Luxury Brands and The Lost Art of Storytelling

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Venerable Alber Elbaz, until last month the creative director of centennial luxury fashion house Lanvin, recently said in an interview with AnOther that “maybe we are no longer the industry of newness, because that was taken by technology, but we’re still an industry of a man and a woman, of a thread and a needle, and of fabric, and a dream.”

There are few industries that pride themselves with a dream, imagination, history and heritage like luxury. But why is the category so bad at telling its own stories?

One would think that, once digital media liberated storytelling from the confines of video and print, the luxury industry would rush to seduce customers with its rich tales. Archives would be opened, books would be dusted and dreams unleashed. Luxury brands would finally have the opportunity to weave the fabric of their fables in an interactive, immersive and compelling way, across all customer touchpoints. They would participate in a larger cultural conversation and provide their audiences with references, inspiration and lifestyle ammunition unmatched by any other industry.

This hasn’t happened. Instead of a brand spirit speaking the language of modern audience, we got content strategy. Instead of a brand point of view expressed through enduring aesthetics, we got temporary campaigns shot by the latest photographer du jour. Instead of being inspired to tell their own stories, we got influencer marketing programmes.

Content strategy is not your brand story. It cannot replace the ethos and the defining point of view of your brand. Luxury brands were by default created by founders with vision, spirit and passion that attracted their first audiences and made them fall in love. Early luxury houses were arbiters of taste that worked with taste-savvy connoisseurs of culture who came to ateliers for the lush vibe and the stories as much as they did for the goods.

Today’s luxury stories pale in comparison to their own past. Often squeezed under the “brand world” links on company websites, given a nod in the company’s logo, haphazardly translated into product imagery on brands’ social channels or not acknowledged at all in retail boutiques, they feel as irrelevant as the last year’s It girl.

There are exceptions. Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane mastered the art of cultural reference, perfectly echoing Yves’ partner Pierre Berge’s recent observation in the New York Times that “fashion is so very fragile, you see. Really, what it is is a moment between the past and future, and it has to encapsulate the present.” Olivier Rousteing of Balmain entered an Instagram dialogue – a direct, special relationship with his audience – by giving it both daily inspiration and something to talk about. Christopher Bailey rooted Burberry’s Britishnessinto this country’s vibrant indie music scene and married it with his mastery of digital culture.

The list is short. Today, greater cultural influence comes from companies who do not belong to traditional luxury. Unburdened with the way that the business is done, they look at storytelling with the fresh eyes of the modern luxury consumer.

Skincare company Aesop roots its brand story in the philosophy of balanced life. “We value all human endeavours undertaken with intellectual rigour, vision and a nod to the whimsical,” is Aesop’s philosophy, and its stores, website and bi-monthly literary gesture The Fabulist all live and breathe it. “We advocate the use of our formulations as part of a balanced life that includes healthy diet, sensible exercise, a moderate intake of red wine, and a regular dose of stimulating literature.” Aesop’s products are by-products of a wonderfully human and joyful story that is easy to buy into.

Digital pure-player Farfetch thinks of itself as the world’s largest luxury fashion marketplace – for products and cultural ideas alike. Just like any vibrant shopping bazaar, Farfetch’s brand rests on cultural diversity, serendipity and surprise. The local tales coming from its community of boutiques are as important as the products by the latest undiscovered designer.

Modern brands succeed because, just like the luxury houses of old, they build their business on the cultural language and direct relationship with their customer. They use their ethos and relevant stories attuned to the zeitgeist to fight off digital commodification.

To successfully compete with these newcomers, luxury brands need to summon the spirit and passion of their founders and turn them into modern culture. Just like old luxury connoisseurs, modern taste-aware audiences consume a strong point of view, convincing beliefs and compelling values. If they fall in love with a luxury item in the process, all the better.

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Black Friday and the Rising Cost of Low Prices

Originally posted in The Business of Fashion, titled, Does Anyone Expect to Pay Full Price Anymore? Article written by Helena Pike.

