VOL. MMXIII..No. 163

Archive for the ‘Observations: How We Shop’ Category

Men Lured By The Luxury of Time

Posted on: October 3rd, 2013 by bertrand No Comments

Ask arbiter of style Clinton Paul to choose his favorite watch and he’ll be hard pressed to tell you which one is put into service the most. Maybe that’s because he has so many of them.

 

Elizabeth Taylor may have her diamonds but Paul’s passion is the precision and craftsmanship of beautiful timepieces. Even men who haven’t tasted quite as much of the good life as Paul are quietly hoarding a modest stash of watches.

 

“In my mind, each watch brings something to the party,” says Paul. “Every watch was bought to fill a perceived niche such as early Rolexes and vintage watches to wear with Ralph Lauren tweeds, or a simple IWC pilot’s watch to wear with tattered oxford button downs and over-sized khaki pants and worn cordovan penny loafers.”

 

 

 

Collecting watches is not unlike collecting luxury cars, and in some cases the prices aren’t much different. Like a handmade automobile, a rare and limited timepiece entails complex design, precious materials, and the kind of expert craftsmanship that is often passed down for generations among watchmakers. To own such a watch gives men the opportunity to speak of who he is and where he’s going.

 

“Definitely our high end watch client is a business man in the six figure income level with discretionary money to spend,” says Judy White, co-owner of Julianna’s Fine Jewelry in Corte Madera.

 

 

 

Of course we’re not talking about the not-so-humble Cartier Tank Française or that James Bond favorite, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Date-Just. Think Vacheron Constantin, Breguet, or Patek Phillippe.

 

“Most people buying Patek Philippe are looking to buy the history, quality, and exclusivity,” says Diane Adams, a buyer for Shreve and Company. “It’s really about the execution of technology and art. When you think just how small a space it is, it’s pretty amazing.”

 

Those in the know don’t bother calling it a watch but rather, haut horlogerie, a rarified world of tourbillions and chronographs that sell for not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars. At last January’s Salon Internationale de la Haute Horlogerie — the Geneva watch fair for you plebeians — there was a quiet optimism for the men’s market in particular, which has performed solidly despite the economic downturn.

 

Alain Huy, brand director for Zenith Watches North America, believes there is still work to be done. “The US market is still a young market and it needs still to be educated and trained. Most of the watch buyers are only familiar with only a few brands like Rolex or TAG Heuer.”

 

 

 

 

 

Zenith has produced watch movements since 1865 and claims to be the first to produce a chronograph movement. It takes nine months to produce a Zenith chronograph, and just last fall, Zenith introduced the Christoph Colomb, a limited edition chronograph of twenty-five pieces in rose, white, and yellow gold retailing for $209,000. It sold out immediately.

 

“For collectors, it’s about the purity of a handmade timepiece that takes incredible skill to construct,” says Adams.

 

Richemont, the luxury group with the lion’s share of watch brands under its belt, reported a 33 percent increase in sales of luxury timepieces, and at a recent Christie’s auction, a very rare Patek Philippe sold for a record $5.7 Million.

 

With gold and silver prices on the rebound, an investment in a fine watch makes sense and promises a very stylish return on investment for 2011.

 

“The man who owns a classic, simple high quality watch in stainless or gold with a tasteful leather, alligator, or stainless band says to me that this is a guy whose values are honest and probably reflect his orientation towards things and materials that work well and that define his life,” says Paul.

 

That certainly could be said of Jean Yang, a solar energy entrepreneur who previously enjoyed the high life as retail director of Louis Vuitton stores in Korea.  He discovered the subtle luxury of a Swiss watch when he was only a teenager.

 

“My father offered me a very fine Swiss watch when I was in middle school and I found that it was a deeply cool accessory,” says Yang. “I was a bit of a fashion victim then — living in Paris didn’t help. For me, a watch is the only and ultimate jewel for men.”

 

 

 

That first Swiss watch only whetted his appetite for something even more exquisite and rare.  “My first pay-check went directly to a real luxury watch — a Breitling Old Navitimer,” says Yang. “It was a chronograph of course. It had a brown cow hide bracelet that I immediately upgraded to an alligator strap to make it even more luxurious and sporty.”

 

Like collectors of fine wines, watch collectors are generally a discreet bunch. The watch speaks for itself — if you’re able to catch a peek at it from under a man’s shirtsleeve. Like a fine sport scar, devil is in the details and only those who appreciate them can so willingly fork over a small fortune to purchase such a mechanical marvel.

 

As for Yang, with a modest nine watches in his collection, there is still one he is hoping will one day be his ultimate: “A Breguet, equipped with two tourbillions, one of the finest complication movement in the watch industry. But at $400,000 it is more expensive than a brand new Ferrari or a one-bedroom studio in Manhattan so that one will have to wait a bit before entering my collection!”

 

For more on this, read “The Triumph of Unnecessary Beauty” in the New York Times. Click Here.

“People Hate Us on Yelp”: Managing your Online Reputation One Customer at a Time

Posted on: June 6th, 2013 by bertrand 2 Comments

The world of social media has forever altered how people and businesses interact with one another. Today, virtually everybody and anybody can either sing your praises or worse, put a target on your back.

