Luxury goes small

Small is certainly the buzzword among industry analysts. As if designers were carrying the mandates of their boardrooms to the drawing table, the latest products coming from the design realm are quite literally downsized. There are handbags the size of hands, toy-like automobiles — General Motors is banking on five tiny cars in its upcoming high-stakes lineup — and furniture companies are showing abridged versions of their most sought-after sofas and chairs. The wine industry is agog over micro-cuvées, tiny batches of custom-made wine. Professional foodies are all about micro-chic portions. And in place of their once leisurely sprawl, luxury hotel rooms and retail shops are popping up in dimensions formerly reserved for dressing rooms.

The luxury market showed zero growth in 2008 and is expected to shrink 10% in 2009, while consumer confidence in the U.S. has plummeted 60%, according to Bain & Co. Even so, in its May 2009 luxury-brands survey, Abrams Research concluded that “Luxury is here to stay,” provided companies pare down to a “stronger, smaller core.” What luxury consumers want now, says Bain, is to spend less without compromising on brand names or quality. And they want their luxe treats discreet. So the economy is all but demanding small gems, as designers — in league, knowingly or not — render them fashionable and thus supremely desirable.

Accessories — top moneymakers until recently and now suffering least in the luxury realm — have exploded on the runway in new, bite-size morsels that only up their irresistibility factor. At Proenza Schouler, the PS1 shoulder bag featured a second, extremely small one that zipped off it like charming handbag progeny. The VBH clutch that Michelle Obama carried on the town in New York City was a sliver of blue satin that looked like a jewel. And Karl Lagerfeld drove the point home at CHANEL, where the models carried clear plastic handbags, each embedded with a menagerie of micro-accessories: a tiny quilted Chanel purse, a tiny bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume, even a tiny Chanel iPod, all packaged together as if to accompany a brand-new doll.

from TIME magazine