Don’t Try and Tell a Woman What Luxury Means
Recessions aren’t all bad. They make people think about how they spend their money and what’s interesting about this recession for anyone taking the time to look is that some of the luxury brands, like Mulberry, aren’t tanking but are actually doing better than ever, thank you very much. Women are continuing to invest in to-die-for luxury items when they know they can amortise the cost over a number of years on a per wear basis. There’s going to be a cull of ersatz luxury brands in this recession, and if the brand owners don’t do it, the shoppers will, turning their backs on the brands that ignore the shift that’s taken place in the value equation to favour longevity.
The word masstige, which promised so much is now obvious for what it always was: a just-credible-enough promise to be able to spin gold out of everyday base metals and a way of suckering punters into paying over the odds for same-as-ever products in slightly fancier packaging.
What’s happening now is that luxury values are being reasserted by people who know what it means. Real luxury is a product crafted to deliver a perfect fusion of beautiful form (well, we all knew that) with a superior function: if it doesn’t work better, it just ain’t luxury.
I was raised in Denmark, by a mother engaged to the point of obsession with the appearance and ergonomic function of every single piece of furniture in the house. The original Danish design aesthetic was inspired by a post-war dearth of materials, which meant that there was no time and no money for anything that didn’t do exactly what it should. My mother would have laughed if someone had suggested a Philippe Starck Lord Yo was a chair. On my wrist as I write this, is my grandmothers gold Audemars Piquet watch: it’s seen three or four or recessions and it’s a true luxury item because it still works just as well as it did the day my grandfather bought it for her. The craftsmanship and design are so superior that it still looks like new.
And then there was the 90s and early Noughties and we ended up with Tanner Krolle: it did all the luxury things just right, floating itself into wealthy consciousness with big expensive advertising, sparing no cost on a Knightsbridge shop fit, and of course charging hundreds for a handbag which was too heavy to carry: so much weight implied so much leather, so much leather implied so much quality. In fact back then, such a ridiculous arm-wrenching weight seemed the definition of extrovert luxury. Now? Just another over-priced, underworn, dysfunctional accessory. And just before you men laugh at us women, are you still wearing that oversized, over-engineered watch that sat proud on your wrist and ruined the cuff of your beautiful Prada suit?
If luxury is now form and function, who’s doing well? Continuing to look at the battle of the luggage, you might be surprised to know the big match is Mandarina Duck vs Louis Vuittion. LV is coming out firing on all guns with the celeb-led, big, expensive advertising campaign shot by Annie Leibovitz: convincing us all that the Noughties, in fact the late 90s, never happened. Just one problem: LV wheelie suitcases don’t handle all that well. Mandarina Duck on the other hand has put its money into R and D and come up with a wheelie-case that handles just like a Porsche. No joke, visit the store full of doubt about what the hell this rather quirky brand stands for, give the bag a wheel around the floor and half an hour later you’ll be showing it off back in the office. In the current climate, you can brag about function, you can’t brag about the price.
There’s also a return to natural fibres – silk and cashmere are a joy to the touch of course, but they also breathe and insulate well. From my experience founding Myla and now as creative director of a women’s luxury fashion brand, I know the two busiest shopping days are Christmas Eve when all the husbands are shopping, and the day you open up again after Christmas, when all the wives are bringing back anything that doesn’t fit exactly, or work exactly as it should. Hence the largest single portion of my time is iteratively refining fit and function.
Finally, my top pick for AW09 is the perfect LBD with a twist from Italian niche label Etro. It’s made of silk, it’s cut to perfection, and its quiet style means it will be a wardrobe staple for years. It’s not cheap, but then luxury never is.