So how does one manage what people are saying about your business and to what extent do Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and all those other outposts designed to gripe about a bad experience (say hello to PISSEDCONSUMER.COM) really matter?

 

That question came up recently with a client we’re working with who was faced with an online tirade from an unhappy customer who had decided to air their discontent on Yelp. “The thing that’s frustrating is that we actually know the guy, so I guess that’s why this bothers me so much that he’d do that without talking to us,” says my client.

 

It’s estimated that Yelp receives over 78 million visitors to its site, and the lion’s share of reviews revolve around customer service. Yelp’s power has resulted in an angry backlash towards hostile reviewers who can seem determined to muddy a company’s reputation (a tumblr site called F*CK YOU YELPERS, hilariously roasts some of those individuals.)  Yelp’s research claims that customers who praise a business’ customer service is more than five times as likely to give a 5-star review than a 1-star review.

 

On the other hand almost 70% of those who trash a business’ customer service wind up giving a 1-star review. So the short answer is: it pays to pay attention to what people are saying, but more important is to have the right strategy in place so that you’re a more active participant in what’s being said.

The now famous episode of FOX’s “Kitchen Nightmares” in which the owners of Amy’s Baking Company in Phoenix, Arizona went ballistic against both the online “haters” and the host of the show, Gordon Ramsay.

What’s the best way to manage a situation of an unhappy customer spouting off, whether true or not?

Rule #1: Let your customers know they can talk to you – and that you’re listening.

The fact is there are some people out there who are always going to be difficult to please. That’s just the nature of doing business.  Nevertheless it’s safe to say that there is often a grain of truth in what people are saying about you online and it pays to listen.

A great customer service strategy includes letting customer’s know that their satisfaction is key, and if there’s something wrong, to address the issue at the time of service – not later when they’ve left the store. If you’re a restaurant, either you or your server should always perform a “closer” and ask if there were any problems at all with the meal or the service. If there’s a problem then the manager should pay a visit to the table and acknowledge the problem.

Encourage the guest to come again and give another honest evaluation. By no means is this a guarantee that they won’t go home and yelp about it, but it will make the customer think twice.

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A relatively new service called Talk To The Manager allows business owners to field comments directly from customers via text messages in an effort to mitigate negative social media and enhance a company’s customer service strategy.

Rule #2: Cherish your cheerleaders and encourage loyal customers to join the team.

While you can’t make a negative review go away, you can certainly lessen its impact by overwhelming the negative reviews with positive ones. Unfortunately, most happy customers don’t feel the need to share that with the world.  Let your loyalists know that you appreciate them and ask them to speak up on your behalf. Notice a customer coming in for a second time in less than two weeks? Acknowledge them and invite them to share their experience with their friends and followers.

Rule #3: Don’t fight fire with fire.

Some business owners think that following a negative review with a rebuttal will somehow sway readers in their favor. The fact is, it can come off as denial and can even lead to an ongoing tit-for-tat.

Instead, revert to Rule #2 and get those cheerleaders to make that negative reviewer look like one bad apple. Still, that one bad apple – like the person who wrote about my client – can sometimes cut deeply into customer perception and it can be worth taking an altogether different approach. Contact the reviewer directly and invite them to meet for coffee. Allow them to make their case directly to you and use Rule #1 as your guide: Acknowledge. Invite them to come in again and make sure they know that they can always speak to you first before complaining about it online.

Customer service is a juggling act that is dependent on great people, great training, and great managers. The goal is not just to serve but to listen and respond to how the customer perceives the quality of your service.

New Website Takes the Heavy Lifting out of Selling (and Buying) Consignment Furniture

Posted on: May 24th, 2013 by bertrand 1 Comment

The consignment market has grown exponentially over the past several years, aided in part by the recent recession and the growing acceptance that buying “used” is nothing to be ashamed of – especially when there are considerable bargains to be had, from luxury fashion to home goods.

 

Consignment furniture, however, has always been challenging. Victorian furniture is out but midcentury modern is in, and along with the vagaries of design trends is the simple fact that getting rid of unwanted furniture is everyone’s worst nightmare.

 

“My husband said, ‘Well honey, that’s a perfect problem for the Internet to solve,’” says Anna Brockway, co-founder and curator of Chairish.com, a new online business that bills itself as “the first peer-to-peer consignment marketplace for exceptional pre-owned home furnishings.”

 

That husband, by the way, is Gregg Brockway, co-founder of Tripit who along with three other startup founders (from both Tripit and Hotwire), sought to challenge the traditional brick-and-mortar retail model of consignment furniture to make buying and selling lust-worthy vintage pieces easier, faster, and fun.

 

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Eric Grosse and Anna Brockway, co-founders of Chairish, an online consignment furniture retailer, on a recent visit to b. on brand.

“Let’s face it, for a lot of us shopping online is our porn,” says Brockway, who previously was an executive at Levi’s. “We love to sit in bed at night with a glass of chardonnay and look at beautiful things – Hello! Thank you 1stdibs.”

 

The idea for Chairish came to Brockway when the couple had moved into a much larger house and found themselves faced with the prospect of getting rid of their excess furniture.

 

“Furniture has really become like fashion,” says Brockway. “People are now changing their living environments all the time and your home is an expression of who you are. But changing your furniture isn’t as easy as changing your wardrobe and not everyone wants to truck it down to a consignment store or roll the dice with craigslist.”

