Luxury Beyond Commerce – Part 2: Covert Credibility & The Future of Cultural Commerce


Katie Baron | November 11, 2015

Consumer attraction, engagement and loyalty are arguably the three sacred pillars of brand success. In the final of this two-part series, Stylus identifies more key trends to connect and reveals the future of cultural commerce.

Consumer attraction, engagement and loyalty are arguably the three sacred pillars of brand success. In the final of this two-part series, Stylus identifies more key trends to connect and reveals the future of cultural commerce.

As shared interests begin to trump traditional demographics, expressive cultural connections are becoming key to boosting luxury brand relevancy and avoiding the pitfalls of ubiquity unleashed by digital retail.

From ritualistic retail to covert commerce, here we will reveal new strategies for cultivating fans, driving addiction and re-establishing rarity.

Part 2 will examine the following two trends in detail, and provide exclusive insights on the evolution of cultural commerce going forward.

“ Discreet inner sanctums & restricted access are reclaiming luxury’s bond with exclusivity ”

Covert Commerce & New-Gen Limited Edition Reboot Luxury: Countering the perceived ubiquity of luxury goods created by both rampant physical global expansion and digital retail, hidden flagships, discreet inner sanctums and restricted access are delivering the thrill of secrecy to those in-the-know, reclaiming luxury’s inherent bond with exclusivity. In a parallel movement, new limited edition formats, including staggered-release e-commerce, are helping to sustain desire.

Artistic Elevation: High End Needs High Culture: Trading on the luxury industry’s long-held attachment to art as a point of differentiation, combined with a growing consumer desire for cultural enrichment beyond retail-tainment, savvy premium brands are embracing innovative, modern forms of patronage or artistic affiliation to spotlight their cultural voice and relevancy.

Covert Credibility: Modern Brand Folklore

The flipside of digital retail’s delivery of wider brand reach is that it has also pushed the perception of ubiquity, via visuals alone, to epic heights. Concepts anchored in a more clandestine sensibility are bidding to reclaim that perceived loss of the allure of exclusivity, and helping brands create their own folklore in the process.

“ Premium US sportswear brand Concepts created two, stealth-oriented pop-ups tethered to its NY store ”

Thrill of the Hunt: Within French department store L’Eclaireur’s suite of six concept stores is an especially discreet location on rue Hérold in Paris. Housing collections by cult fashion designers including Rick Owens and Dries Van Noten, it is sequestered behind a 17th-century door with a small buzzer. The Argumento building, which retails fashion and lifestyle brands and is nestled behind an unassuming door within a townhouse in one of Rio’s most affluent districts in Brazil, is similarly consciously un-signposted.

Revelling in Restriction: In February 2014, premium US sportswear brand Concepts, which specialises in emerging street and skatewear brands, created two, stealth-oriented pop-ups tethered to its own New York store. For one day only, visitors were permitted solo entry to the bouncer-guarded store. A vendor concealed behind the wall dispatched shoes from a hidden drawer, which then retracted back into the wall. Shoes were packaged in boxes wrapped in duct tape, embellished with handwritten product details.

VIP Privacy: Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe’s revamped London flagship includes a vista into a watch repair lab and an intimate personal shopping lounge – courting consumers’ growing desire for behind-the-scenes access and discreet consumption. See also Inconspicuous Consumption, part of our Austerity Opportunity Macro Trend.

Patek Philippe’s revamped London flagship

Covert Consumption: Scottish whisky distillery Glenmorangie and London-based whisky specialist Milroy’s both launched covert concepts in early 2015. Echoing Dunhill’s multi-tiered handle on engagement, Glenmorangie’s Unseen pop-up bar served whisky-based cocktails in a venue featuring a secluded vault at the rear that housed its rarest produce. Milroy’s relaunched shop now includes an underground speakeasy-style tasting venue, which similarly descends into a basement vault for selected consumers.

Martin Harrison is planning director at digital agency Huge London, whose clients include Nike, American Express, Lowe’s and Google. “Such covert concepts gain traction by delivering rituals based within a new form of storytelling, in which the consumers’ own participation is essential to heightening the appeal,” he told Stylus. “It’s about brands allowing consumers to create their own stories, their own creator myths.”

New-Gen Limited Edition

The sister concept to covert credibility is revamped limited edition: initiatives rooted in restriction, including staggered access, as a method of driving desire. Such concepts trade on the way in which digitisation has driven consumers’ expectation for the constant renewal of information – tapping into the thrill of the hunt and the power of anticipation described further in companion report, Luxury Retail: Virtual Added Value.

“ The sister concept to covert credibility is revamped limited edition ”

Hide & Seek Serendipity: Trading on the excitement of chance as well as vigilance, in 2014, Japanese fashion label Visvim launched ‘The Travelling Trailer’. The pop-up store was nestled within a 15 ft tin trailer, selling products curated by founder Hiroki Nakamura in locations beyond Japan – including a pit stop at Dover Street Market, New York.

