Luxury brands from Facebook and short movies to old style promotion

During the latest Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, many were surprised to learn they were no longer on Chanel’s invitees’ list. Despite organizing two shows, the French maison opted for the usual location for the past years, the Grand Palais, however, the large scale of the décor would limit the number of seats in the audience. Much like in the days of Christian Dior himself, the house of Dior hosted a small event at its Avenue Montaigne headquarters, with a much smaller audience than Galliano’s previous lavish haute couture shows. While many are still intensely debating and betting on Galliano’s successor at the helm of Dior’s creative direction, could it be that its owner, Bernard Arnault would not want to find a replacement for Galliano, considering the current creative director most appropriate, but in a silent manner. Many other couture houses presented this season’s collections with a trunk show, recreating a more intimate atmosphere.

Gucci organized in December last year a lavish party at LACMA in Los Angeles honouring Clint Eastwood and John Baldessarini, Leonardo di Caprio being the host of the evening. There was no fashion show, instead a sophisticated sit down dinner, with many Hollywood celebrities attending. What was probably most striking about the event, was that less than half of the attendees were actually wearing Gucci, whether accessories, shoes or clothing. The event made less headlines on the internet, as it would have probably made a year ago. The two pages allocated by Vanity fair and short articles in several Vogue editions covered the event in a more discreet, but at the same time, desirable way. After all, isn’t luxury about exclusivity?

With the occasion of the opening of its brand new flagship store in Paris, on Faubourg St Honore, French iconic leather goods maison of Moynat, now owned by Bernard Arnault (LVMH), a discreet and simple cocktail party was organized on the premises of the very elegant store, which is steps from Goyard and Hermes, direct competitors of Moynat in the eary 1920’s. There was no live internet broadcast, no Facebook page and the website of Moynat would simply display photos of the new store. Speaking to concierges at several of the top luxury hotels in the area, I was told, customers were returning to the hotel disappointed most of the Moynat collection sold out.

The third weekend of January, this year, the French house of Chanel took everyone by surprise hosting a grand event in Las Vegas which took place at the Wynn Hotel. As a very sensible anticipation of the Chanel Haute Couture, which took place a week later (the set up being the interior of an airplane, with a 70’s mood), Chanel’s invitation to the Las Vegas event was ‘’Fly with Chanel’’, the maison actually flying in over 200 VIP guests, among them high profile fashion editors. The evening was marked by an exquisite fashion installation with models dressed as birds in a metal frame (similar to a bird cage), live music performance and an haute cuisine sit down dinner, the setting being of an old time club, with simple colourful lighting.

Luxury Swiss watchmaker Brequet opted for a very exclusive dinner to mark the opening of its flagship store in Bal Harbour, Florida. The Brequet event included a demonstration by Mr. Stephane Aubert, the brand’s master engraver. On display at the boutique for an exclusive preview were four historic pocket watches from the 18th and 19th centuries, previously on loan to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The timepieces will be on display through February 29th. After the celebratory evening at Breguet’s new U.S. flagship store, select members from the Breguet family, brand VIPs, Haute Living special guests joined Michael Nelson, Brand President for Breguet in North America, in the St. Regis Hotel’s Astor Ballroom Foyer for an intimate dinner curated by Executive Pastry Chef Antonio Bachour and Executive Resort Chef Jordi. The menu included slow-braised kobe beef short rib with potato-cherry wood smoked bacon trinxat, green beans, baby carrot and braising essence, as well as a decadent dessert made with lime gelee, tropical fruits, coconut sorbet and meringue.

With the financial turmoil around the world, the international luxury brands with the best sales performances, were, surprisingly, brands which are anti-bling in their product development, therefore no logo or extremely discreet logos, as opposed to the early and mid 2000, when logo-mania reigned. Bottega Veneta, Loewe, Celine, Hermes and Mulberry are some of the brands which have registered impressive double digit growth rates, defying the economic conditions.

Even traditional ‘’luxury bling’’ markets such as Russia and China have been shifting slowly but surely towards less bling and no logo luxury products. There could be several factors which I believe play into this developing trend: one – consumers wish to appear more sophisticated (bling being considered by many as ‘’bad taste’’; second – wearing a less overt product customers unconsciously perceive the respective product of better quality (no need for a logo to identify a certain product) and third – a growing number of international top celebrities promote anti-bling by wearing mostly less overt and no logo products.Despite being featured in Louis Vuitton campaigns, Catherine Deneuve, Stefi Graff, Madonna or Angelina Jolie can hardly be seen wearing new Vuitton collection products (some may wear vintage) in their everyday life, photographed as such in lifestyle and tabloid media worldwide.

Bernard Arnaud, the owner of luxury giant LVMH is also signalling a turn towards less bling and more old style marketing across all the brands of the group. One of his companies, iconic French luxury shoemaker Berluti, headed by his son Antoine Arnaud, launched last week its first ever ready to wear and accessories line with a theatre like catwalk. With the occasion of the event, Antoine Arnault spoke openly, in a rare public appearance, about the end of bling and the international trend of luxury consumers returning to values such as heritage, craftsmanship, durability etc.

The rumours of Marc Jacobs moving from Louis Vuitton to Dior and his position at Louis Vuitton to be taken over by Celine’s Phoebe Philo (know for her understated style), coupled with the fact Marc Jacobs later even confirmed such talks, are a clear signal that Louis Vuitton is slowly embarking on a process to develop less bling products. In my view, this would not only represent a feasible long term re-positioning strategy but also a measure to limit counterfeiting. Creating a counterfeit bag with no logos but with an intricate crafted finishing (like in the case of Bottega Veneta’s intricate leather) is likely to pose more challenges for counterfeiters.

The latest moves by major luxury brands clearly indicate a return to old style marketing, through events such as dinners, more private fashion shows and at the same time, less and less public exposure through the internet and social media platforms. It would actually be kind of weird to watch the Chanel or Gucci dinners live streamed on the internet. This does not mean that the internet would become of lesser importance, however, its use will be more and more segmented and targeted. For instance, products with a much wider target such as fragrances, sunglasses and beauty products will benefit even more from an increased strategic presence on the internet. This new trend which I would consider as ‘’going back to old style’’ will increasingly contribute to a much more clear luxury positioning and segmentation between so called democratic brands such as Burberry and Coach, which will be considered premium and Chanel, Dior, Bottega Veneta,, Mulberry which will evidently deepen their luxury positioning and perception.

Oliver Petcu