Building heritage through lifestyle

The luxury fashion brands which have been successfully weathering the international economic downturn seem to have unanimously utilized their heritage, illustrating craftsmanship and tradition – Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ermenegildo Zegna, Christian Dior, Chanel.

Other luxury fashion brands have been building on their reputation through heritage based on lifestyle. In this respect, Italian luxury house of Dolce & Gabbana seems to have grasped on its Italian heritage but this time not through craftsmanship but rather lifestyle. And what better way to showcase Italian lifestyle than through Sicily, often considered as one of Italy’s most distinctive regions – with a particular language accent (almost a dialect), a different Italian cuisine and even a different physical appearance.

Real Sicilians of all ages presented as a large family are now portrayed in Dolce & Gabbana’s Spring Summer ad, while professional models were replaced by Sicilian boys for Dolce & Gabbana’s menswear catwalk show last month during Milan Fashion Week. The house has also chosen a very sensible approach to Made in Italy and that is, without illustrating craftsmanship but through discontinuing its secondary brand, D&G, which was mostly produced in Asia and Eastern Europe and stating that the main line (which remains the only one) is entirely Made in Italy.

Dolce & Gabbana’s move has been perceived subliminally, in a natural way – which is not the case for other luxury brands which have been inherently relying on their lifestyle as a basis of heritage. The most striking recent example is Ralph Lauren‘s attempt to ”borrow” an Italian identity through craftsmanship by setting up a crafts display at Harrods in London to showcase the quality of its handbags. It does show that the brand focuses on quality but it is a far cry from saying Ralph Lauren is a brand known for the craftsmanship of its leatherwear, especially shoes and bags Made in Italy. By the way, only Ralph Lauren’s Black and Purple labels would feature shoes or bags made in Italy, the lower range labels doing perfectly fine with shoes or bags made in Asia.

Dolce & Gabbana Spring Summer 2013 ad campaign

Louis Vuitton is yet another major luxury brand, inherently French, which has ”adopted” Italian craftsmanship for most of leatherwear, especially shoes. Louis Vuitton does indeed own a state of the art shoe manufacturing facility in Italy, but how many may have been wondering why French are less talented at shoes manufacturing. Or maybe it is that Made in France is of lesser value than Made in Italy? Most likely the response lies in the fact that Vuitton’s strategic approach to Made To Measure shoes is addressing less educated, emerging markets. I wonder how likely a connoisseur would opt for Made to Measure shoes by Louis Vuitton or by the established shoemakers.

The son of Vuitton’s owner is taking this ”cross lifestyle of identities” even further, erasing the French origins of shoemaker Berluti, since two years a 360 degree men’s label. Since taking over as CEO of Berluti two years ago, Antoine Arnault has expanded into ready to wear, the newly hired Italian designer portraying a distinctly Italian style.

If rival PPR Group has Brioni (acquired early 2012) is its stable, LVMH had to develop its own men’s brand. And LVMH spared no cash for Berluti, making important acquisitions in 2012, which included reputed French tailor Arnys, Parisian made to measure shoemaker Anthony Delos and a major manufacturing facility in Italy could yet be another ”adoption” of Made in Italy, this time through French lifestyle. It cam as no surprise that Alessandro Sartori, formerly at Ermenegildo Zegna was appointed Creative Director at Berluti.  It remains to be seen whether Berluti will be able to replicate the success of Tom Ford‘s mens line, or it will be an ”export brand” primarily created for Asia.

But could lifestyle re-create heritage? Most certainly not! And the best illustration is Burberry, which, in the past 5 years has going through democratization and digitalisation which have gradually deprived the brand of its luxury appeal becoming too accessible. After several years of booming sales, 2012 saw the first profit warnings from the British brand which has since, taken a u-turn in its strategy – organizing private in-store events, redesigning the interiors of its stores and focusing on tailoring in dedicated men’s stores, as a means of regaining its British luxury heritage. In Burberry’s case, the decision to make its most famous product, the trench-coat, in China was the beginning of the company’s downfall, which is likely to continue at the speed it acquires more Likes on its Facebook page which will soon reach 15 million ”Friends”

Oliver Petcu

The making of Ralph Lauren’s Ricky bag – set up at Harrods, London