Dedicated Domains: In early 2015, the beauty division of luxury French brand Dior installed the temporary Dior Skincare Room at the Village Mall in Rio, Brazil – dedicated to products only available in Latin America. It featured specialist treatments and unique brand lines, including the Dior Priveé line and a product devised by the brand’s Belgian image director, make-up artist Peter Philips.

Staggered Release: In July 2014, Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons launched a collection with American artist Sterling Ruby via dedicated e-commerce site (billed as a curated e-concept store), offering a single look from the collection each week – causing an online scramble as brand fans clamoured for freshly released pieces. For autumn, tickets were sold to a similarly exclusive physical pop-up store.

“ Luxury brands must now create these perishable moments ”

In 2015, American artist and film director Miranda July’s book The First Bad Man was released in tandem with an online store that allowed consumers to buy everyday items such as shoes and postcards as well as a copy of the book itself – but only in staggered sequence, requiring them to remain constantly vigilant.

“Traditional wisdom for luxury brands was that they should create something year-on-year that was bigger and better and more expensive, but it is now more about key moments which are perishable – like Japanese cherry blossom,” says Wilson.

“It happens every year but then disappears, making that very moment the one that counts. Luxury brands must now create these perishable moments. Just like going to a live gig – bursts of heightened, transcendental activity that maintain salience.”

Visvim: ‘The Travelling Trailer

Cultural Commerce: Artistic Elevation

As art, commerce and content become increasingly enmeshed (the outcome of an hyper-visual, swiftly hybridising retail culture), the value of embracing artistic practice has never been richer. Smart luxury brands are outpacing the mainstream with collaborative concepts and creative innovation that runs far beyond the traditions of sponsorship.

Store as Work of Art: Smart luxury brands are transcending the traditional store-as-branded-art-gallery format, transforming their flagships by bedding art into the very fabric of the building itself – creating physical destinations worthy of fan pilgrimage.

The London flagship of French fashion house Celine opened in 2014. It features bespoke furniture, fixtures, and design details such as cast-iron door handles designed not by an architect, but by Danish artist, Thomas Poulsen. Louis Vuitton’s Las Vegas flagship boasts an installation by reclusive American light artist James Turrell, comprising two colourfully lit chambers and a soothing ‘sensing space’ filled with white light.

“ Louis Vuitton’s S/S 15 show involved massive holographic projections inspired by cult sci-fi film Dune ”

Patronage & Affiliation: Thanks to their now vast viewing figures online, the biannual catwalk shows are now an essential marketing platform for the luxury sector, whose budgets allow for innovation significant enough to inspire vast, highly valuable social-media buzz.

Louis Vuitton’s S/S 15 womenswear show, which involved massive holographic projections inspired by cult sci-fi film Dune, was co-created with acclaimed British theatre designer Es Devlin – whose set designs stretch from opera to stadium tours for rap star Kanye West. The move echoes the brand’s launch of the Louis Vuitton Foundation – a non-profit institution to promote art and culture – and a fully working cinema in its Rome store, affiliated with the local film school.

Erudite Ethos: Italian brand Prada has long affiliated itself with conceptual artistic thinking – both via its stores, designed by revered Dutch architects OMA and its experimental research sister company AMO; and its ongoing partnership with US film director Wes Anderson on moving-image ad projects.

“ It has never been more critical to communicate with, harness and ideally cultivate fandoms ”

Future Insights

Fans Before Consumers, Interests Over Age: In the digital era of trans-global online communities, it has never been more critical to communicate with, harness and ideally cultivate fandoms. Create spaces, both physically and online, in which to incubate and seduce consumers based on shared interests (rather than the traditional attributes of age) to breed loyalty.

Build Anticipation & Cherish the Perishable: In the digital era where information can be easily accessed and shared in a nanosecond, fleeting opportunities – from staggered or disjointed e-commerce releases to covertly advertised travelling pop-ups – draw new excitement. Craft the unexpected to raise the bar.

Co-Creation Essential: In the era of ‘Generation Me’, participatory processes that allow consumers to make their own personal mark are essential. Rituals that require the consumer to provide input, thus driving their own addiction, are those that will provide the strongest returns.

Trend Evolution

Past: Consumers were viewed as individuals to be targeted individually, regardless of the common pursuits and community connections driving their spending. Traditional demographics, largely based on age and location, are seen as the definitive way to target consumers.

Present: Smart brands are beginning to acknowledge the role that communities, including those formed around social media, play in driving brand addiction. This is particularly the case within the luxury sector, where the notion of ‘feeling richer’ is becoming as important as the ‘displaying richer’ mentality connected to purely materialistic wealth.

Future: The most innovative, successful brands will be viewed as a core part of their consumer-fans lifestyles – as critical as hubs for knowledge, expertise and peer-to-peer connections/community bonds as they are for the product itself. Such a shift will allow brands to migrate from tapping purely into products and also to sell the potentially more sustainable angle of services.

To further investigate the millennial consumer and brand innovation on Luxury Society, we invite your to explore the related materials as follows:

- Luxury Beyond Commerce – Part 1: Rites, Rituals & Culture Clubs
- The Secrets To Luxury Online For Millennials
- 10 Top Luxury Brand Experiences