What is luxury?

images-2Luxury is word tossed around in the start-up world.  A definition I found on luxury is a material object, service, etc., conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity.  When I think of luxury items that is exactly what I think of….something not necessary. 

Luxury brands have been changing for years by going mainstream in order to cast a broader net.  Years ago when all the luxury brands began to expand their wings into any brick and mortar store that they could sell at I remember an experience I had.  I went into Scoop (a “luxury” chain that no longer exists) and tried on a sweater that I liked.  I hemmed and hawed because it was expensive and wasn’t sure I loved it.  The sales person tells me that there are only a few left and I essentially need to decide now.  I was totally turned off and made a mental note to myself that this was not a good sign.

My friend just started a blog called Dandelion Chandelier.  She is writing about the intersection of luxury, technology and marketing.  A worthy read.  She is thinking a lot about the topic of luxury, where it is going and where it has come from.

The product market is changing.  It has to change.  Malls are empty.  Department stores are lost.  Clothing companies like the Gap and Abercrombie are dying.  New brands are being built outside of ready to wear such as home furnishings.  Ready to wear brands need to know who their customer is.  How to create small lines that turn quickly.  If you don’t buy them when you see them they will be gone tomorrow.  Get consumers out of the wait and buy at discount mentality.  It is the small brands that have zeroed in on their customer who can be agile that will win.  They might not be the next $1b brand but that is ok, they are a generation of entrepreneurs who are going to do just fine by owning their own lives, their own businesses and be the leaders in the shifting of consumer spending.


Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    Malls are generally empty unless they are well chosen locations with well chosen outlets. I was talking to some mall operators. The inventory generally breaks down like this: 33% are dead. No hope. 33% are middling-they are going to die-or depending on surroundings they will make it. 33% are fine.Here is where it gets interesting to me. They are all usually near good transportation-public or highway. They have lots of free parking. They have space. Great startup ideas often take things that are tossed away or unusable in their present state and transform it into something different. I see a lot of untapped potential for malls if they make the right steps-but it means rethinking their business and taking on the regulatory powers of governments.

    1. Gotham Gal

      rethinking their businesses is the hard part…for them.

    2. lisa hickey

      What if malls did more with fitness, technology and community? (I’m on a fitness craze lately, lol). But really–the anchor stores are usually clothing stores, and feeling fit and good about yourself would be a huge reason for buying more clothes that look good on you. So, if they had a super-great gym (use all that space, all that parking!). May be with classes that were designed more for socialization and fun, playgrounds/obstacle courses for adults. But they also had some places that thought about technology and community differently. So you could go to the mall—work out, use the space as a work space or socialization space, and make a few purchases while you were there. And I don’t mean just a “bigger” mall—I think a more concise, user-friendly experience would be a game changer. What would the map look like if it wasn’t designed by chance but thought of like a media company thinks about things (i.e., using a consumers time as efficiently as possible). It would take real leadership to make it happen, but as a person who hates malls with a passion—I could actually see going to a mall again if it were redesigned as above.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Exactly. Why can’t there be grocery, co-working, pet sitting, child care and private education in malls?

        1. lisa hickey

          Yes! That would be so cool, to go into a mall store and spend an hour learning something. AND….if it was something you couldn’t learn anywhere else, that would make it luxury learning!

        2. LE

          Malls require a certain balance at least in the past. So the mix was pre-defined to so many shoe stores so many women’s stores so many places you could get a man’s suit. Department store anchors. The idea was that if you went to the mall you’d have choice but not to much choice. And mom and dad and kids could go (remember arcades) and have something to do. My point is if they deprecate that to include non traditional uses that density goes down and that would have an impact on the viability of the remaining stores (meaning only 1 shoe store maybe you wouldn’t go there).If you look at strip shopping centers you can always tell the shit ones because they include things that don’t really belong that mess up the retail mix. Things like tax offices, dental or doctors offices and so on. That is generally less desirable than having the “right” thing in the shopping area which creates more business for all merchants.

  2. lisa hickey

    I used to to think “luxury” when it came to products just meant “more expensive”.But now I would prefer to re-define it as “solving a need that the average person didn’t know they had.”Examples:1) Cars. Cars serve a need—to get you from point A to point B safely and reliably. But a luxury car gets you there in comfort, or lets you love the driving experience itself. You don’t “need” comfort—-except when you drive a lot and it dramatically increases the quality of your life. If I decide comfort while driving is a necessity, a luxury car is no longer a luxury.2) The Apple Watch — I think part of the misfire was to think of “luxury” in terms of economics. But what Apple has been great at in the past is getting functionality and user experience to be so great that people “need” Apple products in order to do their best work. So…if I were Apple, I would re-define luxury for the watch as a) understanding that what people “use” it for is fitness. b) being fit is actually a need of most people, not a luxury c) how can you build in “luxury” components to fitness that simply bring that experience up to a level not available in other products? What else can it measure? Can it give you advice for future workouts? Use geolocations to, say, give you updates on any dance classes in the area at a time (or whatever you love to do). Can it measure other things besides “steps”, such as bike travel, elevation, speed, etc.3) Women’s Designer Clothing. Women’s luxury clothing and accessories (and warning, I am about to be controversial) is often used as a signal to say “I am attractive but I am also inaccessible. Don’t approach me if you are ‘out of my league'”. NOTE: Before I get misinterpreted—I don’t think this is always conscious, nor do I think it is necessarily a bad thing. Women are subject to sexual harassment all the time. After all—until recently, it was permissible in court to use what a women was wearing to prove she was “asking” for sexual assault. Think about that for a moment. If a court of law believes clothing is a signal for sexual advances, surely the rest of the culture does. “Luxury” clothing allowed women to be really attractive without getting subject to *that* kind of sexism.For those people developing luxury products, I would suggest diving deep into the needs that most people aren’t even talking about.

