The name of the luxury game

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Among avid consumers in the luxury space, a brand can be analogous to a sport or religion, engendering a fierce sense of personal attachment and loyal following.

But what sits behind the name and the logo, if not the creative articulation of the brand through the product?

When Karl Lagerfeld passed away in February 2019, the fashion world was left contemplating how the French fashion power house Chanel would fare without its influential creative director.

Creative direction is considered the cornerstone of a luxury brand and a transition of this role can be unsettling. There was widespread criticism from Celine fans in 2018 when Hedi Slimane took the creative helm. His debut collection was met with disapproval from devotees who felt that he had supplanted the brand’s signature clothing with his own style. The Business of Fashion described it as a "gust of toxic masculinity". At the same time, the collections of his predecessor, Phoebe Philo, experienced a surge in online searches with items selling for up to a 30% premium.

Nonetheless, change is inevitable and the movement of creative talent between fashion houses is a game of musical chairs. New direction should not mean the decline or death of a brand, and in fact often brings fresh perspective. When Lagerfeld first joined Chanel in the early 1980s, he inherited and had to contend with the 70 years of fashion legacy forged by Coco Chanel. In his time at Chanel, however, Lagerfeld was responsible for cult items such as the tweed jackets, two-tone footwear and the brand's interlocking CC monogram. His name is now almost as synonymous with the brand as Coco's, and in this way the fashion house has proven it can thrive through transition.

Heritage and a signature styling is inherent to luxury branding, but this does not need to translate to an overly restrictive or siloed creative vision.

Indeed, the luxury brands who are thriving are those who leverage the power of their heritage and who are progressive in engaging with the practical and creative desires of the modern luxury customer to stay relevant. The Kering-owned Italian fashion house, Balenciaga, posted more than 100% growth in 2018 across its core categories. The CEO attributed much of the recent success to targeting Millennials, who make up 60% of the customer base, with products such as Triple S and Speed Trainers (seen above), designed specifically with these customers in mind.

Dan Stolarski
Managing Director
Pragma Consulting