The name of the luxury game

 
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Among avid consumers in the luxury space, a brand can be akin to a sport or religion, engendering a fierce sense of personal attachment and loyal following.

But what sits behind the name and the logo, if not the creative articulation of the brand through the product?

When Karl Lagerfeld sadly passed away in February this year, the fashion world was left contemplating how the French fashion power house, Chanel, would fare without its influential Creative Director. Big shoes to fill…

Creative direction is considered the linchpin of a luxury brand and a transition in this role can be unsettling. There was widespread criticism from Celine fans in 2018 when Hedi Slimane took the creative helm. His debut collection was met with disapproval from devotees who felt that he had supplanted the brand’s signature clothing with his own style. The Business of Fashion described it as a "gust of toxic masculinity". At the same time, the collections of his predecessor, Phoebe Philo, experienced a surge in online searches with items selling for up to 30% extra in price.

Yet change is inevitable, and we see creative talent moving in a game of musical chairs amongst fashion houses. New direction need not mean the death of a brand as we know it. In fact, it often brings a fresh new perspective. When Lagerfeld first joined Chanel in the early 1980s, he was not immediately met with open arms. He inherited 70 years of fashion legacy forged by Coco Chanel. In his 36 years at Chanel, however, Lagerfeld was responsible for cult items such as the haute couture tweed jackets, two-tone footwear and even the brand’s interlocking CC monogram. His name is now almost as synonymous with the brand as Coco herself and, in this way, the fashion house has proven it can thrive through transition.

Heritage and a signature styling is inherent to luxury branding, yet this need not be overly restrictive or a reason to rely on siloed creative visions.

Indeed, the luxury brands who are thriving are those who leverage the power of their heritage and who are progressive in engaging with the practical and creative desires of the modern luxury customer to generate relevance. The Kering-owned Italian fashion house, Balenciaga, posted more than 100% growth in 2018 across its core categories. The CEO attributed much of the recent success to targeting millennials, who make up 60% of the customer base, with products such as Triple S and Speed Trainers (seen above), designed specifically with these customers in mind.

Sophie Hardaker