Why accessible luxury is winning over Millennials and Gen Z

Luxury fashion needs to become more inclusive. Content Marketing Executive, Salomé Bakpa, discusses how brands can navigate the new rules of consumer engagement.

Dalziel & Pow
By Dalziel & Pow
Posted 04. 07. 2018
Gucci Gram Tian Puts Asian Artists In The Spotlight1 e1544802486555

Since our work with British boutique The Shop at Bluebird, we've been taking a particular interest in the luxury sector.

Generation Z and Millennials will soon account for over half of luxury shoppers globally; therefore learning how to engage with them is vital. As Vogue’s International Editor Suze Menkes says, “Luxury today needs to redefine the way it’s presented to be comprehensive to different generations and different cultural groupings.” Luxury brands need to adopt a wholly more open, accessible attitude in order to resonate with these more politically engaged, globally aware consumer groups that value diversity and disdain the status quo. The ‘you can’t sit with us’ mindset of days gone by just doesn’t cut it anymore. Here’s why…

The age of social media

Perhaps the biggest thing to shake consumer culture has been social media – namely Instagram. A marketing, shopping and social channel – Instagram is a juggernaut that’s opened up the world, giving people access to images and products without ever needing to flick through a Vogue or step inside a department store. In fact, 92% of all interactions with luxury brands happen on Instagram [L2]. Social media has democratised luxury, taking power from the editors and handing it to the people, or perhaps the influencer – in 2017 for every £1 spent on beauty influencers, brands received £8.81 average return [Celebrity Intelligence.]

Luxury influencer Giovanna Battaglia Englebert posts straight from the runway

Brands need to court these new clued-up consumers in a way they haven’t before. They need to be social, loosen their authoritative tone of voice and talk on their customer’s level by figuring out shrewd ways of communicating through the tools of social media (memes, hashtags, Insta stories, Snapchat, Influencers) without cheapening their product. Yes it’s ok for Missguided to use the same slang as their customers and muse over last night’s reality TV, but that’s not necessarily appropriate for say, Hermes or Bottega Venetta – how do these storied houses adopt social media marketing in a way that works for them?

One negative consequence of social media is overexposure. How can a product retain its magic and allure if the customer has seen it and over and over again? Utilising social media continues to polarise luxury brands due to it “redefining the balance of desirability” [Rimowa CEO Alexandre Arnault said to Vogue]. Brands have to find clever ways of navigating the ubiquity of luxury on social media and embrace accessibility, whilst at the same time avoiding becoming mundane. It’s a difficult thing to get right, however there is one brand doing this very well…

The Gucci effect

Transformed by Alessandro Michele from struggling brand to a millennial favourite and the jewel in Kering’s crown, Gucci is a luxury success story for the digital age. Its maximalist designs may be steeped in historical references but its new marketing strategy is thoroughly modern, exciting consumers globally with logo-laden collections, a high/low reference mix, tongue-in-cheek attitude and a flawless use of social media. Simply too impactful to go unnoticed, Michele’s reign has been a catalyst for change in the luxury industry.

Gucci's meme-led watch campaign

As an early adopter of meme culture, Gucci quickly aligned itself with the way consumers communicate through social media. Last year it commissioned a series of memes to promote the new La Marche des Merveilles watch line. Visual artists like Ignasi Monreal and hit meme-makers like @williamcult created images that allude to ‘that feeling when you put on one of the watches for the first time’. The accompanying hashtag #TFW (that feeling when) outperformed all of the brand’s previous marketing content [Dash Hudson]. The artistic, beautiful and unique yet funny images were complete ‘viral-bait’, meaning Gucci’s target audience did for them the job traditionally achieved through multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. Not only did this save money, it made Gucci appear more accessible by directly communicating with its customers.

And it’s not just digitally but also IRL where Gucci is winning. With an eclectic interior, a customer journey that encourages exploration and super-friendly staff, Gucci’s new Manhattan store is a world away from the highly traditional luxury space. Chief Executive, Marco Bizzari said he wanted it to feel “inclusive” and it really does.