 

Besides the trend in vintage furniture, Brockway says there’s additional opportunity in the fact that most major furniture brands simply take too long to deliver a piece of furniture. “The lead times in this industry are just dumb. I waited 31 weeks for a piece of furniture. You’d think you were ordering a Chanel wedding dress not a sofa.”

 

Chairish developed three options for how a customer can list pieces, from a somewhat “DIY” approach to a more premium“ concierge” service that takes care of virtually every part of the sale and transaction, with pickup and storage in the company’s own warehouse.  Currently the service is only available in the San Francisco Bay Area, but their business plan includes a rollout of the program to other cities.

 

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Chairish offers a “concierge plus” service for clients who don’t want to deal with selling their furniture themselves. The company takes care of the pick up, photography, and online listing of the furniture and then brokers the sale.

Depending on the service, Chairish takes between 20-45% of the total sale price.

 

“Furniture is a huge category and there’s a lot of inventory out there,” says Eric Grosse, co-founder and president. “We knew we had to make it easy for people to choose how they sell it. Some people just want it out of the house as soon as possible.”

 

Like the consignment clothing business, as consumers evolve so does the quality and brands that are hitting the market. “Thanks to the world of design blogs, great design has been democratized,” says Brockway. “People are more informed and educated and therefore are making better choices in the kind of furniture they buy.

 

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Chairish also relies on finders (as do many consignment stores), along with estate sales for some of its most plum pieces. “It’s someone downsizing from a second home in Pebble Beach, or clearing out the excess after a divorce. Or it’s — well we’re not above reading the obituaries, okay?” laughs Brockway.

 

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a pair of yellow chairs, Brockway is selling a pair – yup, on Chairish. “Somebody has to keep this thing going.”

 

All the World’s a Stage: Performance and Storytelling in American Retail

Posted on: January 26th, 2013 by bertrand No Comments

Often when I begin working with a new client, I’ll ask, “What’s your story?”

Branding is storytelling. Quite simply, a great brand tells a great story, one that resonates with the customer and is seamless in its complexity and the extent to which it demonstrates its power. A compelling brand story not only drives the internal creative process, it drives the external consumer strategy. It justifies and inspires virtually every aspect of how a company expresses itself.

Since time immemorial, stories are how we understand our world and communicate our experiences, hopes, desires, and realizations. Stories change lives and make them meaningful. We use stories to understand our lives and give them context. Think of Oprah’s “Aha moment.” Now add a product to that story.

The best companies are the ones that strategically determine their brand narrative and make sure it supports what and why they do what they do.

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When facebook launched its new program update called Timeline, it sought not only to upgrade facebook’s search potential, but attempted to bring context and linearity to the so-called “story of your life.”

Facebook, for instance, is a brand that is all about storytelling. That’s all that people are doing on there (for better or for worse.) Last year facebook decided to convert everyone over to a “timeline,” or as they describe it, “the story of your life.” We consume stories in the same way we consume products, in that we search for the relevant details that connect us to the story – or product, for that matter.

Which is why a great story is memorable – just like a great brand. A compelling story allows us to engage with a brand on an emotional level.

The famous Kodak Carousel episode of “Mad Men.” The scene illustrates not just how a story can sell a client on an idea, but how a story (and a name) sells a product.

One of my favorite moments in season one of “Mad Men” is when Don Draper tells the client, Kodak, that their new slide projector isn’t a wheel but a “carousel.” That one word brands the product and also simultaneously launches a story.

As he watches the slides of his own family flickering on the screen in the conference room, Don says that the Carousel “…goes backwards, forwards, and takes us to a place where we yearn to go again.” It’s a wistful, sentimental story but it imbues a technical device – a slide projector – with an intimate and personal value. The Carousel is no longer a piece of plastic technology but an emotionally charged object that connects us to ourselves.

We crave brands that appear to enable us to become more than we are and connect with the world more deeply than before, which is why the most successful stories drive the brand experience, which in turn reinforces the brand promise.

There is no better example of this than Apple, which has built an empire on the story of a taciturn geek named Steve Jobs, who forged his own path to innovate computer products that are the definition of pure, accessible design.

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Apple’s cultishness isn’t just based on high-performance products, but a carefully masterminded brand story that owes a lot to the charismatic but taciturn Steve Jobs.

Apple products not only make us feel modern and creative, we seem to become more efficient and savvy human beings, and all thanks to something like an iphone. Jobs was king of believing that the customer doesn’t know what he wants; it’s your job as a marketer to tell him what he want and why. His dogma drove the company’s growth as major lifestyle brand. “Your customers dream of a happier and better life,” wrote Jobs. “Don’t move products. Enrich lives.”

Jobs knew that a great brand story is only amplified and empowered by the purchase ritual: what I call, retail theatre.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the built environment of the retail store, because it is there that we can control the customer experience. Architecture and design bring the narrative alive with light, color, displays, and furnishings that make the product experience that much more tactile and real, a living breathing representation of the brand’s ethos. The Apple store, of course, is a great example of how a store acts as a stage for the brand’s “actors”: the employee, the product, and the consumer.

