Luxury Branding Now: It’s Innovation Season for Luxury Brands

Brand Strategy

From New York to Seoul, luxury brands and agencies are infusing emotion, novelty, and mindfulness into the brand experience, and changing the way luxury is seen and sold.

With consumer spending cooling down, luxury brands depend disproportionately on high-net-worth customers who are impervious to inflationary slings and arrows. Competing for the world’s most discriminating customers compels luxury brands and creative agencies to find the right brand strategy and execute it flawlessly.

The Heart of Luxury Hotel Branding
In late 2021, the century-old luxury hotel brand Fairmont launched ‘Experience the Grandest of Feelings,’ a brand campaign with Susan Sarandon as a global brand ambassador. “People today want to make a meaningful choice about how they spend their time in a way that connects with their values, like exploration and evoking a sense of wonder,” said Mansi Vagt, Fairmont’s global brand leader and vice president. We couldn’t agree more, but as a call to action, the campaign message could pertain to almost any high-end luxury hotel.

How Luxury Hotels Lean into Emotion
‘Experience the Grandest of Feelings’ reads like a prestige message disguised as emotional, which isn’t entirely believable. In contrast, One&Only Resorts’ tagline, ‘Exceptional One-offs,’ quickens the pulse a bit more. To stoke desire among consumers starved for authentic travel experiences, ‘Exceptional One-offs’ promises that each property reflects the true essence of your destination. The novel wording feels resolutely modern compared to ‘The Grandest of Feelings,’ which doesn’t evoke a modern resort brand with properties in Santa Monica, Telluride, and Rio.

Making a Luxury Resort Stay Feel Like ‘Travel’
One&Only de-positions its field of competitors by solving an emotional pain point for the luxury resort traveler: their fear of getting a watered-down experience. Some people don’t even consider it traveling if you stay at a resort. One&Only gives luxury travelers what they need, which is gated-community-level control, and fulfills an unmet emotional desire: the brand helps them access a sense of p[ace that makes them feel like valid travelers.

Emotional Luxury Branding: How Goop Gets it Right
What you feel about Goop is like a personality test – it may say more about you than it does about Gwyneth Paltrow’s $250 million side hustle. Goop’s understated, self-help-inflected luxury business gets roasted for being ditzy and out of touch, mainly due to its history of promoting fringy fads like crystal eggs intended for bodily insertion. That’s what makes headlines, but the real story is what people are getting out of Goop.

As Amanda Mull wrote for The Atlantic, “The act of shopping itself is the salve… and that feeling is carefully cultivated. When the hook is ‘Your problem matters,’ whatever package of vitamins or tube of lotion gets thrown in the bag is almost beside the point. Buying from a business that makes you feel cared for and understood can seem like a course of treatment in and of itself.”

From a strategic branding perspective, Goop is a coherent, consistently expressed luxury brand that solves a pain point for customers by validating their feelings and making them feel like anything is possible. Goop does everything right, including the company’s refusal to dilute its brand in the face of ridicule. With our lives 99% digitized, authenticity is the password – Goop has held its own in a competitive marketplace by staying true to what it stands for – that’s always the key to emotional relevance.

Luxury Brands Are Getting Intentional
As mindfulness catches on with consumers, luxury brands need to position themselves intentionally, too. Luxury purchases are highly personal, solidifying the bond between the lives we want and the brands we choose. Today’s Millennial and Gen Z luxury shoppers see brands as a way to express their personalities and flex their freedom, but also to help them visualize how things should be and bring them closer to their vision. Sometimes, the intended vibe is more emotional; sometimes, it’s more cerebral. But we call this lifestyle-driven approach “Intentional Luxury” because today’s customers want luxury brands that dig deeper for meaning.

Sustainability and the Role of Resale, Repair, and Rental
Under increasing pressure to commit to sustainable practices, brands are exploring new business models such as verified resale, rental, repair, and remaking. One of the most vocal proponents of luxury resale is Fabienne Lupo, former CEO of Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie and founder of ReLuxury, “Buying second-hand is actually being responsible and a smarter solution for businesses,” Lupo told Luxury Society in an interview. “As an industry that expresses intrinsic values of timelessness, repairability, quality, it really should be a leader in this field,” she added.

Can Luxury Resale Preserve the Prestige?
Online and offline, peer-to-peer luxury resale is booming, and advocates for sustainability and circular fashion see it as a step in the right direction. With its acquisition of Tradesy in March 2022, Vestiaire Collective joined RealReal, Farfetch, and other online marketplaces for buying and selling new and pre-loved designer and luxury fashion. Vestiarie’s platform boasts a user base of over 23 million members, attracted by a thorough authentication process that aims to offer some protection for buyers and the brands being sold.

As with any third-party resale platform, it’s never entirely risk-free – buyers and sellers have mixed reviews about the platforms’ pain points, which point to missing packages, fraud, and nonexistent customer service. For bigger-ticket luxury purchases, a platform like Farfetch, which partners with brands and designers, may be a safer bet for shoppers.

FarFetch’s ‘Circular Fashion’ Collaboration
One particular brand is driving FarFetch’s success: the mega-influential Off-White, a fashion-forward lifestyle brand based on the ideas and values of visionary designer Virgil Abloh. With Off-White, Abloh’s cerebral, arresting design sense helped us see streetwear with fresh eyes, and he pointedly reminded us to question everything. FarFetch’s 2019 acquisition of 100% of Off-White’s parent company, New Guards Group, was a brilliant and unexpected move that paid off beautifully.

