Rediscovering the fun factor in luxury lifestyle

Beyond heritage, exclusivity, quality and craftsmanship, luxury has always had an extravagance and creativity angle. Pushing the bounderies of conventional design through irony, fun or recreating fairy tales – are just some of the means to bring back the joy in luxury lifestyle, which is being rediscovered by major luxury brands across all sectors.

From Prada and Bottega Veneta to Moschino, Tom Ford or Anya Hindmarch, luxury fashion brands have been successfully integrating the ”fun factor” in their latest collections. Labelled by many as ”candy for the eyes”, Prada latest Spring Summer 2014 defies conventional designs, utilizing irony and mockery of luxury. Luxurious materials contrast with fashion jewelry pieces placed on shoes and handbags.

The ridiculization of conventional beauty is also the centre-piece of Bottega Veneta‘s latest merchandising campaign, its Spring 2014 store windows worldwide featuring human sized Blythe dolls as manequins. Bottega Veneta’s understated and luxurious designs both in its products and its retail store concepts come in sharp contrast with the dolls themed windows displays which recreate an idyllic character, which is inherently repetitive from store to store. The Blythe dolls feature an already predictable blond hairdo, blue and green eyes and a perfect waist.

Moschino, Tom Ford and Anya Hindmarch use in their Autumn Winter 2014-15 collection ironic references to mass market products which are given a luxurious make-over – a luxury Moschino handbag which references the logo of McDonalds, luxurious sports T-shirts at Tom Ford and luxury leather handbags replicating boxes of Ariel laundry detergent and Kellogs cornflakes at Anya Hindmarch.

Other brands such as Alexander McQueen have been influenced by historical refereces which they brought into ironic contrasts. Alexander McQueen’s Spring Summer 2014 collection is dominated by the impossible association between sports and gothic heritage, with models wearing helmets and gothic structure shoes. Celine‘s Spring Summer 2014 collection takes replicating structures to new levels, most vivid in the shoes collection which repetively uses the same shape of the upper part, while the sole changes to the most spectacular geometric shapes, at times seemingly unwearable.

With the anti-luxury sentiment riding high in both emerging and mature markets as well as a sentiment of guilt across mature markets, such undertakings are crucial for the future of luxury. The mockery of luxury through references to an artificially created luxury lifestyle is sensibly portrayed in Woody Allen’s latest masterpiece, the Blue Jasmine, which features Cate Blanchett (nowadays the face of major luxury brands such as Armani) who plays Jasmine, a superficial character torn between her past and her reveries of an aristocratic lifestyle. The centre-piece of all luxury items is an Hermes Birkin bag which Jasmine wears both in her rich life and in her days of being homeless.

In a recent exclusive interview to CPP-LUXURY.COM, Juan-Carlos Torres, CEO of luxury watch-maker Vacheron Constantin, told me (about Blue Jasmine) ‘This movie has truly made me pause and reflect. Have they gone too far in how luxury brands are potrayed? That I don’t know – it remains to reflect, however, marketing in luxury has indefinitely changed and social media plays such an important part”

The film begins with Jasmine (born Jeanette) arriving in San Francisco, broke but still flying first class, the dazed victim of a financial scandal involving her former husband. Now homeless, she is forced to rely on the comfort of her step sister, Ginger, who is romantically involved with a blue-collar male character named Chili.

‘Blue Jasmine is the story of Jasmine’s further humbling, of upper-class pretension dashing against the rock of working-class earthiness; also like Streetcar, Allen’s work shares its heroine’s snobbery, the director as appalled as Jasmine by Chili’s and Ginger’s gaucheries, their lack of interest in high culture, their aspirational void. A scene where Chili and Ginger try to set up Jasmine, still clinging to her Chanel bag, with a schlubby, grease-monkey pal of Chili’s is cringe-inducing, though more because of the writer-director’s condescension toward his working-class characters than for their cluelessness as matchmakers. 

The film means to be a post-crash fable, and the fact that we leave Jasmine as blind and delusional as we found her is, perhaps, a nice satirical point (one Elizabeth Warren might appreciate). As human drama, though, it’s all a bit cruel. Jasmine, you see, is not just blind and delusional—she is also alcoholic and mentally ill, and looked at one way the film is a serial humiliation of a woman who, no matter how awful and pretentious and complicit-or-not in her husband’s crimes she may be.’  (review by Vanity Fair)

While rediscovering the fun angle in luxury can have great results in brand differentiation and awareness, irony and self-mockery can easily turn into a dramatic wake-up call which emphasizes that an increasing number of luxury consumers purchase and wear a certain branded product merely for its aesthetics and recognizable design, ignoring entirely the essence of the brand – craftsmanship and quality of materials and finishes.

Oliver Petcu in London