Gucci shows that adopting a more open brand strategy works and accessible luxury is what Millennials and Gen Z want. It reported growth of 45% in the last quarter and shows no signs of slowing down. What’s so great about Gucci is that it’s managed to stay true to its luxury heritage whilst enacting modern principles of openness – and this has a lot to do with the next point…

The death of heritage and brand vandalism

Gucci may have spurred the ‘death of heritage’ trend by “exploding its folklore” (Gucci CMO Robert Treifus), or arguably it was Demna Gavasalia’s cult label Vetements and its sardonic DHL T-shirts (the fashion hit of 2016) that made having a sense of humour fashionable again. But no matter where this new disruptive mood stemmed from, what is clear is that a trend for unravelling brand codes and poking fun at luxury has rippled throughout the industry. Heritage – once the stalwart USP of so many brands – just doesn’t cut it anymore. “Millennials and Gen Z care little about the brand heritage, it’s about brand interaction in the here and now,” says François Pinault owner of conglomerate Kering.

Younger generations have a great appetite for this type of bastardisation because it shows luxury brands are shaking off their stuffy shackles and opening up to a new era of customers – becoming more accessible.

Tiffany & Co. has turned to brand vandalism as a shortcut to modernity. Its #TiffanyBlue campaign paid homage to the iconic movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s with a video starring Elle Fanning (donning a hoodie and jeans, not a Givenchy LBD), a soundtrack featuring an Asap Ferg remix of Moon River and a vandalised store exterior. The graffitied exterior also happened IRL with blue paint splattered across the windows and ‘Tiffany & Co.’ tagged in black on the walls. Despite the jewellers’ traditional place in the market, this year it reported 15% global sales increase in the 1st quarter and is increasingly popular with Millennials and Gen Z. [professionaljeweller]

The Deisel knock-off shop

With brands increasingly using vandalism as a marketing tool, the value of heritage is being reconsidered, Suze Menkes asks, “Is the concept of building a future from the past still relevant in a digital age?” A valid question, however, some would argue that yes heritage for heritage’s sake has lost its power, but heritage, and all that comes with it – craftsmanship, history, iconography – is still relevant, it just needs to be served with a twist rather than straight up. Brands need to find ways of celebrating their heritage through mischief and fun. The Tiffany & Co. campaign is a case in point, but other brands like Diesel (with its ‘Deisel’ knock-off shop) have used similar tactics to prove they’re worthy of millennial attention. Burberry, on the other hand, has embraced the ‘chavtastic’ associations of its signature check with humour and cannibalised itself with a tirade of models dressed head to toe in the print on the AW18 runway.

Streetwear reigns supreme

We’ve talked about how streetwear brands are winning when it comes to engaging today’s youth before. They come with a refreshingly open and diverse attitude; Virgil Abloh tells Glossy, “My approach is to make the creative industry inclusive, not exclusive, shifting the veil of secrecy feels new.” This is true, but don’t let the ‘open to all’ attitude fool you, streetwear brands know how to remain exclusive.

Through mastering the art of drop culture (where limited products are released in one ‘drop’) brands like Off-White, Supreme and Palace have managed to create a scene that’s both accessible yet all about the exclusive. It’s as if they’ve made a pact with their customers – “We want you to be part of our club but you can only have the best products if you’re going to work for it.” (Read more about the hoops people jump through to get the latest item here.) The effect of this is that today’s consumers (especially Gen Z) value the exclusive, one-off or hard to get more than ever before.

A line of people waiting for a streetwear drop

No passing fad, throughout the last year the upper echelons of fashion started to take notice. Abloh was appointed Artistic Director at Louis Vuitton and Supreme’s James Jebbia won the CFDA’s Menswear Designer of the Year Award. Abloh, the first-ever African American Artistic Director of a French fashion house has inclusivity at his heart and is making, “a global view on diversity linked to the DNA of Louis Vuitton.”

Rather than representing a zeitgeisty moment or flash in the pan, these designers feel like the new guard – as influential as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs were when they shook up fashion in the 1990s. Only today it’s not grunge Doc Martins walking all over fashion, it’s a pair of slick trainers trampling all over the luxury status quo. With their arrival, ‘accessible’ has been firmly cemented in luxury’s lexicon.

Key take-outs:

  • Millennials and Gen Z value inclusivity and expect luxury brands to be accessible in their outlook.
  • Use the tools of social media the way consumers do, create content they will naturally want to share.
  • When it comes to heritage, cut the crap – Millennials and Gen Z will see through it –use humour to come down to earth and allow everyone access to your brand.
  • Accessible luxury can still be exclusive. Limited editions, localised products and unexpected collaborations are the just some of the ways streetwear brands ensure this.

If you would like to chat about any of the points mentioned in this article or find out how we can help you evolve your brand, please don’t hesitate to email Celine @ celinebacconi@dalziel-pow.com.

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