LONDON, United Kingdom — You’re in the middle of a Black Friday sale and you just snagged a bargain. Your heartbeat quickens; your awareness is heightened.

Although you can’t see it, your brain has begun releasing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are triggering an adrenalin-like rush, resulting in an overwhelming buzz of euphoria.

Fashion consumers are discount shopping more than ever — and while it was retailers that first encouraged them, with retail margins and full-price sales now suffering, those businesses may have shot themselves in the foot.

In the US in particular, the run up to this year’s holiday season has not been happy. Many major department stores have seen their shares plummet, after announcing consistently disappointing sales. Since the beginning of 2015, Nordstrom’s shares have fallen 33 percent this year, while Macy’s shares crashed 14 percent in the third quarter alone, after it announced a 5.2 percent decline in sales. Shoppers, it would seem, are holding out for Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, when retailers traditionally offer large discounts.

Last year, US sales on Black Friday topped $50 billion, a 9.5 percent increase in online sales compared to 2013. In the UK, where Black Friday has only recently begun to gain traction, online sales hit £810 million ($1.2 billion) last year, according to IMRG, the UK industry association for online retailers.

“Does anyone really expect to pay full price for anything anymore?” asks Andy Mulcahy, editor of IMRG.

Heavy discounting: the dangers

Heavy discounting can be a downward spiral for retailers. By continually lowering prices, retailers risk falling down a rabbit hole, as consumers become conditioned to only shop during the sales.

“Consumers get trained to expect really significant reductions,” explains Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and professor of psychology at Golden Gate University. Nowadays, “a lot of consumers put off purchases like winter coats or electronics until this time of the year, because they feel like they’re going to get a better deal.”

“It is a dangerous tactic,” agrees James Lovell, European retail commerce solutions executive at consultancy IBM. “If I’m going to start to condition my customers to only shop on a four-day window in the run up to Christmas, because it’s discounted, then I run the risk of eroding margins at what should be the most profitable time of the year.”

Indeed, this was exactly what happened to retailers in the UK last year, where Black Friday launched for the first time, triggering a sales drop in the weeks preceding it, a period in which retailers traditionally expect the uptick of the Christmas shopping period to begin. When retailers started communicating to consumers that Black Friday discounts were on the way, “What they did was say to people, ‘Don’t shop with us now, shop with us on Black Friday,’” says Mulcahy. “Inadvertently, they stopped sales.”

Panicked, many actually ended up offering even greater discounts, further diminishing their margins. “People sold quite a lot of stock, but they weren’t getting the kind of mark-up that they would have liked,” explains Mulcahy.

A similar picture is emerging this year. Full-price trading for the Autumn/Winter period has been “drastically shortened,” as customers defer purchases and sales start earlier, says Roberta Benteler, founder and managing director of London-based luxury etailer Avenue 32. “The fourth quarter is virtually unrecognisable from the same trading period five years ago,” she says.

The origins of Black Friday

Before the recession, sales were generally biannual events, a way for retailers to clear stock before the new season arrived. Stores supplemented this strategy with additional promotions, but it was only after 2007 that Black Friday began in earnest.

“It is really a hangover from the recession,” explains Philip Benton, senior retail analyst at Euromonitor, who says that consumers suddenly became more prudent with their purchases. “The whole global meltdown actually made them think again about how they spend,” agrees Tsivrikos.

“A lot of retailers that are around today experienced a huge scare during the recession,” says Yarrow. “They were really fighting to stay alive.” In an effort to increase footfall and shift excess inventory, they slashed prices — and have been doing so ever since.”

The rise of the savvier shopper

This post-recession discounting also helped give rise to a savvier shopper. “We’ve witnessed a new wave, almost a new breed of consumers,” says Tsivrikos. “They want to be good with money. They want to actually know how selling works.”

