Luxury Brands: Do They Have a Place Today?

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

Are the lifestyles of the rich and famous of poor taste today? It’s a valid question, considering what the world is facing at the current moment. We’re still contending with the pandemic and its variants, which have impacted lives and businesses, led to evictions and prompted job loss and foreclosures.

We are yearning for all manner of change and equity in our government and greater society. So, is the desire to possess or vend luxury items out of step?

I think the answer depends on what you value. Let me explain: Life involves a variety of encounters and levels of stratification in any group. As individuals, we want to express our individuality, which can come through art, dress, dance or general flair. But how do brands express and cultivate the desire to own something that many people covet yet will never have?

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Based on my experience, luxury buyers are aspirational purchasers and tend to buy prudently and know the value of the purchase. They buy for quality and lasting effect. But considering all the strife going on, how and why would anyone feel inclined to buy luxury items?

According to the Harvard Business Review, a few years (2003) back, the case was that many people felt the need to upgrade, and I expect the same is true today. Back then, Americans were “willing to pay premiums of 20% to 200% for the kinds of well-designed, well-engineered, and well-crafted goods — often possessing the artisanal touches of traditional luxury goods — not before found in the mass middle market. Most important, even when they address necessities, such goods evoke and engage consumers’ emotions while feeding their aspirations for a better life.”

When we at need advice in the area of luxury, we use a network of professionals to opine, like Vin Lee, CEO of Grand Metropolitan, a well-known luxury goods holding company. We’ve learned that the scarcity and value of luxury items remain important factors.

From the long view of things and considering that people place importance on personal expression, it appears, historically, that luxury is here to stay. But questions remain. Is it considered rude or flagrant to have luxury items? Should people regulate their buying or usage of the items? How can consumers feel comfortable in the face of potential scorn?

The Rolling Stone Culture Council is an invitation-only community for Influencers, Innovators and Creatives. Do I qualify?

One thing that can be done is to make sure your brand is visibly doing well in the area of social governance. Inclusive actions such as sponsoring up-and-coming designers and artists of color can bring a bottom-up feel to many of your firm’s efforts, making your brand well thought of as opposed to being regarded as out of touch and untouchable.

Online access to shopping has become increasingly acceptable for the luxury buyer. As we’ve witnessed during the pandemic, consumers have been sequestered to their homes, sitting on their couches with not much to do but browse and shop their favorite items online. This increased trend of buying online led to the feeling of Christmas Morning arriving in the form of packages on their porch every week.

When Covid-19 became a reality far more serious than a two-week pause, it was difficult for many of the middle-American luxury brands to pivot to an e-commerce relationship with their most ardent fans.

Newly formed companies would do well to take a page out of well-established luxury brands’ playbooks, buying up niche brands with the intent of relaunching them as pure-play online operators to hungry patrons. Iconic brands such as Barneys, Lord & Taylor and Pier 1 Imports were all snapped up and rebranded for today’s online consumers.

But, what’s the point of this whole luxury thing?

Well, according to Harvard Business School, it has some impact on behavior: “Are people who travel in town cars and on corporate jets different — on a psychological level — from you and me? Does the availability of luxury goods ‘prime’ individuals to be less concerned about or considerate toward others? The answer from new research seems to be yes.”

The fact is, the desire toward individuality leads to luxury’s door. After World War II, Americans had pent-up demand for innovative items and went on a buying spree to acquire them. Madison Avenue used every approach in the book to herd the consumer — and it worked, since people needed a lift. I expect that after our battle with the pandemic, the same feelings will emerge.

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