Luxury retail in particular, is deeply dependent on storytelling – very expensive storytelling. The lion’s share of what one pays for luxury products is essentially the marketing cost of showcasing the brand. Print, online, packaging, and store design are all instrumental in immersing us in a story built around not the price of the goods, but the ethereal dream those goods represent.

“Never talk about money,” our mothers used to say, and they’re quite right. It’s just not sexy and nothing kills the romance of a $45,000 watch or a $3,000 handbag than talk of the cost. We prefer to think of what they symbolize.

A recent campaign for Louis Vuitton is a “pure overdose of visual cocaine,” as one YouTube viewer described it. Like so many luxury brands, the emphasis is not on the cost of luxury, but the seemingly transformative effect of luxury on the individual.

Case in point, a recent Louis Vuitton campaign tells us a romantic story of travel, passionate love, and exotic spectacles, with barely the sight of the brand’s distinctive monogram luggage. Why? Because in the end, the message is about you and how great luggage will take you so many (emotional) places: “Where will life take you,” the film asks rhetorically, answering only with, “Louis Vuitton.” Ultra luxury good brands create an almost monastic atmosphere around their products, and the stories serve to convince us that the cost is not what matters, but the seemingly magical transformation that occurs when we come to own the product.

Stories then, no matter how luxurious or humble a particular product might be, serve to systematically entices, attract, engage, and connect the target customer with a brand in a way that feels authentic and natural.

In conclusion, when I evaluate a great brand strategy, I look for several key factors:

1)   Is it immersive? Does it create an immersive experience through content that is delivered in a visceral, emotional, and (ideally) multi-sensory way;

2)   Is it interactive? Does it allow us to become a part of the story; does it invites us to engage with the product and feel a sense of understanding it, making it personal;

3)   Does it connect the dots? Does it ensure that there is coherence across multiple brand touchpoints and can we, as the customer, understand the big picture;

4)   Is it impactful? Does it give us confidence to move into action and embrace it with confidence, and thereby forge a long-term relationship with the brand.

For established brands, story-telling continues to be an invaluable tool for exploring new directions in product development and brand extensions, which is why the most successful brands are constantly moving their story forward without sacrificing integrity. When a company makes a false move or launches the wrong product, chances are they deviated from their narrative. So what’s your story, and how is it driving your brand?

>> This blog is an abridged version of a presentation delivered by Bertrand Pellegrin at “Creative Mornings/LA” on November 9, 2012 at the Herman Miller Showroom in Culver City, California.

 

 

Why Retailers Aren’t Prepared for the Chinese Tourist — And How They Can Be

Posted on: January 18th, 2013 by bertrand No Comments

Chinese New Year — the Year of the Snake, for those who care — begins on February 10 and finally at least one major U.S. retailer is waking up to the fact that they need a strategy in welcoming the Chinese tourist – and not just once a year.

 

Last year we told you about how we developed some relatively simple strategies for b. on brand client Saks Fifth Avenue in making their San Francisco store more attractive to Chinese tourists, with specific programs and mechanics.

 

 

In London, Chinese tourists take advantage of a relatively easier visa application process and spending on average a $1000 a day.

 

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the average Chinese tourist spends about $6,000 while in the United States; yet most major retailers are sadly unprepared for what is increasingly becoming a critical customer market – even outside the CNY period.

 

Currently nearly all Chinese tourists are forced to wait up to four months compared to only a few days for most European visas, which means cities like Paris profit handsomely from Chinese tourist dollars.  This month President Obama gave the State Department 60 days to come up with a way to decrease the wait time for visas to three weeks.  That’s still far more than say Great Britain, which, while also bureaucratic takes about five days to turn around a visa.

 

 

Paris is still a top destination for Chinese tourists. For decades stores like Galleries Lafayette and Printemps have made major efforts to target Chinese customers with an army of Chinese-speaking sales associates, discount packages, and special open hours.

 

This year it is expected that 1.4million Chinese (along with a million Brazilians) will come to the U.S. to shop.

 

In New York, Bloomingdale’s launched a new initiative to make its store more approachable to the Chinese tourist by hiring more bilingual staff, marketing overseas with advertising campaigns, and increasing orders of iconic “American” brands like Ralph Lauren, with an emphasis on bold brand logos.

 

Still, one has to wonder why more stores haven’t made a bigger effort at understanding the Chinese customer and making some relatively cost-effective additions to their store experience in order to welcome them.

 

Here are a few things that nearly any medium to large-scale brand can do to make their store a destination for Chinese shoppers – all year around.

 

1)    Signage. Make sure there is prominent signage in simplified Chinese at the entrance to the store. This includes store navigation. During the Chinese New Year period, put Chinese signage in the window and make sure visual merchandising themes are translated.

 

2)    Speak Their Language. Have at least one employee who speaks Mandarin fluently and empower them with discount cards and/or Gifts-With-Purchase to incentivize them to shop.

 

3)    Make them a VIP. Use the store’s member’s lounge or create a space where Chinese tourists can sit privately with a cup of tea, cookies, and receive one-on-one clienteling.

 

4)    Partner with Hotels. Work closely with the concierges at the city’s key hotels and give them brochures and VIP cards to give to Chinese tourists and tour operators.