This change in consumer mind-set was further compounded by the emergence of online shopping, as e-retailers like Amazon not only gave customers access to discounts all year round, but also enabled them to  shop around for better deals. “We started shopping online, driven by discounts,” says Martin Coedo Mestre, commerce strategy leader at IBM. As a result, the balance of power between company and consumer began to shift. Now, “people are in command,” Mulcahy says.

There was also a growing off-price retail sector — made up of outlet stores, discount retailers and companies dedicated to selling old or surplus stock at discount — to compete with. In the US, sales of off-price footwear and apparel have increased 40 percent since 2009, according to estimates by RBC Capital Markets. In an increasingly crowded, increasingly discounted market, retailers wanting to compete for custom had to offer more for less. “Five years ago, luxury companies would not admit that they sold online or in discounted, flash-sale stores. Now, they do it pretty openly,” says IBM’s Coedo Mestre.

Psychology of sales shopping

So what is the allure of going on sale? Retailers are well aware that shopping in sales feels good — and not just because you’re saving money. David Lewis, a neuropsychologist and the chairman of Mindlab, a neuroscience and communications insight firm, says that, for some shoppers, getting a good deal can feel like “a kind of buzz on steroids.” Sales seize on what Lewis describes as “fun fear” — the fear that you might miss out on a bargain — followed by a “pleasurable swell of excitement” at the moment of purchase.

Shoppers often unconsciously approach sales from “an evolutionary perspective,” says Dimitrios Tsivrikos, consumer and business psychologist at University College London. “They’re becoming hunters and gatherers again… fighting for resources, wandering around taking everything off the shelves.” To tap this fear of missing out, retailers heavily promote Black Friday as a “one-off” opportunity to get better-than-ever discounts. But are the risks of discounting really worth it?

Black Friday: golden opportunity or vicious cycle?

This year, a few retailers have turned their backs on Black Friday. In the US, outdoor clothing chain REI will keep its doors shut and stop processing online orders, but still pay its staff. President and chief executive Jerry Stritzke told press that he wanted to encourage REI’s workers to “be outside,” a decision he said was more authentic to the brand. Walmart-owned British supermarket Asda, where, last year, fights broke out amongst customers in some stores over discounted merchandise, also announced it was pulling out. (Macy’s and Kohl’s, conversely, will open for Black Friday shopping at 6pm on Thursday.)

Other brands have found ways to create buzz around Black Friday, without actually discounting. “Obviously, when there’s a lot of traffic in stores, it’s important that our brands capitalise on that opportunity,” says Chris Good, president of the Estée Lauder Companies UK & Ireland. Brands owned by the company — such as Jo Malone, Bobbi Brown and Crème de la Mer — use incentives like personalised engraving and illustration on packaging, limited edition products and gifts with purchase, to create a sense of value. “We are offering the consumer something that’s very differentiated to the normal experience you would have,” says Good.

However, many find themselves in a catch-22. “Sales are so much more common, even throughout the year, that people are having to compete,” says Euromonitor’s Benton, who explains that retailers are worried “about where the consumer is going to spend their money, because there’s much more competition and choice.”

Indeed, now that customers have learned to expect large discounts on Black Friday, it is very difficult for stores to break the cycle of sales. Retailers “can try and rationalise in terms of discounts — to try and bring them down a bit,” says IMRG’s Mulcahy. However, “If your lead competitor says, ‘We’re going to do 30 percent off and were going to do it on everything,’ then it puts a lot of pressure on you to do it yourself.”

These Fabulous Boutiques are Delivering Black Friday Deals

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Oh yes, the holidays are here. For many of you, the jingle bells may be less jolly and more maddening, but for me the holidays are a time for joy; the warm fuzzies, gathering with family, reuniting, being thankful, reflective, and enjoyably, generous…which, generally, turns into me getting a little crazy with the credit card on Christmas gift purchases (and perhaps a little indulgence for myself).