Farfetch’s regulatory filings indicated that Off-White accounted for “a majority of our brand platform” gross merchandise volume last year. It seems like a mutually beneficial relationship, with Off-White boosting FarFetch now and FarFetch keeping Abloh’s legend alive. We believe that Abloh would have appreciated the partnership, which marries Abloh’s ideas about inclusivity and sustainability with his rarified design sense to do what he described, poetically, as using personal vocabulary to ”generate a multidisciplinary tornado.” Talk about setting intentions for a brand.

The Science of Luxury: How Novelty Slows Down Time
Studies show that repetitive stimuli reduce our perceived duration of time, whereas novel stimuli create the perception that time is slowing down. The memories made from fresh and exciting experiences are so dense and vivid that they expand our experience of time. This makes experiences the real fountain of youth and the foundation of luxury.

When we’re enjoying ourselves, time feels like it moves faster, but in the rearview mirror, we create memories and a sense of time passing through noticing. In Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, Claudia Hammond calls it ‘The Holiday Paradox,’ explaining that when we’re enjoying ourselves, time feels like it moves faster, “but when we look back at a vacation, our assessment of time is based not on how many hours we actually spent on vacation, but on the individual new memories we created during that period.” The popularity of seasonal drops and designer collabs is a testament to this – timeless luxury sells, but only the outliers are memorable.

We know novel experiences drive brand preference for the wealthiest few shoppers, but what about novelty for the rest of us? ‘Aspirational’ describes consumers who limit their spending to the lower end of luxury, while ‘true-luxury’ consumers can afford to pay at the top. But what are brands selling to cost-conscious consumers, and why does it matter?

Luxury Brands Bridge Accessibility With Novelty
There’s a trend where high-end brands offer lower-priced novelties for fans who want to get closer but don’t have the budgets they’d need to be VICs. So instead of YETI tumblers in everyone’s hand, think Hermès Tissue Boxes, Burberry teddy bears, and Saint Laurent padlocks. The strategic advantage is that novelty is, by definition, special. This keeps accessible luxury situated where it can’t harm the brand’s cache: gifts and knickknacks. It retains the high-end products as the hero products, which is a must for a brand that identifies as ‘luxury.’ Aspirational customers have an opportunity to have and hold a piece of the brand while keeping the feeling well out of the ordinary – the polar opposite of seeing entry-priced YETI tumblers everywhere, which makes the brand feel more pedestrian, no matter how high its quality is.

Exclusivity Makes Way For Expression
While a Burberry bear buyer isn’t winning any prizes for originality, novelty is not just relevant to entry-level shoppers. The wealthiest shoppers love classics but hate basics. Novelty, eccentricity, self-expression: no matter how you characterize it since digitization has ‘democratized’ luxury brands, privileged trendsetters increasingly use novelty to assert their freedom from constraints. At High Snobriety, a website purpose-built for luxury brand expression, a rundown of novelty bags touted a Balenciaga clutch disguised as a Lays potato chip bag, a Chanel shopping cart, and a Moschino toilet paper roll, to name a few. Then we have the Big Red Boots, a social-media-driven trend Inspired by the classic Japanese TV and video game character, “Astro Boy,” the artist MSCHF’s cartoon boots sold out immediately despite their impracticality and $350 price tag.

Ludicrous Luxury, Made for Instagram
The showy shoes appeared on many stars and influences, including Lil Wayne, Doja Cat, Lil Nas X, Diplo, and Janelle Monae. Wearing enormous red cartoon boots is the same flavor of flex as naming your kid Apple or Riot – not having to be professional or sensible with your choices is a luxury in itself. Similar to A-listers repping Crocs through the pandemic, the Big Red Boots are part of a broader trend for cartoony shoes at a premium price, like Loewe’s Minnie Mouse pumps and JW Anderson’s frog slides, made in partnership with children’s rubber boot brand, Wellipets.

Novel Ways to Flex: Pearls for Men
The last brand in our luxury roundup is Mikimoto, whose “Love Letter to the Sea” campaign positions pearls as a natural, sustainable gemstone from the sea whose culture benefits the environment. The most novel thing was Mikimoto’s male-dominated ads, which showed famous men wearing pearls. One pearl-clad Mikimoto model, designer Marc Jacobs, called his ever-present strand of white pearls his good luck charm.

“In the United States and Europe, male celebrities are picking up pearls,” said Yugo Tsukikawa, Mikimoto’s marketing and product strategy director. He added, “If you walk around Tokyo, you’ll see men wearing strands of pearls every day.” Part of a movement toward gender-neutral design that transcends the luxury segment, this type of shift is commonplace in fashion, says consumer psychologist Chris Gray. “Our founding fathers wore wigs and tights,” Gray joked. ”These social constructs, especially with masculinity and feminity, are always shifting.”

Breaking Down Barriers in Luxury
Harry Styles, A$AP Rocky, Pharrell Williams, Elton John, the Jonas Brothers, Timothée Chalamet, and Tyler the Creator have been sporting the strands, and Garrett Wilson shook up the 2022 NFL draft when he was recruited by the NY Jets sporting a three-tiered pearl necklace. “Men wearing pearls isn’t a fad; it’s an example of how the jewelry world is finally opening up to genderless style,” wrote Highsnobiety’s culture editor, Lia McGarrigle. “In a few years, pearl necklaces are about to be as commonplace as chains are for men,” she added.

In Conclusion
Emotional, novel, and intentional luxury are trending. Quality and exclusivity are not enough – this era in luxury is all about “valuing uniqueness over status,” as Bain & Company’s EMEA Luxury Goods and Fashion leader Federica Levato put it. As the luxury landscape evolves, the burden is on brands to embrace innovation, offer novel experiences that extend beyond the transactional to foster emotional connections.


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