Luxury’s new frontiers


Luxury’s new frontiers

What do you exactly mean by “new frontiers”? This question keeps coming back to those among us working on the eighth edition of the Mint Luxury Conference. To take place on the 25th of this month in Mumbai, the one-day event mounts some of the most relevant conversations around global-Indian luxury. The theme this year is Luxury’s New Frontiers.

In the many months that went into planning an event of this scale with international speakers representing different genres and persuasions in luxury and design, some conversational patterns began to take shape. Mint usually opens structured dialogues with global leaders, strategists and stakeholders of international luxury to explore their observations of the global luxury market. Economics is most certainly a crucial issue but so is the philosophy. What is urgent and current? What has unambiguously changed in the past few years that should define our debates? Have luxury brands reworked their priorities, given the market fluctuations?

“Fluctuation” is usually understood as a financial term. And yes, the luxury market, both in India and elsewhere in the world, is clouded by financial ambiguities. But there have been a number of other non-financial fluctuations in the mood around luxury. The conversational patterns I mention also kept getting repeated in editorial interviews and related reportage.

Sample some. Luxury brands must accept their responsibility in the context of climate change. Will they make sure their factories reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption? It is easy to talk about ethical fashion but what about new regulations on the use of fur and exotic skins?

A senior person I met from Estée Lauder in Mumbai keenly spoke about the company’s corporate social responsibility work. And Caroline Scheufele, co-president and artistic director of Chopard, was most passionate about the Swiss jewellery and watch brand’s sustainable luxury programme in her interview to Mint.

Set up in partnership with brand consultancy Eco-Age and its creative director Livia Firth, Chopard created a philanthropic association with Alliance for Responsible Mining, a South American non-governmental organization.

No one demolishes the fact that luxury is first about fine things, it’s a gratification-inducing object or experience; it carries distinction and curatorial depth. All the same, most people tuned into its present and future also keep harking back to powerful words like sustainability and a war against ecological hazards. These were earlier seen as Third World or bleeding heart issues—good for general goodwill and human rights organizations but not for the purveyors of taste and rarity.

Many other ripples of change came up. If Tod’s contribution of €25 million to the restoration of the Coliseum in Rome points to one kind of commitment, Gucci’s reinvention strategy, including new store concepts, is another. Then there was Chanel’s haute couture show in January, rightly called “eco-couture” for its environmentally sound materials. “At the moment, sustainability is part of the expression of our times,” Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel, said after the show.

Not everything that defines “new frontiers” is about saving the planet or curbing exploitation down the supply chains in the manufacture of fine goods. There are other shifts. The overexposure of luxury due to the online presence and marketing of brands is a big one. Litanies of luxury are no longer confined to rarefied environments where noise, pollution, temperature, lighting and the exact colour of coffee are personalized. It’s now an online obsession. A study released in January by NetBase, a social media analytics platform, titled Brand Passion Report: Luxury Brands 2016 researched the social consumer view of luxury brands. It found that “luxury conversations” grew by 75% year-on-year. The conversation for the top 45 luxury brands increased by 82% and the top 15 luxury brands more than doubled their brand conversation in social media. For this study, social media content was analysed for two years from more than 80 countries, with NetBase looking at more than 700 million social media posts.

Luxury’s new frontiers are here—how we trek towards them will depend on how seriously we take them. That then is the direction of the Mint Luxury Conference. To purposefully wade through the vast and confusing vocabulary, differentiating “sustainable” from “ecologically correct” and a bunch of other terms. To underline that minimalism in materials need not mean minimalism in design. To exchange notes between Eastern and Western pursuits in this new era. Also to applaud film and fashion, celebrity, glamour and causeratti, provenance and finesse.