If you have walked down London’s Strand this month, you may have caught a glimpse of an iconic red and green façade. Nestled on the ground floor of 180 Studios, this is Gucci Cosmos, an immersive exhibition from the namesake Florentine fashion house. Across several inventive spaces, British artist Es Devlin worked with the brand to capture more than a century of iconic design and innovation.
But Gucci is not the first fashion label to diversify its lifestyle offering. In September, only a block away from where the exhibition now sits, Hermès handed out flowers and gave tarot card readings at a viral pop-up. At the same time, Burberry took over North London café Norman’s to promote Daniel Lee’s debut collection with the house. While this move drew no shortage of ire – the label was accused of appropriating working-class aesthetics – it didn’t stop the brand from taking ‘Burberry Streets’ to Seoul’s Seongsu and New York’s NoHo.
All three of these houses are staking their claim in a sector-wide transition to ‘experiential luxury’. They are recognising a new consumer that prefers not only to wear a brand but to live it.
These strategies are certainly working. Set against a backdrop of political and economic tumult, investment in luxury goods remains remarkably strong. According to a report by Bain & Company and Altagamma, luxury goods saw a record year in 2022 and growth is expected to continue until the end of 2023. Overall, the market is expected to more than double from 2020 to 2030, reaching an estimated €530-570 billion.
A key player in the move to experiential luxury is Louis Vuitton, which remains the world’s most valuable luxury brand and acts as a flagship label for luxury conglomerate LVMH. First, the brand invited itself into clients’ homes with Objets Nomades, a collection of furniture created in collaboration with a rotation of celebrated designers. However, high price points made these artful creations inaccessible to most customers, with items such as the Bulbo – a seat by Brazilian designers the Campana brothers – retailing for more than £70,000.
This, however, is not necessarily a misstep by Louis Vuitton, considering the wealthiest clients of luxury brands tend to account for a disproportionate share of sales. A report by Boston Consulting Group and Altagamma highlights that less than 1% of clients account for ~10% of sales for luxury brands, suggesting exclusive offerings may complement more accessible ranges.
Recently, more brands have been turning their attention to hyper-exclusivity to connect with their wealthiest clientele. Last year, Chanel announced their intention to open private stores across Asia dedicated to their Very Important Clients. Brunello Cucinelli has a similar initiative. With seven locations around the world, Casa Cucinelli is an invite-only experience that immerses top clients in spaces reminiscent of an Italian home. Guests can privately browse new collections, dine, and attend events in an intensely private sanctuary.
When speaking to Glossy, the brand’s CEO Massimo Caronna maintained that these spaces were dedicated to delivering immaculate experiences, rather than sales. The strategy shows how fashion houses are leveraging experiences to secure brand loyalty. It is a move that aims to guarantee long-term investment from top clients who align with a brand’s identity and values, rather than just its products.
However, not all experiences are exclusively tailored to the top 1% of clients. In Paris, LV Dream is an exhibition space that invites viewers to engage with Louis Vuitton’s history and ongoing discourse with collaborators. At the end of the exhibit, a gift shop showcases designs exclusive to the space alongside a lifestyle-oriented selection of products. After browsing, patrons can even dine at Le Café, which offers an array of Louis Vuitton-branded pastries and snacks. This layered and more inclusive experience can serve as a touchpoint for both new customers and clients who only spend sporadically.
The menu was designed by Maxime Frédéric, the pastry chef at the neighbouring Cheval Blanc Paris – a luxury hotel owned by LVMH. Here, luxury conglomerates are presented with the unique opportunity to leverage their cross-disciplinary portfolios to deliver multi-dimensional experiences that are entirely in-house.
Louis Vuitton seems to be doing just that, with reports suggesting the brand’s Paris headquarters, which currently houses LV Dream and Le Café, may be transformed into a hotel. Finally, customers would be able to eat, drink, and sleep Louis Vuitton.
However, Louis Vuitton would not be the first fashion label to take on the hotel business. Here, Bulgari leads with an international portfolio of nine luxury lodgings. Outposts in the Maldives, Miami and Los Angeles are also on the way. Armani has similar ventures in Milan and Dubai and flashy travellers can find a Palazzo Versace in Macao or Dubai.
Social media has no doubt played a key role in the propagation of luxury brand experiences. LV insignias emblazoned on cakes and wall-to-wall Versace furnishings provide exciting content for Instagram, generating buzz and brand awareness. However, as more and more brands create similar experiences for their customers, they will have to work harder to differentiate themselves.
An emerging opportunity for such innovation is the digital sphere. BCG and Altagamma have identified the problem of “digital discontent”, which arises from clients who expect similar customer service from luxury brands across digital platforms and brick-and-mortar stores. This suggests the online realm is currently an underutilised touchpoint in terms of experiential luxury, an issue of pressing importance considering e-commerce is an increasingly dominant channel for sales. Already, Valentino has tried to remedy this, launching a collaboration with Snapchat that allows users to buy the label’s clothing for their Bitmoji – an in-app avatar. While luxury digital experiences are currently scarce, they present major opportunities for brands to connect with new consumers and bolster e-commerce sales.
Looking to the future, luxury houses will increasingly have to balance experiences that cater to diverse consumers while fostering intimate connections with their top clientele. While exclusivity and personalisation will play important roles, democratised experiences may also help to win over emerging markets – particularly an inclusivity-conscious, digitally savvy Gen Z. What’s all but guaranteed, however, is that we’ll continue to see virality, controversy, and a whole lot of fashion.
Edited by Megan, Fashion Editor