And I’m just speculating, but I bet some of you are wondering why I’m talking about the holidays already, when Thanksgiving hasn’t even occurred. Well to all the Grinch’s and all the Scrouge’s, Thanksgiving is all but two days away, and the day after marks open season for madness of holiday shopping.

Closeup on christmas shopping bags in hand of smiling young woman

I’ve been reading a book that has given me a lot of perspective on the clothes I wear, the places I shop, and my purchase behavior. This has also given me much thought into the carnivorous culture that is Black Friday; thrashing for the best deals, with little question of how great of a deal we’re actually getting (or lack thereof). Big-box retailers draw you in with their alluring, sometimes ambiguous, deep promotions. As a pursuer of entrepreneurship, I’m obviously a proponent of supporting small business, but as a consumer, learning what I have, my support has only become greater.

I’m not trying to damn Black Friday or consumerism, instead I’m trying to shift the focus from the fast fashion frenzy and big box retailer’s outrageous super sales*, back to our own communities, neighbors, and friends.

*Sale on limited product, while supplies last, for the first 2000 customers only, read terms of agreement, only available in Canada, may be life-threatening.

So if you want to experience the reward of supporting local businesses, or supporting your community economically; if you want to find something for yourself, something that will turn eyes, something that stands out and instills confidence; if you want to find a totally unique gift, or pretty much win at Secret Santa; if you want to be recognized as an individual, respected, and appreciated for your support, you can find it here:

Oh, and yes, these charming boutiques also have super sweet Black Friday deals too 😉

 

:Ivy Hill:

All things accessories, clothing, and gifts! Located in Ladue. This Black Friday, you can anticipate 20% off everything in store, I’ll say that one more time; 20% off EVERYTHING in the entire store! If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.

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Check out more stuff from Ivy Hill‘s insta!

 

:Leopard:

Fabulous, affordable, fashion! Located in Webster Groves (WG native, whoop!) and St. Charles. Leopard will open @8am Friday morning in both locations, with these awesome doorbuster specials!

Select sweaters $29.99

Select dresses $29.99

Select tops $19.99

Good Works Bracelets for $14.99 (regularly $18-26)

On Small Business Saturday, you can expect 10% off everything in store, PLUS, a free gift with purchase!! Both locations will open @10am Saturday morning.

Check out more stuff from Leopard‘s insta!

:Living Collective:

A women’s lifestyle shop of carefully curated clothing and accessories! Located in the Central West End. On Black Friday you can expect 15% of all orders (code word: PUMPKINPIE), PLUS free shipping on all orders Friday-Monday!

Check out more stuff from Living Collective‘s insta!

I’m not going to tell you to stop shopping at the big box stores, but I will leave you with this; you cannot deny these delicious deals, nor the self-reward for your support. This year, give the gift of supporting small business!

 

Where the Magic Happens

This is my place. My creative place. My inspiration. My drive. My force and my fire. This place here, is where the magic happens.

It’s important to have a place to retreat when you’re at a creative roadblock. Somewhere that motivates and inspires you; anywhere from a park bench to a busy coffee house. My place happens to be conveniently tucked away inside my apartment; complete with my very own handmade desk (with tremendous help from my boyfriend) and wall of distractions—ehem, inspiration. Or as I like to call it, the original Pinterest board.

I find it necessary, if not mandatory for the sake of your eye wellness, to take your focus off the screen and let your eyes wander for a moment. In my case, it’s a must. Not only does this relieve my sensitive eyes, but it’s quite pleasing to observe my collage. The collection and mixture of different styles, colors, and trends give me inspiration (along with wardrobe envy) and serve as a constant reminder of why I want to get into this business.

For me this place is more than an office; it’s more than just a place to write. I imagine this place is where the beginning of my journey begins. Where all the research will be gathered, where all the questions will be answered, where communications and relationships will be developed, and where my dreams will become tangible. This is where the magic happens.