Historically, an essential element of luxury branding – its credentials and success – has been based on its provenance. Whether inherent or explicit, a reference to origin always featured as a highly desirable and unique attribute of exclusive brands, from its presence on logos, labels to other visual equities and forms of communication.
But this could now start to change as a brand’s audiences and biggest fans are no longer traditional homegrown loyalists but a global audience driven by cultural diversity and the ease with which we can now explore the new (retail) worlds open to us. The success of luxury goods is no longer just about literal roots and origin but about the positioning of values and message.
In 2006, British brand Burberry was pilloried – by consumers and press alike – for moving its production away from the UK and relocating manufacture from Wales to China. Primarily, the feeling seemed to centre on losing jobs for British workers rather than a worry that we may lose the iconic British identity and design of this ‘heritage’ brand.
Ironic then maybe that Burberry bought out its longstanding Chinese business partner for £70m last year (Source: The Guardian, May 14 2011). It also recently opened a store in Beijing with plans to expand from 60 to 100 shops. But, even way from home, the Chinese are a shopping force to be reckoned with and that the brand is hiring Mandarin speakers in the UK to ensure sales are not lost in translation.
On top of this Burberry has opened the first store for its ‘Burberry Brit’ fashion label in London Covent Garden and made a public declaration that the brand is increasingly using its British’ness as currency around the world while increasingly looking to the Far East for sales. It’s clearly a successful strategy; their sales were recently reported to have more than doubled in the fiscal year by WWD.
As far back as 2005 – a year earlier than the Burberry flare up – Prada, another luxury colossus, was already openly discussing its plans to consider abandoning its policy of sourcing all its clothing in Italy and looking at moving manufacture to China, under the headline – “Prada not too proud to say ‘made in China’…” The article in The Times stated that – “ ’MADE in Italy, via China’ might soon be an appropriate label for a Prada blouse.” (Source: The Times, May 20 2005)
“ the success of luxury goods is no longer just about literal roots and origin but about the positioning of values and message ”
Prada’s plans for diversification was not met with the same negativity as Burberry’s, maybe because Prada explained a more creative and visionary rationale, embracing the cultures with the most expertise and heritage in the creation of different types of goods. As the shrewd and future- focused Chief Executive of Prada, Patrizio Bertelli, went on to state, “We will have to make a decision in the next few years,” he said. “Even if a product is made in ten different countries, it could be defined by ‘Made by Prada’.”
And at the end of 2010, his vision was brought to life with a new project called “Made in …” featuring collections identified by special labels dedicated to each country of origin, starting with “PRADA Made in Scotland” (tartan), “PRADA Made in Peru” (Alpaca wool), “PRADA Made in Japan” (Printed cotton) and “PRADA Made in India” (Woven leather).
But whilst revolutionizing both the definition of its brand provenance and the ideals of the market, the project does stem from an original idea deeply rooted in the heritage of the brand. In the early decades of the twentieth century, Miuccia Prada’s grandfather, the visionary Mario Prada, travelled the world in tireless pursuit of ideas and inspiration. His goal was not only to discover the most luxurious materials, exotic skins and sumptuous fabrics, but also to locate sophisticated craftsmen and manufacturers to realize his revolutionary designs. And now, using Mario Prada’s time-honed strategy, Prada continues this ideology, collaborating with these exquisite artisans across the globe to produce modern, innovative designs utilizing the traditional craftsmanship, materials, and manufacturing techniques of a specific region.
And whilst I am not trying to just focus on Prada – Prada is, so far, the only brand actually putting this new approach into such sophisticated practice. In addition to its ‘Made in…’ project, January 2010 saw the brand hold its first ever fashion show outside of Berlin – choosing Beijing. As with Burberry, China is the bull’s-eye for the growth of the luxury industry and Prada now operates in 10 cities in China with plans to increase its presence in the next two years, tripling stores to 45 from 15, and opening a new design studio in Hong Kong.
But, it is not just the targeting of the Chinese elite with its first runway show that is of particular note with Prada but the fact that – until now – Miuccia Prada has never produced a diffusion collection that particularly diversified for different markets, as is common for other Luxury conglomerates. For this collection, the brand considered the different codes of the market it was entering and changed the fabric of several garments from cotton (regarded as work wear) to sequins (luxury wear). And just as brands will need to embrace diversity, they will also need to look at how the brand proposition of a recognised global icon can and should
translate – both behaviourally and aesthetically – in the different markets with which they choose to partner.
But it is potentially a double-edged sword. Brands need to have a presence in growing markets – as evidenced by the surge of premium luxury brands entering, for example, the Indian retail sector. Costs of raw luxury materials have been pushed up (cotton, cashmere, leather…) and brands need to economise and look for the production and manufacturing territories that offer the best deal. But, balanced against this, is the need to weigh up the negative and positive consumer response to a luxury brand’s source and place of origin.
“ brands need to economise and look manufacturing territories that offer the best deal, but to also weigh up the consumer response to a luxury brand’s source and place of origin ”
Perhaps the notion of ‘Made by….’ Having the same cachet as – or replacing – ‘Made in…’ is an idealistic notion. Traditionally, the search for superior quality – and manufacture in a country perceived to be associated with high quality or particular expertise – has been the most powerful motivator for consumers when purchasing luxury goods.
Can we now shift the balance to both promote the brand and correctly position place of manufacture to influence the consumer towards purchase just as Prada seems to have successfully achieved? However, regardless of the issues, brands need to embrace the challenge of how to conquer and work with new territories as we take the necessary steps to becoming a globalised or – more pertinently global yet localised – marketplace.
Perhaps the real message here is that the future of luxury does not necessarily lie solely in logo-ing, labelling and safe guarding luxury – as was the case in the past, to counter the risk of counterfeiting – but in allowing luxury brands to display the kind of provocative and challenging behaviour that makes it so remarkable. luxury needs to step away from its previous obligations to set a new benchmark in creativity, craft and idealism – surely some of its most important values – which embraces the opportunity for real open mindedness to exist in new guises in the constantly evolving world order that we the consumer have created with our changing desires.