February 4, 2014

The Internet Killed the Luxury Brand

At the beginning of January I was having a discussion about fashion with a colleague at work -  he's Italian and his family is involved with the fashion industry in Milan, so that makes him an expert, right? We have a similar chat every season, however, this time it was different, not because I missed our previous season's discussion but because my views have changed - you've probably noticed I rarely write about fashion anymore. He asked me who and what I was watching and I said no one. I'm done with those shows and mass marketed pseudo luxury.

You see, back in the olden days before the Internet, fashion bloggers, and phony street style street style blogs, one of the defining aspects of a luxury item was the exclusivity of the item itself. One never, well at least in Vancouver, saw an Hermes bag for example, in real life. I remember going to LA in the early 90s and being awe struck over actually seeing people - in real life - wearing the luxury pieces I'd seen only in magazines - well not so much in awe, but maybe blown away that someone actually spent that much money, after all, it was the grunge era, but you know what I mean. The price, back then, signified high quality - hence luxury. Exclusivity was one of the defining aspects of luxury brands that actually made them luxury. One rarely, if ever, saw the pieces except for on the pages of magazines.

Now, because of the Internet, we see these luxury brands everywhere. How many times have you seen that bloody Givenchy sweatshirt with the rottweiler on it or the green Kenzo one with the tiger? Do you think a sweatshirt is luxury? I do, only if it's my thirty year old Oregon Ducks one I borrowed from my buddy in 1986 (and my husband wants to burn).

Today's silly nouveau riche, and their sixteen year old Lamborghini driving children, have turned what were once luxury brands into nothing more than mass marketed, mass consumed, cheaply produced crap. In the music industry the term is, It's not the band it's their fans. For Gucci, the term was Victoria Beckham. For the Le Corbusier estate it was people in general.

To quell this disaster marketers have had to coin a new term - ultra luxury.  The term luxury, like the term hang in there - has become meaningless.

So, my colleague and I, at the end of our conversation, could not come to an agreement on how low the Prada side part should go, but we did, without debate, agree that Karl Lagerfeld should retire.


  1. I would wonder why Karl Lagerfeld puts his face everywhere, diet coke, macy's, videos games, safety cones, clothing line after clothing line, being at Fendi and Chanel, it can't be because he needs the money! Though what's popular on the internet should be taken with a grain of salt, as it's very different from what popular in "real life." The average person would not know (or care) the difference between an Hermes bag from a Chanel unless there is a very obvious branding on it. Versus on the internet, you'd think they handed out Chanel 2.55s (and New Balance sneakers) for free! I too think exclusivity should be a factor in luxury. Take for example in the county I live in (say 25 mi. radius), there are 3 Louis Vuitton within 30 minutes of each other, and that's not even counting the Louis Vuittons within the department stores. And furthermore, Vuitton is sold all over the world, and you can even buy Vuitton without leaving the house from their online store. I'm not knocking them, Vuitton does beautiful things, but it does make one go "hmmm..." that their products while having luxury prices, are not exactly "exclusive" because whoever wants them can easily access them.

  2. Exactly! I read something somewhere about how "luxury" brands have a hard time with e-retail because of the very fact you can buy them anywhere now - even Amazon (where you can buy it cheaper for what the brand itself sells it for). Consumers are "show rooming", that is, trying stuff on in the stand alone store and then shopping around online to find it cheaper. The argument is that smaller, more unique brands will be more successful online because of this - they are unique and hard to find - less chance of "show rooming". It used to be that way when eBay first started. Back in 1999 I was averaging around $250 per vintage leather coat I sold on the platform - now you can't even sell them for $25. So, there we have it Economics 101 - supply and demand. The Internet, in a sense, is skewing demand. P, you've nailed it on the head - one would think they were giving the stuff away for free (and they may very well be doing so). These" luxury brands for the Joneses" (I'll borrow your term) are popping up like bad product placements in movies and TV shows.

    Give the Le Corbusier case a read - I found the actual formal complaint online somewhere. The estate argued that by having certain chairs freely and randomly appear in certain images (eg a business setting), Average Joe would see them in this setting and hence cheapen the product. The average person would see the chair in the ad and think 'Hey, cool chair' and go and find some knock off not even realizing what they were buying was a knock off piece of design history - a piece that's worth thousands of dollars, not $199. The Le Corbusier estate successfully sued Getty Images.


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All the best, Stacy