Bond Street, the Champs-Élysées and that part of the airport you never step into.
By its very definition, the luxury industry should have a bar to entry dependent on the size of your wallet, right?
Well, my friend, that is the world of “old luxury” – the one of polo tournaments, yachts, caviar and a box at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The one filled with “old luxury” advertising, complete with wistful whispering. Where beautiful (mostly white) people wear, eat, drink and do beautiful things.
Why “old”? Because this audience is, literally, ageing and, to be blunt, dying.
Replacing it is a new global wealth: consumers with money made in a plethora of unexpected ways and emerging from unexpected places, be it Chengdu, Mumbai or Lagos.
While the super-rich are still at large, wealthy entrepreneurs, musicians, influencers and executives are ready to spend, but with a new set of values, expectations and desires.
Over the past five or so years, almost all storied, historical luxury brands that are flourishing have gone through a radical metamorphosis.
They have embraced a “new luxury”, a term coined by a symbol of this movement, Virgil Abloh, and discussed in the excellent book of the same name by Highsnobiety.
New luxury is inclusive instead of exclusive. It openly uses the cultural codes of mainstream pop culture to appeal to the many, even if only the few can actually afford to buy its products.
Following “new luxury” brands on Instagram can give people the same life-affirming thrill that saving up to buy your first Chanel bag used to.
And this new approach is producing significant financial results for luxury brands.
I first came across this term when working at Vice in 2015. Back then, Chanel had approached Vice and its fashion title i-D to help it get millennials into fragrance.
This inspired Vice to go after the luxury industry as a whole and I was part of a small team that set up “Amuse”, a millennial luxury channel that was dedicated to a “new luxury lifestyle”.
We used new luxury icons such as A$AP Rocky, Jourdan Dunn and Kiko Mizuhara to help audiences rethink what they thought “luxury” could be.
Experiences, not just products. Supporting a community, not individual status. You know the drill.
Amuse is still going, but it never quite took off in the way that we envisaged. Luxury brands we approached realised that working with a third party to do the “millennial part” of their marketing just didn’t go far enough.
They needed to change wholesale to become millennial.
And that’s when the new luxury revolution took off.
From Fendi to Dior, Louis Vuitton to Balmain, and new players like Supreme, Fenty, Off White and Palace: the list of brands diving head first into “new luxury” is long and diverse.
So, to save time, I’ll highlight two iconic Italian luxury brands from two very different sectors, at different stages of their new luxury journey to show just how important “brand” is in this transition.
Under the leadership of creative director Alessandro Michele and chief executive Marco Bizzarri, the fortunes of the brand have turned around. More than 55% of sales at the Kering-owned prestige brand have been made by people under 35, from as early as 2017.
Michele embraced a “new Gucci” attitude which embraces the idea of the “big flat normal” – mixing and mashing eras and styles, from his maximalist Star Trek-inspired campaigns to subcultural northern soul-era roller discos. He helped create a “Gucci universe”, which has led to a colossal 40.9m followers on Instagram.
With diverse casting, meme-laiden Insta posts and a visual language that mixes lo-fi and hi-fi, Gucci has gone from “stuffy” to “zeitgeist” in just five years.
Whether you can afford a $10,000 dress or a $100 phone case, there is a way to feel a part of the tribe.
In doing so it has become the blueprint of a “new luxury” turnaround.
This takes me to a brand just starting its new luxury journey: Maserati [pictured, above].
The bigwigs at Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which owns the brand, hired ex-Nike chief marketing officer David Grasso last year, no doubt with a “New Gucci effect” in mind.
Luxury automotive is a fiercely conservative sector – perhaps one of the last bastions of “old luxury”. So putting a “non-car” person into the hotseat is as radical a move as appointing Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton in 2018.
Now, I should give a bit of a disclaimer here. My company is working with Maserati to help dive into this new luxury landscape.
But the mere fact the brand is willing to work with a small, non-auto, pop culture-focused company like ours, instead of a big network agency, is indicative of its direction of travel. Unexpected collaborators can lead to unexpected results.
FCA stumped up significant investment in recent years for Maserati R&D. It has resulted in some game-changing cars, such as the new MC20.
So now who these cars are being marketed to, and in what way, become the essential questions.
With an Instagram following of more than 11.1m, Maserati is primed to attract a new luxury audience.
It has begun the transition by looking at who defines what the brand looks like behind and in front of the camera: from young LBTQI+ directors launching its new supercar to modern, diverse casting ruffling the feathers of older, white Maserati fans, a more democratic approach to influencers, and more engaging interaction with fans.
Under Grasso’s leadership, Maserati in a short time has changed who it is for, and what kind of luxury it embodies, while trying to retain its die-hard fans.
The challenge now is to see whether the continued strides into “new luxury” will yield the financial results it needs to become a major player once again.
All this amounts to the fact that when you think about luxury marketing, the goal posts haven’t just moved, they are continuing to shift.
Old luxury methods are not landing on a global scale, and the rules of the new world are not totally written.
But one thing you can be damn sure about is an elitist and exclusive approach will cut a luxury brand off from a lucrative new audience.
So yup, that’s right. Luxury is for everyone.
Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock is co-founder of Soursop