Lately the luxury fashion industry has been morphing beyond recognition to match the shifting needs of a new consumer frontier. And rightfully so. Millennials and Generation Z are about to enter their prime spending years and become 45% of the global luxury market by 2025.
Luxury is no longer about the mere accumulation of stuff. An industry that still relies on seasonal marketing campaigns, sales floors and biannual runway shows is only now starting to talk to a generation that expects brands to have a compelling point of view, shareable experiences and authenticity.
The Louis Vuittons, Burberrys and Fendis of the world have no time to lose in getting with the times. Here’s a quick rundown on the forces shaping youth culture today and how it influences luxury fashion.
“From Vans to Valentino and Nike to Balenciaga.”
–– Paige Thomas, Nordstrom
The popularity of pop-ups, the success of limited-edition product releases (or “drops”) and the dominance of streetwear labels can’t be ignored any longer. Monolithic luxury department stores like Barneys, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s are learning from avant-garde spaces like Dover Street Market, Maxfield and Ssense, which display streetwear alongside designer labels. Yes, placing an Adidas baseball cap over a Balmain-adorned mannequin borders on blasphemy. But dividing offerings into tired categories of prices and styles isn’t appealing or useful to younger consumers. To them, blasphemy be damned.
This convergence of high and low – the death of compartmentalization – has larger implications for the way we organize fashion in physical spaces. Luxury department stores cannot afford to offer one over the other. The more they mix it up, the better their shot at returning to relevance.
“It’s kind of an illusion that choice is the equivalent of freedom or individuality or whatever. It’s actually sometimes the opposite.”
–– Josh Goot, WARDROBE.NYC
Uniforms are traditionally thought to be in direct conflict with individuality. Soldiers, prisoners, laborers, schoolchildren, sports teammates and the like all wear uniforms to reinforce their collective identity.
But WARDROBE.NYC is slowly changing that perception, emphasizing instead the power and elegance of the personal uniform. As a modern, practical take on dressing, the company sells four-piece and eight-piece capsule collections with minimal variation.
The tech bro uniform – like Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck or Mark Zuckerberg’s gray t-shirt – fulfills efficiency by eliminating choice and freeing one up to do more important things. WARDROBE.NYC applies brand thinking to this phenomenon and peddles the idea of the signature ensemble.
In a choice-filled age fueled by variety and excess, we’re being hit by an avalanche of options every day, from our coffee to our clothes. Will the anxiety of it all one day get to us? Will a lack of choice feel liberating? Will this eventually lead us towards an anti-customization economy? We may already be on the way.
“I’m on Gucci.”
–– Childish Gambino
Of all the luxury fashion houses striving to attract a younger audience, Gucci is getting it the most right. Its roaring popularity can be attributed almost entirely to the vision and strategy of creative director Alessandro Michele, who boosted the legacy brand to cult status. Last year Gucci brought in EUR 6.2 billion, a whopping 45% increase over the previous year.
The interlocking G, a logo that would otherwise be considered tacky and a dated status symbol, is now driving people to its stores in droves. The secret? A renewed focus on digital and experiential tactics. The #TFWGucci collaborative meme project, the severed heads and baby dragons at the Autumn/Winter 2018 show and the Meghan Markle Effect have all gone viral, earning the brand some serious points in social media health.
Gucci’s bold, kitschy, maximalist, whimsical aesthetic informs everything from its accessories to its newest space on Manhattan’s Wooster Street. It’s also hip-hop’s favorite brand – Lil Pump loves it (“Gucci Gang”); Radric Davis is named after it (Gucci Mane); Kanye West added it to our lexicon (“What’s Gucci?”). And now the brand’s collaborating with the ultimate designer who embodies the gangster chic aesthetic – Harlem’s legendary Dapper Dan.
Gucci seems to have figured out what the rest of them haven’t – polished and carefully crafted content is out the window, and fashion shows aren’t just about the clothes.
“We regret to inform you that there is no future. Nor is there a past. Music, art, technology, pop culture, and fashion have evaporated as well. There is only one thing left: the big flat now.”
–– Joerg Koch, 032c
The fluidity of the internet allows us to be everyone everywhere at any time. Moreover, it is the great leveler – anything that can be bought can be Googled. Now that Balenciaga shares the screen with Billabong, hierarchies disappear, culture becomes an infinite plane and Koch’s prophecy rings true. We’re living in the big flat now.
Game-changers like Supreme (congratulations on the CFDA win), Louis Vuitton, Off-White and Gucci have irrevocably redefined luxury: what it means, who gets to wear it and how it’s being sold.
There’s also how it’s being made. The fashion industry is slowly coming to grips with its many problems: size, environmental sustainability, racial and gender diversity. All eyes are on the brands, both existing and upstarts, to see if they take a meaningful stance. Anything on the market that isn’t already ethical, responsible, inclusive, collaborative, immersive and accessible is so last century.
With the rise of online shopping, social media hype and shareable experiences, millennials literally have brands in the palm of their hands. In the next chapter of luxury fashion, the movers and shakers will be rewarded, and the rigid will be banished to irrelevance.