As the world gets back to not-quite-normal, luxury brands are uniquely positioned to make a difference. Arguably, they even have a responsibility to do so — because they are aspirational to everyone, while they are purchased by high net-worth people who have the resources and the influence to change things for the better. In realtime, luxury brands can point the way forward for the rest of us.
This may seem like a conceptual oxymoron. After all, isn’t luxury by definition unnecessary?
We say no. Think about it. Virtually everything we take for granted today was, at one point in its emergence, a luxury. Decent shoes. An education. Electric cars. The category we call “luxury” is in many ways a testing ground for how we will all live in the future.
Granted, this doesn’t explain the excesses of the 10K handbag or the wear-it-once couture gown. But let’s leave those aside for the moment. Luxury brands (as opposed to luxury goods) signify where we as a culture assign value. The goods they produce are simply the medium. And there’s no reason those goods, given their price point, couldn’t be ethically sourced, artisan-made and of high enough quality to last generations. Unlike fast fashion high street retailers with whom luxury increasingly competes.
The realtime change-the-world opportunity lies in a luxury brand’s meaning — what it stands for to those who wear the badge. How that meaning, nearly always a promise, is invoked by those who love and ascribe to luxury’s near-magical power. And once created, how that promise delivered by those who actually run the business.
It’s easy to re-imagine Gucci as a badge of quality and craftsmanship — enabling traditions of quality to thrive. Prada for many has come to signify innovation: how might their association with leading-edge architects evolve to take on some of the world’s most significant challenges? After all, our greatest hurdles will require avant garde thinking. And Burberry, a timeless benchmark of heritage and British style, could certainly take on some big issues relating to sustainability, self-sufficiency and personal empowerment. Why not fight the good fight? The trenchcoat’s name, after all, comes from the front lines of conflict: the trenches.
In realtime, luxury brands can motivate and inspire their loyal fans to action, offer an ideal way of living responsibly and compassionately, and by doing so, provide a point of view that guides even those who can’t afford the goods but admire the meaning. Quiet, powerful influence. That’s the wellspring of value in this still-new century.