well and survived.
The fashion industry is well known for hiring new, young designers. Of recent note is Rochas, founded in 1925, which has just appointed the French designer Charles de Vilmorin as its new creative director. He is 24 years old. Harris Reed is the British-American creative director for Nina Ricci. He’s 27. Gucci, 102, has hired Sabato De Sarno, at 39 an industry veteran, whose brief is to ‘successfully translate the rich heritage and legacy of Gucci’, and show how the brand can last a lifetime and never go out of fashion.
Collaborations have become an innovative way of flying the youth flag. Now it is big business and a smart way of injecting new energy into many legacy/established brands. Clarks Shoes & Moncler, Louis Vuitton & Supreme, Babolat & Michelin, Nike & Tiffany, Manolo Blahnik & Birkenstock, adidas & Gucci, Dior & Birkenstock, Burberry & Supreme, Louis Vuitton & Nike, Loewe & Juergen Teller, Dingyun Zhang & Moncler, Tiffany & MSCHF, Fendi & Versace and many more.
When in doubt, reach for art. A good current example is Veuve Clicquot’s travelling Solaire Culture exhibition, recently seen in Piccadilly, London. It presents 250 years of the Maison's heritage interpreted by nine female artists who have each used the pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit of Madame Clicquot as inspiration. Visitors are invited to be ‘transported to explore Veuve Clicquot's cultural imprint from 1772 to the present day, viewed through the creative lens of an all-female team.’ They’ve done it well.
Uncharitably, it all reminds me of Dracula. Famously, he sucks the life force out of his victims to stay alive. Only fresh young blood rejuvenates him. I am troubled by this thought and maybe should seek help on a couch. (A luxury couch, of course. The Lockheed Lounge, formed from thin plates of aluminium riveted together, which curve around a body made from fibreglass-reinforced plastic, with three feet coated in rubber, was designed by Marc Newson; it was the world's most expensive design object, selling for a record-breaking $3.7m in 2015.) Yes, luxury has aged well, given what it has had to deal with. Debates over its very existence have annoyed religious leaders, politicians, and lawyers since ancient times. Matters of moral corruption, sin, lack of control, and excess, to name but a few, have been angsted over for thousands of years. All that, but balanced with the good things: beauty, design, innovation, the world’s best craftsmen, authenticity, and entrepreneurial courage. And always success. Luxury has never failed whatever disease, war, depression, recession or unrest has been flung at it.
I think luxury brands always get the language right. They like their words as opulent and crafted as the products we are selling. Everything should taste delicious, be sumptuous, lusciously fragranced, handcrafted, timeless, exquisitely finished and made to last forever. We like to live in a haze of ultra-luxurious, unparalleled, exclusive, private, discreet, elevated excellence.
We get the aura and ambience right. We understand how the cues of art, history and culture ennoble brands and customers. To create the right aura, you must be as real and pure as possible. The cultural essayist Benjamin Walter wrote that art loses its traditional and ritualistic value — its “aura” — if the environment is not as authentic as possible. Think art galleries or five-star hotels.
So, old age. Many brands deal with it gracefully and thoughtfully. Susan Sontag said, “What do we have from the past? Art and thought. That’s what lasts. That’s what continues to feed people and give them an idea of something better.”
And ‘something better’ is the whole idea...
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
A little more on Anew - 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.