 

5)    Explain the Value of Your Brand. The Chinese are still unfamiliar with many U.S. brands especially department stores. Make sure to tell your heritage story and underscore the fact that all of the brands you carry are guaranteed authentic. In China, some department stores sell fake or look-alike merchandise.

Voyage en Bleu: A Shopper’s Journey in Provence

Posted on: October 11th, 2012 by bertrand No Comments

On a recent trip to Paris, we immersed ourselves in the massive Premier Vision expo and the parade of fashion that defines this city every year come September.

 

But it was the solitude and anonymity of the french cities and villages of Provence, past their peak season and deliciously quiet, which inspired us in other ways. While Paris had entered winter, the South was enjoying a rare Indian Summer.

 

I found myself drawn to objects of all sorts that reminded me of childhood summers and that Gallic appreciation for what the French territorially call “French Blue.”

 

In Nimes, we marveled at the origins of denim and bleu de nimes at the Museum of Old Nimes. In Marseille, the Vieux Port and the Notre Dame de la Garde, sharply outlined against a royal blue evening sky. Our hotel, La Residence du Vieux Port, featured a massive and stunning 1950’s tapestry by Jean Lurcat, full of rich blues.

 

We fell in love with a crisp, cotton “Docking” jacket (2) that was at a Gap in Aix-en-Provence (Europe only, 69,95 euros). This precise color blue used to be known as le bleu du travailleur, since, until fairly recently, French factory workers wore baggy work jackets and pants in this color. Of course others call it bleu Gitane (6) since it closely matches the package of the now, nearly obsolete french cigarette brand (available through dutyfreedepot.com). Kudos to you if you’re still able to puff on these without gasping for breath, though.

 

What would a summer in France be without Espadrilles (3) ? I’m not going to wait for your answer since I wear them all year around. Purists still insist on the Made in France variety, like these from Pare Gabia (www.paregabia.com). In the sleepy resort town of Grau-du-Roi I found these navy ones for just 5 euros.

 

When I was six years old my favorite pen was the magical BIC “4C” Pen (4), which, remarkably, is still Made in France and comes in its original blue and white shell. Introduced in April, 1970 with an advertising pitch heralding its “4 colors for 3 francs,” the 4C is arguably one of the world’s most recognized pens. Alas, the round ball at the top of the pen, designed to dial rotary phones, has been replaces with a lanyard loop (1,99 euros, available from www.staples.com.)

 

I’ve been smitten with Repetto shoes (1) ever since I saw Serge Gainsbourg sporting white ones with an immaculate white three piece suit. The “Zizi” continues to be the brand’s best selling model. I couldn’t resist this midnight blue patent leather version (255,00 euros, www.repetto.com).

 

Wandering the side streets of Aix, we came upon Le Nain Rouge, a toy store brimming with exquisitely made wooden toys. “How old is the child you’re shopping for?” asked the saleswoman. “Forty-six,” I replied, which made every customer turn and stare. I fixated on this Tirot sailboat (6) which sat on a top shelf, and for good reason. These boats are  handmade by a family company in Brittany, and they’re as close as you’ll get to having one of those wooden boats you rent in Paris’s Luxembourg. This model will run you about 70,00 euros (www.bateaux-jouets-tirot.com.)

 

The L-Word Redefined: New Book Argues the Case for ‘Luxury Beyond Luxury’

Posted on: June 29th, 2012 by bertrand No Comments

In recent years, the word “luxury” has become so hackneyed and over-used that many feel it had completely lost its meaning. Today, nearly every brand that targets the rich (whether the newly rich, super-rich, wanna-be rich or just plain rich), attempts to include the word in their self-description, no doubt an effort to influence their public perception.

 

Can a brand like Louis Vuitton really be considered “luxury” when there is little that is rarefied about it, with bags sewn largely by machine and multiple factories providing a steady stream of products to an insatiable marketplace?

 

 

In their new book, Meta-luxury: Brands and the Culture of Excellence, authors Manfredi Ricca and Rebecca Robins attempt to answer that question and argue that true luxury goes beyond the relatively superficial standards (largely price) that have come to be so pervasive in the marketplace today. Cost is not the only measure, nor is rarity. Rather, it is a complex recipe that bears what they contend is a set of distinctive hallmarks of excellence.

 

 The book explores the concept of “luxury beyond luxury” and that to truly be called as such, a brand must be categorically dedicated to creating products whose craftsmanship is imbued with “knowledge, purpose, and timelessness.” While these characteristics may sound vague, they are in fact the benchmarks of several luxury manufacturers — from cars to pianos — whom the authors cite as being examples of brands which place a premium on the craft, their materials, and an unwavering devotion to pure performance and design.

 

 So what is it that distinguishes true luxury today and have we become immune to the integrity of absolute luxury? Ricca and Robins explain in their exclusive interview with b. on brand.

 

 BERTRAND PELLEGRIN: Why is it that you felt compelled to refine the definition of luxury by calling it “meta” luxury — how is the paradigm [you describe] of knowledge, purpose, and timelessness any different from how others have defined luxury?

