Nov 22, 2010
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Luxury brands: how to create, nurture and manage your heritage

Nov 22, 2010

At the last International Herald Tribune Luxury Conference that took place in London mid-November, the topic of discussion was Heritage Luxury: a vast subject that can be approached in many ways. Two main questions marked out those two days of reflection: does heritage define a luxury brand, thus making it very difficult for new brands to emerge in the market? How do we relive the past? “The world-wide luxury industry seems to be built on the past. I have lost count of the number of anniversary parties I have been to just this year. Zegna turned 100, Gucci 90, Cavalli 40, Tommy Hilfiger 25, Lane Crawford 160... But the question remains how to revere the values of the past”, commented Suzy Menkes, Fashion Editor of the International Herald Tribune and also host of the event.

Alber Elbaz and Suzy Menkes debating in London.

Heritage, according to her, is defined by a combination of factors: the story of the founding family, the original skill and craftsmanship and the more abstract concept of the soul of the brand. “To have a long history does not mean that the identity of the brand still exists”, insisted Paul Smith. “A couture house only exists if its identity is alive”, commented Karl Lagerfeld, who is the artistic director for Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous label. For him, towards the end of the 1950s, there were only two options: Balenciaga and Chanel. But Chanel made the mistake of not adapting to the new mini skirt and denim fashion trends. The question that he and his colleagues are asking themselves is how to keep a brand name alive whilst drawing elements from the past.

Christopher Bailey reminds us that Burberry has always let each generation influence the brand and its future. The young designer said to have been surprised when he saw the diversity of the styles found in the archives. The issue is to maintain the values of the fashion house and to translate them into our modern and digital world. We can take the project Burberry Bespoke as an example of this, where Burberry allows online users to customise their famous trench-coat. “My job is to understand the past and to dress women”, Alber Elbaz explains. He worries that archives and forms could potentially block creativity if tradition becomes a recipe without freedom to express new ideas.

Paul Smith

“Jill Sander, Missoni, Versace, Chanel... have created history. We are all human beings. The question is to know: when designers leave the fashion houses, what remains?”, asks Ralph Toledano, Chloe’s former CEO. “Sometimes, designers seem to be delighted with the weakness of a DNA by saying that they are free to introduce new elements to it. But, in the long term, it is worrying for the house”.

In brief, most of the speakers at the conference all seemed to agree upon the fact that a luxury brand must never gravitate away from three key building blocs : the DNA (identity) of the brand, relevance (to the present), and timelessness.

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