By Margretta Sowah
Perception is a funny thing. Have you heard the saying, ‘good from far but far from good’? It usually refers to a person who appears amazing from a distance but the closer you become, the less attractive they are. With Fashion Week stitching itself up after another deliciously sewnful season, I can’t help but question the context of affluence in fashion.
In times of economic strife (this being one of them) society subconsciously gazes to fashion for soci-pyschological direction. In a way, this industry is able to tell us what is hot and what is très moche (so hideous). It is no surprise the fluctuation of brand power is one of great debate. In the world of glitter and gambles, does having an accessible brand mean tacky, or has luxury taken on a whole new meaning – attainable?
Affluence vs. Accessible
Moschino, a luxury Italian fashion brand, has been on the market since the early 80s. If you have never heard to Moschino, you’ve probably heard of Jeremy Scott. I’m going to go out on a limb and call him a remixed John Galliano – in terms of his creative reservoir. Scott is an exceptional designer, being hailed by Faces magazine at number thirty-one (higher than Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen) on their Most Important People in Fashion issue. One of Jeremy’s iconic collaboration was with Adidas. To put it into a Fashion perspective, Adidas would be the Louis Vuitton of the Active Sportswear market; a powerhouse in the industry but also symbiotically tied to a specific subculture.
According to an article by BusinessInsider.au, “brands that become too accessible are less appealing to super rich buyers. Louis Vuitton, for instance, is considered a ‘brand for secretaries’ by many wealthy Chinese.” With multiple monogram copies, the LV bubble has been flooded by cheap knockoffs to the point of social recession. After further research into the customer perception of LV, most Australians agreed with the above statement, with it being over-worn and under-sold for years. It’s understandable to question whether Louis Vuitton still retains its extravagant seat in the table of opulence.
There is no backpedaling for a brand of this nature. Product-wise their collections are incredible. In the area of perception it would seem Vuitton does not hold the same feelings most would have towards CHANEL, even though there are as much knockoffs of Coco’s signature 2.55 bag as there are of Louis Vuitton’s Speedy bag. Has Louis Vuitton’s unintentional commercialism caused their brand to now be seen as accessible instead of affluent?
Vuitton is the other half of the huge multinational conglomerate LVMH (Moët Hennessy.Louis Vuitton) and houses brands such as Christian Dior, Pucci, Fendi, Givenchy and Kenzo. I don’t see anything accessible about bags, clothes and accessories worth thousands of dollars. Do you? This is where perception comes into play. If a brand aligns themselves with personal and positive benefits along with emotional meaning, it would be very hard pressed to change public opinion, even if the trends show other signs (this goes for people as well).
What’s the secret?
Victoria’s got a secret. You know what it is, don’t you? You don’t? Her secret is that she has no secret – it is a marketing form of ‘Chinese whispers’. It starts with the truth and ends up becoming a subjective; a bit of bull***t, half a line of your favorite song and a quarter of people-stopped-caring-ten-ears-ago. When discussing brand perception, there is one company that sings with heavenly angels to get our attention – Victoria’s Secret. This brand is very successful at tugging heartstrings and drawstrings. A friend of mine who works for VS was quick to affirm the brand’s leverage in most segments of the market; whether fast, mid or luxury.
This leverage also has negative connotations with public opinion. While one half of VS lovers are avid fans of the lifestyle and the products, there are others that have a lot to say to Vicky about the body conscious and unrealistic fantasies of the human body – I’m not saying there are not plenty of women who look like Doutzen Kroes or Maria Borges (I do sometimes fantasize about being Naomi C though), but us women have enough issues surrounding positive body image and the notion of healthy vs. thin or thicker vs. fat. There is no doubt VS promotes a fitness culture but the ads are for lingerie. A double standard? Yes, but they are laughing all the way to the bank… maybe that’s the real secret.
The way majority of us perceive VS is a testament to excellent brand strategies, tapping into the lifestyle of Victoria by using celebrated models in a sort of sorority system approach. Girls apply to become a Victoria Secret Angel; if approved they receive a contract and off they go modeling, jetsetting to some of the most breathtaking places in the world – all documented for customers to get ‘behind the scene access’. We all know though, it’s the star-studding runway show we tune in for. In the hierarchy of luxury brand, VS is considered a luxury store. Their products are mid-priced and well designed (it’s no La Perla), enough to pique social and superficial intrigue, but the main reason most buy (from young to old) is because of the VS Angels themselves – Adriana, Alessandra, Miranda, Candice, Chanel, Karlie and, once upon a time, Tyra.
When a brand is over exposed to the market it’s easy to assume they are no longer precious or special. I believe there is a new perception on luxury; one where having a strong brand culture with tailor-made products allows consumers to be a part of the journey – because they get it. There is logic to business that we can’t deny, or be snobbish about – this culture is saying, ‘I want to be heard! I am making money and appealing to my audience. This is a new form of extravagance.’
Luxury, no matter how you and I spin it, has to do with a feeling. It is rarely judged solely on tactile operations. Putting it back into perspective – what we perceive, we believe.