 

REBECCA ROBINS: The debate around luxury is nothing new – but the level of problematisation around it has reached epic proportions in recent years. It is a space in which there is increasing clutter and confusion and the very proliferation of terms such as ‘ultra-luxury’, ‘super-luxury’ or ‘high luxury’ demonstrate the extent to which ‘luxury’ has become so diluted that it is practically devoid of meaning. We explore an absolute definition of true luxury as both a culture and a business model. It is a paradigm built on the culture of excellence, where the pillars of Craftsmanship, Focus, History and Rarity exist as fundamental organising principles for the brand owner and as fundamental drivers of demand and desire for the meta-luxury connoisseur.

 

MANFREDI RICCA: Today, companies with completely different philosophies and business models are defined, or define themselves, as embodying luxury. At times of economic uncertainty, what is luxury really and ultimately about? Countless inspiring conversations suggested it had to do with fundamental and universal human aspirations – knowledge, purpose and timelessness. If we think carefully about it, that’s what sets apart a truly unique achievement from the ordinary. And luxury is everything but ordinary. The fact of being a unique achievement is what brings us to regard, say, a masterpiece in artisan watchmaking built out of rare materials as being very different from a cotton t-shirt with a logo.

 

 

BP: It could be argued that the idea of a “luxury brand” is a relatively modern way of understanding the value of something. In your view is it possible for luxury to be purely organic and unselfconscious? What brands have been successful at that?

 

RR: Meta-luxury is about creating value across generations and that stems from these brands’ desire not only to pursue excellence in their respective field, but also to make their mark in history. If we look at Fazioli, for example, we see a brand that, in a mere 30 years, has emerged as a contender to the title of creator of the best pianos in the world. What fires and inspires Fazioli, is the pursuit of the perfect piano, certainly, but equally and as steadfastly, it is about what Fazioli will contribute to the evolution of the piano over time. In a recent interview at the time of the Hermès exhibition in London, Pierre-Alexis Dumas was quoted on the imperative of the Hermès brand and culture: “We want to share our culture. We are tenants of a culture that is age-old.” This is the essence of meta-luxury.

 

 

BP: You suggest that for a true luxury brand, “business results are not a target, they are a means,” and that “economic success is therefore a requisite and a consequence, but not the primary objective.” Do you really think this is accurate, in an age when most luxury brands are owned by conglomerates and clearly profit driven?

 

RR: While it is undeniable that many luxury brands exist under the umbrella of conglomerates, it is also evident that the spirit of independence holds strong and true. Furthermore, we are witnessing the rise of many new and emerging brands. And let’s not forget that some of the brands that we are talking about are still ‘young’ brands. Pagani has attained the status of creator of one of the best supercars in the world, and yet has not even marked its 15th anniversary. In a space of 30 years, Fazioli has taken on the pursuit of the perfect piano and is now heralded by many world-class musicians as the pinnacle in piano performance and sound.

 

The very premise of meta-luxury brands is that they operate counter to the accepted notion of the business driving the brand. In meta-luxury, it is the brand driving the business. Everything that these brands do revolves around one single-minded objective – the pursuit of excellence. Whereas other brands may sacrifice ‘focus’, through the level of diversification, or ‘rarity’, through making their products widely available, meta-luxury brands sacrifice nothing and protect the integrity of the brand at all costs. The pursuit of excellence is inherent in everything the company does and all else is a consequence.

 


 

MR: We live in times when, for instance, the hugely successful IPO of Brunello Cucinelli was based on what the entrepreneur calls a “gentle” notion of growth and profit, which can ensure prosperity and excellence from one generation to the next rather than quarterly results. Meta-luxury is about mitigating risk rather than maximising short-term results. It is not about disregarding profit, but merely making it sustainable.

 

BP: You chose to profile a diverse range of individuals: from a violinist to the chairman of Bulgari. Why these particular people?

 

RR: Meta-luxury engages with a redefinition of luxury – one that is established on an economy and a culture of excellence. One that goes ‘beyond’ luxury. As such, our conversations naturally went ‘beyond’ what would be considered the accepted and expected. The premise of meta-luxury is one of ‘unique achievement’ and these individuals represent this in every respect. The book spans perspectives from creators of excellence, to masters of excellence and academics. The inclusion of creators of excellence whose brands are still young brands (consider Pagani), alongside more established brands (such as Bulgari), was also very deliberate.

 

BP: Do you believe that it is possible for a modern luxury brand to be successfully developed without all of the key factors you’ve identified? 

 

RR: There are a number of brands that are highly successful through the pursuit of a different model – consider Armani, as one example. It is one that sacrifices the meta-luxury pillar of rarity – its products are made widely available and cannot be considered unique achievements;  and one that sacrifices ‘focus’ – through its articulated architecture spanning Armani Casa, to Armani Jeans. Nonetheless, it is a highly successful business. Meta-luxury represents a different space of offer and demand.

 

 

BP: With the cost of doing business rising as well as the cost of production, where do you see meta-luxury’s application when major European luxury brands are increasingly forced to produce their goods overseas. Does such practices in fact dilute their  “brand story” and integrity?

 

RR: This raises a number of pertinent points and one that also goes back to the start of the economic crisis. In times of crisis we tend to anchor ourselves to certainties, to things that are constant, that we can trust. As such, we saw a return by many brands to their core values, to their heritage and history. It’s about an authentic story and as consumers become more demanding than ever before, as scrutiny of companies’ behaviour and supply chains is held to ever greater account, that story is rendered more transparent than ever.

