The New Luxury Muse: The Diverse & The Inspirational


Sophie Maxwell | January 09, 2014

Sophie Maxwell, Futures Director at Pearlfisher, investigates how the muse is playing an integral part in directing the future fortunes of luxury brands

Carine Roitfeld and Julia Restoin-Roitfeld for Givenchy

Sophie Maxwell, Futures Director at Pearlfisher, investigates how the muse is playing an integral part in directing the future fortunes of luxury brands

“His are the only clothes in which I am myself. He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality,” Hubert de Givenchy’s muse Audrey Hepburn said of the designer.

The invocation of the muse is as alive and kicking today as it was in the time of the ancient Greeks. For the luxury sector, the role of the luxury muse has always been instrumental in inspiring and defining the brand, a collection or a direction. But, just as luxury’s parameters evolve, so too, the rendition of the muse.

No longer is this just a celebrated or emulated role model, or, indeed, the brand’s figurehead. Today’s muse is taking on very many different identities as it morphs into a place, the stars – even a cat! And we wanted to explore why the muse, and its many new guises, is now playing an even more integral part in directing the future fortunes of our luxury brands.

In recent times, the strength and success of the high-end luxury and designer brands has pivoted on the figurehead, and more precisely the Creative Director, behind the brand. We previously debated the issue of what drives success here on Luxury Society.

“ The role of the luxury muse has always been instrumental in inspiring and defining the brand ”

Looking at whether it was business acumen or creative direction, we concluded that “the brains behind the luxe brands need 20/20 vision to direct innovative – but opposite – brand channeling and the merging of a truly perceptive creative and business strategy.”

And we know that the creative leaders/designers attached to the brand can directly affect its fortune. Look at the reported dips in sales with the departure of Emma Hill from Mulberry and Angela Ahrendts from Burberry. But, more and more brands are realizing that this focus on, and reverence of, creative autonomy is becoming an outdated approach.

There is a new understanding that while creative direction needs to come to the forefront, it is not about resting everything on the shoulders of the individual. By introducing new figureheads and sources of inspiration, forward-thinking brands can feel more real, human, relevant and, where appropriate, irreverent, one of the great differentiating attributes of Luxury.

And this shift in focus is starting to come through and impact on commercial success as creative directors look beyond themselves, their own image, reference and skill set to draw on other people (and their influences) to create a new generation of muses.

Burberry’s Spring/Summer 2013 Campaign

This approach is invigorating and broadening the brand’s frame of reference and its appeal – thus giving it the opportunity to draw inspiration from outside its sector and move it into new areas of expertise.

Christopher Bailey is a great and current example of just how we might now see this play out in practice. Bailey was previously appointed as Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer and now, on Ahrendts departure, CEO. Media speculation is rife that while he is a phenomenal designer, he may not have the business and leadership skills to successfully fulfil this role – and the brand’s future success.

We beg to disagree. Ahrendts herself called Bailey ‘one of the generation’s greatest visionaries’ and he has already begun to strengthen and promote key members of his team. It is this approach and vision that should ensure Burberry’s new – and renewed – commercial success.

Bailey has already shaped the brand to almost match his own attributes (British, modern classic, understated but ahead of the curve) but he is also pulling in his ‘friends’ including Jonathan Ive (Senior Vice President of Design at Apple) to add kudos to the brand.

“ By introducing new figureheads, forward-thinking brands can feel more real, human, relevant ”

Bailey recognises we are living in a digital world and, while not his area of expertise, Burberry is currently front-running in the area of luxury and technology simply because Bailey is fostering the correct and most desirable partnerships (Google being another one) and initiatives.

Hermès too is exploring new routes of interaction and inspiration by sourcing and linking with the best experts. In this case to extend its luxury offer into daily sports with the launch of two models of an ultra-lightweight carbon fibre bicycle.

In a nod to the brand’s leather tradition, expressed through the iconic Birkin bags and a range of other accessories, the two new Hermès bikes – Le Flâneur d’Hermès and Le Flâneur sportif – feature bull calf leather on the saddles, carry handles and handlebar grips.

“We really want to work with people who have a very deep expertise, and wherever possible, we try to find them in France…” commented François Doré, head of the Hermès Horizons division (WWD). Burberry and Hermès are advocating this new kind of luxury and muse behaviour that is about a more fluid, diverse and modern approach.

Le Flâneur d’Hermès Collection of Bicycles

Today’s muses are more varied – and a brand may even have several at one time – and perhaps have less longevity as new muses keep pace with the fast pace of our changing world and (often fickle) consumer desire. It’s about creatively evolving the muse in line with the now continuous evolution of the brand – and the need to reach each and every individual while still creating on a mass level.

It’s exciting to see the originality – and maybe unexpected nature – of the initiatives coming through such as Karl Lagerfeld and the launch of his latest accessory range inspired by his feline muse, Choupette. The range of accessories comes in an entirely monochrome colour palette but with each piece of the limited edition line of gloves, scarf and leather accessories featuring a feline face.

We are also starting to see more of a cross-disciplinary creative approach with Prada debuting its literary writing competition earlier in the year. The competition is inspired by Prada’s optical eyewear collections:

“By using the metaphor of prescription glasses, Prada enters a world made of written words, rather than spoken, thus launching a challenge to explore and enhance the individual interpretation of reality,” says the brand. “Optical eyewear becomes an opportunity and a tool to investigate diverse creative worlds: a proffered channel and a window on our world, and – why not – on new potential worlds.”

“ Burberry is a technology leader in luxury because Bailey is fostering the most suitable partnerships ”

And a more literal storytelling is fast-becoming a huge driver for brands and nowhere is this more inherent than with the legacy of the luxury brand. But it is about finding new ways to locate, express and visualise that story.

Chanel is looking back to move forward by creating a web based planetarium to promote its new Chanel J12 Moonphase timepiece using inspiration and a quote from Gabrielle Chanel herself, “I love everything up high: the sky, the moon, I believe in stars.”

Specific places and locations also feature strongly. Mulberry tapped London as its muse for last year’s multichannel Autumn campaign, cleverly linking itself with an historical and authentic aspect of its brand. And November 07 this year sees the launch of Louis Vuitton’s second installment of ‘L’Invitation au Voyage – Venice’.

The legendary style of pop icon David Bowie continues to inspire everyone from Lady GaGa to Jean Paul Gaultier and LV is wisely featuring Bowie, alongside supermodel Arizona Muse, in this new campaign as the style icons and city partner as complementary muses for the brand.

Karl Lagerfeld and Feline muse Choupette (Net-a-Porter TV)

As we wait for Bailey et al to delight us with further incarnations and interpretations of today’s muse and tomorrow’s inspiration, the real point lies in why this direction is so important. Essentially, having a tangible element – be it a face, object, character or place – makes it easy for consumers to connect, identify and aspire to a brand.

In turn, the evolving notion of the muse helps bring the brand up to date and it is obviously most important for a luxury brand to feel contemporary, relevant and in a constant state of evolution.

By identifying these new ideas, role models and influencers – or a variety of them – it opens up the brand to a new audience of (increasingly global) consumers as the muses take on new expressions to different consumers in different countries and in each interpretation set the bar for our ultimate desires.

To further investigate branding on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- Experiencing Luxury: From Digital to Dynamic
- Luxury: For the Masses or the Individual?
- The Art of Luxury Brand Design: The Unsung Hero?