Can a Heritage Brand Capture a New Audience Without Alienating Its Loyalists?

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Today’s luxury brands are defined more than ever by their creative directors. From New Bottega to Old Celine, there is no denying that the individual at the helm of a heritage luxury brand has a profound impact not only on the brand, its designs, and its DNA but also on its fan base. And when a new designer steps into a creative director position, a shift is often felt, whether starkly or subtlely and immediately or over time.

House codes are reinvented, aesthetics are altered, and a brand can seismically shift with the appointment of someone new. Bottega Veneta is arguably the perfect example of this. When its parent company wanted to modernize, a new, young designer was appointed, and almost instantaneously, Daniel Lee had reinvented BV. Younger consumers, who had once overlooked Bottega Veneta’s classic designs, were running to the brand in hoards, clamoring to get their hands on a Pouch Bag. While the hype was, of course, good for business, with Bottega Veneta seeing a near-immediate increase in sales, loyalists of the brand had their worst fears come true, with classics like the Olimpia Bag and the Knot Clutch disappearing from store shelves.

All of this brought up a very pertinent question. Can a brand’s storied House codes and loyal fans coexist with its new ones? Let’s discuss.

A Hard Balance to Strike

The short answer is yes, but it is a tough balance to strike, and it can take years for a brand to find its groove again when a new creative director is appointed. The transition and financial growth are not always as seamless as it was at Bottega Veneta. Take, for example, Celine’s transitional period when Hedi Slimane was appointed creative director back in 2018. Devotees of the brand shuttered at the news of Phoebe Philo’s departure and it took a few seasons before Slimane found his footing.

Celine Triomphe Shoulder Bag

Now, the brand is back in the spotlight, with bags like the Triomphe and the Celine Bucket 16 gaining traction while bringing in a new set of fans. It was a rocky start, but it seems that Celine has found its groove once again. And while former brand loyalists and #OldCeline fans won’t be getting any new designs from Philo anytime soon, the classics (think the Luggage, Classic Box, Belt Bag, and more) still live within the Celine line-up, proving that, yes, the new and the old can exist simultaneously.

New Meets Old

At Bottega Veneta, the melding of new meets old was a little less obvious. When House codes were changed and updated, it seemed like nothing was left of old BV, but at second glance, many odes to the past remain. Take, for example, Intrecciato, a House staple, which though it’s been reinvigorated in an exaggerated size, still remains an integral part of the House. Then, there’s the BV Loop Bag, which actually looks like a former classic, the Nodini, reincarnated.

Bottega Veneta Loop Bag

Bottega Veneta Loop Bag
via Bottega Veneta

Then, there’s Maria Grazia Chiuri and the House of Dior, who does a great job at keeping all of its fan bases happy. Chiuri has been able to introduce new silhouettes that are on-trend and modern (think the Bobby and the Dior Vibe), while still offering beloved lady-like classics that speak to its loyalists, like the Lady Dior and the Dior 30 Montaigne.

If there’s one thing that designers and fashion lovers alike can agree on, it’s that the fashion landscape remains ever-changing. As older generations retire and the generations that have come up in the digital age continue to grow up and advance in their careers, the spending power continues to shift. Along with that shift comes a further responsibility for brands to strike that perfect balance. As millennials and Gen Z’ers age, it’s important for brands to tap into these emerging markets not only to increase sales but also to stay relevant in a constantly evolving industry.

What do you think? Can brands really “do it all?”


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