 

Where so much of luxury has become about surface and stretch, the authenticity of meta-luxury brands is unquestioned. Faziola’s pianos are crafted from wood from the same forests from which, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Stradivarius violins were made. The story of meta-luxury brands runs deep and this is what resonates with a dynamic that unites craftsmen and connoisseurs rather than manufacturers and consumers. These brands refuse to compromise on short-term targets, in order to protect the brand over time and ensure its longevity for generations to come.

 

Meta-luxury: Brands and the Culture of Excellence by Manfredi Ricci and Rebecca Robins ($40.00, Palgrave Macmillan). To order the book or learn more about the authors, please click here.

Kevin Murray, Co-Founder, MADE FOR GOOD

Posted on: April 6th, 2012 by bertrand No Comments

In a 2011 Cone/Echo Global CR Study, 93% of consumers reported that they want to know what companies are doing to make the world a better place, but 71% said they’re confused by brand messaging and what’s actually being accomplished by so-called socially responsible brands. Not such a great track record.

 

MADE FOR GOOD is a consortium of casual clothing brands which uses a model of “embedded generosity” to raise money and awareness for charitable organizations. Based in San Diego, California, the company currently includes brands such as Jedidiah, MusiCares, GIVEN, Beautiful Feet, Raintees and United Artist Network.

 

The apparel is largely made up of t-shirts, workshirts, casual pants, and flipflops; the kind of laid-back style you might see on someone who shops at Urban Outfitters, or attends a benefit concert in the park. Millenials, those roughly 16-29, are traditionally one of the most responsive to cause-related merchandise.

 

 

MADE FOR GOOD, however,  doesn’t tiptoe around its all-or-nothing-at all approach and has essentially reverse-engineered a concept of social responsibility that takes an innovative approach to integrating cause marketing with brand building, awareness, and community. Co-founder Kevin Murray explains.

 

Bertrand Pellegrin, Director, b. on brand: How is MADE FOR GOOD different from other firms branded as “socially responsible”?

 

Kevin Murray, Co-founder, MADE FOR GOOD: One of the things that makes Made for Good different is our business model. We actually donate a percentage of our top line revenue. Profits can be manipulated but top-line revenue cannot. We have built giving into the DNA of the company and we take this very seriously. Our job as a company is to be good stewards of what we are given in terms of business opportunities. There is not a cookie cutter formula to the revenue share we have with our partners. Based on the goals and capacities of any individual organization, our agreements could vary. Our Jedidiah partnerships receive a 5% revenue share, other brand partners we take to retail receive a greater revenue percentage and ecommerce partners receive even a greater percentage.

 

 

Where are the clothes manufactured? What oversight is there regarding the people who manufacture the clothes?

 

The majority of our tees and custom knit tops are done in Southern California. Of course it is easy to keep oversight on these production lines and we do as much as possible in our local community. While we do our wovens, jackets, boardshorts and some fleece styles currently in China, we use a very highly regarded sourcing partner for these items who not only adheres to our code of conduct, but also produce for many other major labels who have similar ethical standards. We are also currently looking into new factory opportunities with our new MADE FOR GOOD brand partner, Not For Sale. Not For Sale is a campaign to end slavery in our lifetime and they are doing this in many unique and effective ways. One is by establishing apparel production factories that train and employ people who have been rescued out of the slave trade.

 

 

 

Why specifically do you think Made for Good can win?

 

What we love about MADE FOR GOOD is the uniqueness of the model and the flexibility it gives us. We have a model of sharing and collaboration. Our purpose is not to build a single brand, but rather to build a community of brands that all have a common thread of giving back.

 

One of the biggest challenges for a concept like MADE FOR GOOD is accountability. How will MADE FOR GOOD interact with consumers on a deeper level than just a purchase?

 

Nothing can be done on our end without a business transaction, so it is commerce and revenue that drives everything we do. However, we understand that people want more than that, they want to belong to something and they want to be part of something bigger than just themselves. That is what motivates us and we know that motivates others as well. [This month] we will be launching our new MADE FOR GOOD website and with the goal to create a better customer experience and enhance the ability for all of us to get to know each other more.

 

What is MADE FOR GOOD’s marketing strategy and how will social media be used?

 

With new brands being added as soon as next month, including new partners, we are able to reach a large audience already committed to supporting these non-profit organizations and give them a new means of doing so. Our marketing campaign focuses around opportunities for storytelling through media, social interactions, events, internet promotions, and utilizing core digital and social media technologies. Each brand has a different demographic it’s targeting and a different story to tell, so outreach is tailored based on those factors, but the story is the same: buy something you love and do good at the same time.

 

> For more on CSR in retail, read my blog post, “Giving Good Brand: When Should a Company Be Socially Responsible?”

Anatomy of a Fashion Blogger: Why Blair Eadie is a Marketer’s Dream

Posted on: March 28th, 2012 by bertrand No Comments

At last week’s opening event for an Alice+Olivia store in San Francisco, the star of the party wasn’t the designers or their new collections, but a sweetly humble blogger named Blair Eadie.

