Mark Tungate : Luxury brands must return to their innovative roots

08 : 11 : 2009 The Fifth Scenario : Mark Tungate : Concierge Culture
Luxury World by Mark Tungate Luxury World by Mark Tungate

Mark Tungate’s new book, Luxury World: The Past, Present and Future of Luxury Brands, argues that the concept of luxury has lost its original meaning. Luxury once referred to genuinely prestigious products; today, as Tungate notes, it often simply denotes overpriced commodities.

Tungate begins with the history of luxury, at the headquarters of the world’s leading luxury brands and industries, including Bentley and Piaget; he also explores the abstract concept of luxury, which includes intangibles such as time, knowledge and wellbeing. He notes that both today’s and tomorrow’s consumers will demand more emotional engagement, and environmental and social sophistication from brands. Tungate describes some of the key ideas that luxury brands will need to embrace in order to thrive. These include longevity and meaning, which he classes as ‘treasuring’, plus eco luxury, analogue products and ‘social luxury’.

‘Treasuring’ is a concept that harks back to traditional perceptions of luxury (see our take on this renewed take on luxury in our report on Alphalux). Tungate suggests that the luxury consumer is now more interested in products with meaning and longevity, rather than short-lived tokens of status and elitism. Some companies are already responding to this desire. Slowear, a respected Italian clothing company, offers a seal of guarantee on a selection of brands that reflect its philosophy, history and authenticity, including outfitters such as Incotex and Zanone.

This more considered perception of luxury is also evident, Tungate claims, in a shift towards eco-luxury products and services. ‘In the 90s, you could make a t-shirt, put your luxury brand name on it and expect it to sell,’ Tungate tells LS:N Global. ‘Those days are definitely over. Instead, we’re going to see a lot more luxury with an ecological twist – you can have the ultimate in comfort and luxury, but you don’t have to wreck the planet and its resources.’ A recent example is the Wally Hermès Yachts super-yacht collaboration. The super-luxe yachts are made from sustainable materials, and recycle all their own organic and inorganic waste.

Tungate also explains why luxury brands have been slow to shift into the digital retail landscape, and explores the ways that digital will increasingly be the crucial medium for luxury brands to communicate and sell to consumers in the future.

Our top five take-outs

1: Go digital. Tungate notes luxury brands’ wariness of the internet. He claims they are concerned that the medium is not sufficiently emotional, compared to the tactile, face-to-face boutique experience. ‘The only way luxury brands are going to tackle the web experience is to try and create some of the beauty that they provide in their stores’ online environment,’ says Tungate.

2: Keep analogue part of your mix. It maintains a sense of tradition, quality and artisanal values. In the ongoing debate about online and offline content, Tungate believes newspapers are next on the list for ‘analogue snobbery’. In the same way that magazines are being repositioned as quality coffee table books, Tungate believes newspapers will distance themselves from the web, publicise their traditional printing techniques and portray their writers as craftsmen.

3: Fish for talent in a wider pool. ‘Luxury fashion brands rarely go outside the elite luxury branding community,’ notes Tungate. ‘Each season they use a narrow pool of people for all the luxury brands, so everything looks like glossy magazine advertising.’ Tungate suggests this has led to a lack of creativity; looking beyond the current circle should spur innovation.

4: ‘It’s not what you buy, it’s who you buy.’ When Tungate unpacks his ‘social luxury’ trend, he explains the social links that support luxury consumption. Luxury companies should offer this via concierge services, as reported in our Concierge Culture report.

5: Look east. Tungate suggests that luxury brands look to Asia for inspiration, referring to luxury innovators such as Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons. Asia may well be the place to look for the next concepts that are ahead of their time. See our report on the Fifth Scenario trend for more ideas.

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