What Can Luxury Labels Learn from Contemporary Brands?

Lower price doesn’t always get less love.

On a recent nightly spell of doom-scrolling through TikTok reels on Instagram (by way of quality control, really, since I refuse to download the actual app), I found myself captivated by a certain clip titled “People That Scream Old Money.” 

It was then I realized how truly unhinged this trend has become that we are now faced with the necessity to transcend beyond the realm of material goods and, instead, classify human beings under the category of “stealth wealth” (in case you’d like to know, the answer is Daniel Craig).

In hindsight, with the ongoing amalgamation of celebrity creatives into luxury labels, it doesn’t quite come as a surprise that we are now inclined to treat these living, breathing, bodily beings as commodities, too. It is as much a part of a brand’s lineup, in fact, as their actual products (and Bottega Veneta’s use of A$AP Rocky’s street-style photos as their latest campaign only proves my point).

What is surprising, however, is how often the brand’s physical offerings are left to languish from an increasingly abstract proposition of luxury, all the while walking the precarious tightrope of artificial scarcity that (like my own non-existent work-life balance) brands are finding harder than ever to maintain.

And as these heritage labels, who less a decade ago were the most trend-forward of the bunch, are now weighed under their marketing shenanigans, it’s their contemporary counterparts, with the aid of TikTok and social media at large, that are emerging as the forerunners of fashion. Are these indie names then beating the luxury labels at their own game? 

Bottega Veneta’s buzzy new campaign

The Era of Exclusivity 

Traditionally, the fashion industry hasn’t been seen as a staunch practitioner of democracy – luxury brands, at the top of the proverbial pyramid, have always been the crème de la crème of class. And contemporary houses, plagued by a “working middle-class” stereotype, remained at the bottom.

That doesn’t mean that the lower-tier labels were any less popular. Occasionally, those from the top would venture out to bank upon the demographic’s spending power with a diffusion line, such as the massively popular Marc by Marc Jacobs collection.

But as far as the luxury brands themselves were concerned, exclusivity was without alternatives, and sales and mark-downs were (and still are) looked down upon (even with the most premier houses, like Hermès).

But as an increasingly younger clientele with the spending power to purchase their entry-level offerings (which, ironically, also constitute the lion’s share of their revenues) populated the market, the mere allure of labels, longevities, and, in some cases, after-sales service, were no longer incentives enough to drive the demand.

And so, they opted for the easiest route out of the rut: marketing.

The Epoch of Experimentation

If marketing were the answer to all our problems, however, we’d all be in a better place (and I say that as a marketing student). 

In fact, for the latest generation of buyers, the younger millennials, the Gen-Z (born between 1995 and 2010), and the Alphas (born post-2010), the style standards are particularly restrictive. Their nativity to technology, commitment to complete transparency, and philosophies of sustainability place them at a unique juncture the centuries-old heritage houses never encountered. 

Polene Numero Neuf Mini.jpg
Polene’s leather goods are beloved among the PurseForum community

And inclusively engaging with them, while seemingly a gargantuan task, has propelled brands like Telfar to the limelight. So, clearly, there are success stories to go by.

Unfortunately, what the traditional design houses have perceived that to mean is gifting similarly-aged influencers every new release that would otherwise set the average shopper back by $5,000, and that’s a discussion we simply need not have ever again.

So, where do the buyers turn to? The mid-range brands like Coach, Tory Burch, Polene, Jacquemus, and the like, who have leveraged the industry-wide price increases to advance themselves to a status of “advanced contemporary labels” – and have, in the process, hit the sweet spot for buyers, both in terms of experimental design, and affordable prices.

It is, in fact, this class of tastemakers, unconstrained by run-of-the-mill designs and heritage DNA, who’ve managed to put the accent back in risqué fashion again.

And the luxury labels better take note!

NYFW SS 2023 Street Style Day 12 19 of 35
Brands like Cult Gaia are at the forefront of design innovation

The High, the Low and the In-Betweens

Traditionally, the brands that have defined the affordable luxury space within the pricing spectrum have been few and far between. In a phenomenon that Deloitte dubbed “the great retail bifurcation,” the market was primarily seen to possess propensities either towards ultra-high-end, one-of-a-kind luxuries, or the cheapest of fast fashion, in a classic “the rich get richer” arrangement. 

With constant counterfeiting, market saturation, and a desire for more conscientious consumption, however, brands have increasingly questioned this rather naïve classification – could a bag not be both unique and affordable? And with the existing quality quandaries in some of the highest-end brands of today, does expensive necessarily always equate to excellence?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes and no. There are statement pieces, as well as practical numbers, from a slew of indie labels, such as Cult-Gaia, Self-Portrait, Benedetta Bruzziches, Savette, and more, that, like our favorite luxury items, are made with similar attention to detail, often within Italian factories as well.

Only this time, they’re much more transparent about their prices in a market where, increasingly, the premium on a name, and not quality, has been on the rise.

This, of course, is not to discount the decadence of a logo. An established imprint, such as the Louis Vuitton insignia, can often separate a good “investment” from one that isn’t so much. What they’ve lost, however, is their ability to initiate conversations, to make unexpected purse friends during our dreary days, and to draw compliments from a stranger that brightens our week.

That space is now quickly filled by contemporary names, not the prestige and pedigree of age-old logos. As Elle writes, “For a new era of luxury bags, it’s about the richness of feeling, not the price tag.”


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