 

If you’ve been living under a pile of clothes from Old Navy then you might not know that Eadie is the vaguely 20-something year old Gap merchandiser who’s blog, Atlantic-Pacific, has become something of a phenomenon in the world of people who take pictures of themselves and post them.

 

Here we were at a party chock-a-block with women with names like Piper and Christy and Jenn, all 5’9” of them in heels and a halo of bottle blonde hair.

 

 

Rising above all of them was Eadie herself, a more polished and expensive-looking blonde beacon in a chartreuse blouse and purple palazzo pants (furnished by Alice+Olivia.) The roomful of women gazed at her over their glasses of pink champagne —- and yes, even admiringly.

 

This is very much the success of Blair Eadie. She is the big sister-best friend who is instantly approachable and who’s style is fresh without being too daring or too “edgy.” Eadie, who could easily be mistaken for Lauren Conrad or Blake Lively, has that wholesome gleam of America’s sweetheart, the girl who would never steal your boyfriend and might even let you borrow her Celine bag.

 

“Omigod I’m like, just so obsessed with her,” gushed one guest. “Do you work for her?” I asked, suspiciously. “God no, I just work down the street but I just think she has such amazing style.”

 

That “style” rests somewhere between Greenwich, Connecticut, New York’s SoHo, and that short block of Santa Monica in front of Fred Segal. Which is probably why the young women of San Francisco felt so in awe of her super stylishness (in this circle, “super” is added in front of many words. Super-fun. Super-cool. Super-cute.)

 

 

“I’m just so like, touched that they’re here and that they read my blog,” said Eadie, gazing at the crowd. But what’s next? “I really don’t know what’s next, you know I’d love to get in the magazine space or styling…” Her voice trails, as though to leave her options open. And why not?

 

In the meantime, outside her role at the Gap, Eadie has had stints as a host for a Macy’s New York party for Fashion’s Night Out, model for Cover Girl makeup, and been featured in a legion of posts from other fashion bloggers who in some cases, grudgingly commend her for her style.

 

For now, though, Eadie could easily just stick with hosting store openings and still turn a profit. Brands are indeed keeping their eye on bloggers like Eadie because for that wildly important Millenial demographic, the fashion blogger can have far more credibility than a Suzy Menkes or Sally Singer. Already Eadie’s blog has racked up a healthy handful of advertisers, and it’s no wonder.

 

 

 

Why? Simply because bloggers like Eadie are “real” people who are inventing their own style and discovering brands and ways of dressing that has less to do with the runway, and more to do with their mood or pop culture references.

 

They effortlessly mix and match, high and low. Never mind that the majority of these “it’s just me and my daily looks” bloggers are so frighteningly on-trend that one can’t help but wonder how many brands are sending boxes of clothes to them. By and large, they are the People’s Fashion Editor, sifting and culling looks obsessively and efficiently. Their narcissism has turned them into a commodifiable product — they’re selling clothes, and themselves.

 

 

Alice + Olivia is a brand so perfectly suited to the  “girly-girl,” that urban ingénue in search of her self — a description which not-so-coincidentally describes Blair Eadie.  Here in just one night, several dozen girls drained four cases of pink champagne and raided the store’s clothing racks, thanks in large part to the pull of a blogger named Blair Eadie, who made it all seem so effortless and so very, super-fun.

Love for Sale: Selling Romance to the Upwardly Mobile Urbanite

Posted on: March 21st, 2012 by bertrand No Comments

Single men and women in large urban cities are finding it harder and harder to find a partner. About 40 percent of U.S. adults are unmarried – up from 28 percent in 1970 – which means big business for dating services. In North America alone it is estimated there are over 1,500 dating sites. In 2012 they had a projected profit total of $2.1 billion — and that’s in the U.S. alone.

 

Online dating services began booming in popularity in 2001, with match.com and eharmony being the most recognized . While online dating has become increasingly accepted as an option for meeting a potential partner, it still has the whiff of desperation.

 

But where once it one was stigmatized for admitting that he or she found a partner online, it has become increasingly normalized, especially for those too busy to meet in more conventional settings. There are highly exclusive online dating sites for high net worth individuals who only want partner’s worth well over a billion dollars.

 

Of course sex continues to be the top-line message. Sites like True.com are less about long-term romance and feature provocative pop-up ads on various internet sites that ask men to “Stop. Stare. Flirt,” while a video box shows a scantily clad woman who waves, winks and giggles.

 

However many men in particular are hesitant to sign up for a dating service. As one executive with one such service observes, “a lot of men don’t like to go that deep, especially when it’s with a stranger.”3 Men now make up about 60 percent of visitors to online personals, where they can maintain a certain level of anonymity. In response to an article about dating services in the Wall Street Journal, one reader wrote,  “Plain and simple…men hate the thought of resorting to a dating service. Once the guy gets over that hurdle and decides to try a service, the challenge becomes a money issue….” Another plaintively said, “Most low-to-mid-salary women want rich men. I’m not rich… I’m 35 years old; make about $52,000 a year and am good looking. But I haven’t had a date in a year. It’s not that easy for guys to meet girls either.”

 

So perhaps it’s no wonder then that with the novelty of online dating having worn thin, real-life social clubs and businesses built around common interests and hobbies have shown steady growth in the past five years alone, as young professionals seek out new ways to meet potential partners beyond a website or bar.

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