It’s the early hours of the morning, New York is waking, and a Givenchy-clad Audrey Hepburn stares mysteriously through a gleaming store window. This opening scene to ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is emblematic of so much of what luxury stands for; the mystery, the wonder and a level of accessibility that is near enough to admire, but kept behind a veil that only the fortunate few can lift. Luxury will always be defined in terms that set one group away from the crowd. But how true is this of luxury brands today?
With the new challenges of the Internet, many luxury brands have undertaken a strategy wherein a product should be featured on a digital platform but not sold on a digital platform. It means people can meet and fall in love with a brand online, but this love cannot be ‘consummated’ by a single click. From a product perspective, these brands are only revealing the tip of the iceberg online, showcasing accessories over top end merchandise, which remains limited to their stores. Whilst these are intelligent responses in maintaining exclusivity online and tempting people in-store, it still feels that something is being lost along the way. For one, only showing the tip of the iceberg – as Hermès and others are doing – endangers the brand to being defined by the tip alone. That the aforementioned ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ scenario seems so dated is testimony to this.
One major factor is mystery. If you look at the kind of content being produced online by luxury brands, much of it is lacking this. Online streaming of fashion shows, not to mention the clips of the backstage, perhaps reveal too much to too many. Burberry is one of a number of brands adopting this kind of approach to digital content. The incredible results – in terms of increased fans and their engagement – makes these side-thoughts easy to ignore, but the long term consequence is this: that luxury brands simply become too accessible. This is not to say that online digitalized events cannot maintain brand mystery. Take Bulgari’s ‘Omnia Coral’ campaign. Using Facebook to showcase this perfume worked because nothing is lost in the exchange.
But this isn’t just a matter of keeping luxury contained to a small elite. Even within this elite over-accessibility is a danger. Things feel more special if they have been worked for. Be it waiting 3 months for a tailor made suit to arrive or even simply taking a trip a store…the ease and speed of the Internet simply don’t require effort.
So how does a brand manage this online/offline equilibrium? How do they remain inaccessible while being accessible? Well that is a golden question – literally. One brand doing this quite well is Chanel and two examples spring to mind. First, the ‘Inside Chanel’ series that stylistically explores the heritage of the eponymous founder and the brand’s journey. Secondly, their photography exhibitions around the world, all bound together by the ‘Little Black Jacket’. The brand uses the Internet to spread its reputation and ideology, yet all the while keeping the secrecy, mystery and exclusivity intact.
It comes down to this: How can desire be managed? It is inherent to human nature to want what you can’t have. But it is also wanting what other people can’t have that defines luxury and drives the forces behind it.
Coming up: Is digital disrupting luxury brands from providing the kind of in-store customer service expected of them?