    1. Gotham Gal

      all great examples.

    2. LE

      signal to say “I am attractive but I am also inaccessible. Don’t approach me if you are ‘out of my league'”Lisa I want to give another perspective on this from a man’s point of view. When I see an older woman who is well put together [1] I have an immediate respect for her in a way that I don’t for a (for lack of a better way to put it) a “schlep”. I emphasize “older” simply to point out that it’s not a sexual thing at all. This is exactly the same for men as well. With regard to myself, I have noticed that I get treated differently when I have on a suit (rare occurrence) than when I am in dungarees (almost everyday) and a tshirt. [2] There is no doubt that the well put together woman or man derives a psychic benefit from dressing a certain way. Some of this of course is imagined (what I call “party in your brain”) but some of it is also real. As a rough generalization people who dress up tend to get better treatment and possibly more respect. There are ways around this of course and not everyone cares about it (I don’t for example) but it is still out there.You don’t “need” comfort—-except when you drive a lot and it dramatically increases the quality of your life.I have an SUV and a sports car. I don’t even drive that much (my office is very close to where I live). I get a buzz just from driving to work in the morning (3 to 4 minutes) and picking up coffee beforehand. But only in the sports car on longer trips the SUV (which is luxury) is the way to go. What’s interesting is that when I met my 2nd wife I thought she should (given her job) get a nicer car. She resisted for years saying she didn’t need anything nicer. She finally succumbed to my brainwashing and bought a luxury SUV. She thanks me all the time (well that’s an exaggeration for sure) because it has made her commute (as you say everyday) so much better and also shlepping the kids around a nicer experience.[1] For example a women in her 80’s who is dressed like the queen in elegance.[2] For me it’s more I don’t want any attention.

  3. Pia

    Super interesting question.On the one hand you say you were turned off by the fact that there were only a few sweaters left, on the other you encourage brands to produce small lines that consumers have to buy if they don’t want to miss out. This doesn’t make sense to me. Can you explain?Furthermore, let’s recognise that what used to define luxury – exclusivity, scarcity, non-necessity – now no longer exists / applies to almost all consumer goods.Luxury today means 1) time 2) space 3) privacy 4) craftsmanship 5) personalised service and product i.e. NOT commodities, not anything anyone can replicate with money alone. Cause everyone has money & access now (credit cards)

    1. Gotham Gal

      Insanely expensive sweater that’s mass produced with an expectation that it’s a toss away.

  4. awaldstein

    Recently went on a minor binge buying clothes, luggage and an assortment of items online. The experience, the no cost shipping, the amazing customer service, the crazy dedication to customer acquisition at almost any cost, is a whole new ballgame.

    1. Gotham Gal

      it is an entire new ballgame. #ecommerce

  5. panterosa,

    Beauty is still calming (whatever the price and wherever you find it).Quality is still valued.Unique pieces, if excellent, are risky and charming.Luxury is often declared dead, but so long as pretentiousness is alive, there will always be someone selling them, and the insecure, their soul filling goods and services.I’m waiting for pretentiousness to die out and have real luxury rise out of her ashes like a phoenix. Perhaps luxury should be redefined as appreciation.

  6. Elton Graham

    Enjoyed this post and great reference to Dandelion Chandelier. Your post inspired me to go back and revisit a blog post that I wrote back in 2010, which was in turn inspired by thinking if Luxury really belonged online. A quick 9 min. read on Medium:https://medium.com/@eltonx/…I have several thoughts/points in the article, but the main ones related to luxury products or services are:- Luxury inherently is only for and appreciated by a few. That’s what makes it a luxury. It is absolutely not for everyone. This is by design. – Luxury is inefficient, much like life itself. Materials are often scarce, production takes time and people and manual interactions are involved rather than machines or assembly lines. – Luxury reflects a way of life or symbolizes/supports a unique point-of-view that is held dearly to those who buy the product/service. – Luxury has very subtle attributes and signals that most people can not distinguish on the surface of the product/service. – Luxury is not mass communicated or “sold” in stores. It is discriminating, which can be very off-putting. This is why *real* luxury often sees having to market as vulgar, to themselves and to their customers. – Luxury is about a “means”, not a means to an end. Mass produced (even well made mass produced) items are usually a means to an end. Think McDonalds cheese burger (I’m hungry!) v. eating a meal with a dear friend at Mimi (I want to feel the intimate experience and share it, hunger not considered).If I put Luxury online or I had physical stores that sold *real* luxury sweaters, I would charge people to just get into my website or store. Think how strong your luxury message would have to be in order to support an entry fee just to enter!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Interesting topic. Does Luxury belong online?