The nature of the luxury industry is changing, but not in the way you’d think. In a bizarre twist, luxury products are changing by staying the same. Take a look at the various products available on the market and you’d likely find that apart from slight differences in aesthetics and packaging, many brands are essentially pushing out the same things. In any business, if there is an existing market trend, it would be foolish to not capitalise on it if all your competitors are doing the same. However, for luxury brands, simply following along isn’t enough. Being at the top of their respective industries, these brands are expected to make the waves which others will ride on. To do so requires innovation. To innovate, requires the freedom for brands to experiment.
The word luxury is often associated with the use of rare and expensive materials, intricate designs, and impeccable quality. However, it’s more than just an aggregation of costly factors. At its core, the spirit of luxury revolves around exclusivity. Being able to have something of great quality, unique, and available only to a select few. This is why innovation is such a big part of the luxury industry as brands constantly try to stay ahead of the curve. Thankfully, these brands are able to fuel their creative endeavours. Given the expectation that luxury brands maintain their reputations as innovators in their respective industries, considerable resources are invested in research and development. Along with a greater budget, their craftsmen and researchers are afforded greater freedom to experiment and create truly unique products.
That being said, from a business perspective, a balance must be maintained between a brand’s freedom to experiment and the desirability of their products. While ingenuity is an admirable quality, it means nothing if it results in something that fails to catch the fancy of potential consumers and turn a profit.
Prada’s launch of their Re-Nylon project is a fitting example of how free experimentation created a product catering to consumer needs and wants. To create this innovative line, Prada worked with Italian company, Aquafil, a textile yarn producer specialising in creating synthetic fibres out of recycled materials. This line of bags, accessories and ready-to-wear fashion, utilised Aquafil’s proprietary ECONYL fabric, developed through countless rounds of experiments and trials, and was in line with consumers’ growing desire for more sustainable products. This revolutionised the world of sustainable fashion and luxury, with many brands soon following suit, coming up with their own eco-friendly developments. In this way, we see how experimentation and collaboration with Aquafil allowed Prada to remain a step ahead and create a green wave in the fashion industry.
“Our ultimate goal will be to convert all Prada virgin nylon into Re-Nylon by the end of 2021. This project highlights our continued efforts towards promoting a responsible business. This collection allows us to make our contribution and create products without using new resources.”
-Lorenzo Bertelli, Prada Group Head of Marketing and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility
In another field, Bugatti as a brand, has always been an advocate of pushing the envelope through experimentation. Since Ettore Bugatti built his first car at 19, ingenuity has always been synonymous with the Bugatti name. The fruits of Bugatti’s bold trials can be seen in the Chiron, which set a new speed record for production cars at 304.773mph.
As we’ve mentioned before, a delicate balance must be struck between desirability and free reign to experiment. For a brand, failure to do so would mean losing its edge as an innovator and trendsetter, and perhaps, losing their customer base and profits. Given the great risks involved, it is logical that not all brands opt for unrestrained experimentation and instead choose to capitalise on market trends. This might not make their products and services stand out, but it is at least a stable way to ensure that profits are made. In comparison, because of their already established customer base and reputation, are able to pursue more creative choices freely. They would have already won the hearts of consumers and put out a number of beloved products. Therefore, even if their experiments were less successful than expected, they would at least still have some well-known offerings to fall back on.
In contrast, newer companies such as start-ups, aren’t able to afford this luxury of unbridled creativity as the stakes are much higher for them. Therefore, they follow the trends set by larger brands in the luxury industry, in hopes of chasing profitability.
For example, Seiko have always been pushing the envelope of watch designs creating stunning pieces beloved by all. Yet, for all the visually revolutionary designs the manufacture has pushed out, they have always kept some of their most well-known timepieces in their repertoire, such as the “Alpinist” and “Turtle”.
However, it is prudent to point out that many luxury brands did in fact come from humble beginnings, only rising to where they are now because of daring initiative and conviction to make their voices heard. Before, Rei Kawakubo became the icon she is today, she was largely unheard of in the world of fashion having majored in art and literature at Keio University. She was however, determined to share her ideas of beauty. And so, she forged her own path, making clothes under her label Comme des Garçons and made her Paris debut in 1981, inspiring several designers such as Ann Demeulemeester and Helmut Lang.
We’ve established that freedom to experiment is the key ingredient in innovation, which is a key factor in setting the trends for others to follow. It is for this reason that luxury brands place such a great emphasis on allowing their artisans and designers free reign to do what they do best. It is by giving them the carte blanche to experiment that they in turn free themselves from having to follow the trends others set, establishing themselves as leaders of industries.