How an Anti-luxury-strategy changed the Fashion Industry

words Martin Rybak
illustration Mark Modimola

illustration   Mark Modimola

illustration Mark Modimola

Vetements, Acne, and Études are only a few of the brands that recently helped to wake up the luxury fashion industry and forced it to go through a major change. The definition of luxury fashion and the values attached to it were once simple and clear: high quality, high prices, a sophisticated brand image and a long brand history of at least 100 years. It seemed like a law that couldn’t be changed, yet suddenly, there are the brands that go against these laws and succeed with their anti-luxury-strategy.

All the new luxury brands have one thing in common: they lack the long-lasting history of traditional luxury fashion brands, such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton or Gucci. It gives them the advantage of being young, new, and fresh, but there is much more behind “being new” in the industry. Everyone is talking about how oversaturated the market is nowadays, but these young fashion brands understood there is a huge potential of new customers out there, customers seeking a different luxury experience. A niche needed to be filled, and it seems like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and company either don’t want or simply can’t fill it the way young luxury brands can. Vetements and its equals did something that seemed impossible: reaching young people not interested in luxury or at least not in the type of luxury sold by the big names in the industry. The values attached to a product by Chanel are meaningless to customers of Vetements. A high price, good quality and a sophisticated brand history is not enough to gain this specific, young target as customers, so this new generation of luxury brands started to redefine the boundaries of luxury fashion.

Brand heritage and brand history are things binding the traditional fashion brands to a certain “cut- in-stone”-image that makes them a lot less dynamic to respond to youth culture quickly. Vetements, founded in 2009, has no past to worry about and does not need to care about losing one target group for the price of winning another. These “no history - brands” can be experimental, surprising, and provocative, which makes them gain attention especially by buyers who are young and looking for “something new” all the time. Of course, the big names are already aware of the fact that Millennials are one of the most important targets a brand must get in touch with nowadays. Millennials will not only have the purchasing power in the future, which makes them economically attractive as a target, but they also shape future trends and hypes like no other generation before. All the social media channels Millennials are obsessed with make it easy for brands to communicate with this young target, but at the same time, Millennials are fast-paced. They are constantly seeking the new, the unexpected, and the unseen, and brands must be faster than the customers. They need to know in advance what will be the new cool thing. Knowing the target group might be one of the most important aspects to successfully market a brand nowadays, and it is at this point where these young brands have a real advantage: these brands are just as young as the people they want to sell their products to. The motto seems to be “luxury made by Millennials for Millennials” which underlines the idea of luxury brands who are just as young and cool as their customers. These brands are focused on this one, very specific target, whereas brands like Chanel are in a dilemma nowadays.

They need to care about a target that is older than the Millennials and at the same time, get in touch with a new generation of buyers. It’s obvious the big names care about Millennials. It seems like suddenly all the traditional luxury brands want to collaborate with one of the young brands or with fast fashion retailers to get some of the precious coolness and to get a piece of the pie. In this case, this piece of pie comprises gaining attention from a younger target, without scaring away an older target. But there are also more extreme examples of brands not satisfied to adorn themselves with borrowed plumes. Some luxury brands want to get rid of their older target; when Yves Saint Laurent changed to Saint Laurent, not only the name and logo changed, but suddenly the once traditional luxury house was selling products to a much younger target. More and more brands realise it is not enough to create a Snapchat account to be loved by the young generation. At least in the question of how to gain young buyers, how to gain these people who will shape future trends, the big names in the industry are learning from recently established luxury brands. They are learning from the brands who come up with the unexpected every season.

Vetements, taken as an example that stands for a new generation of luxury brands, knows the rules of gaining the attention of Millennials. When Vetements came up with the iconic DHL T-shirt in 2015, it quickly became a new anti-status symbol worn by celebrities and was seen on young people during every fashion week around the world. It shows once more, there is a very specific group of customers who are not attracted by what traditional luxury brands are offering in terms of product and brand image. Clothing like the one sold by Vetements gives realness to youth, something that they are now seeking for in a fashion world that was dominated by totally different values for so long. Chanel will come up with the same perfectly staged multimillion dollar show every year and of course, everyone will love it. But when Vetements is selling their own “fake”-collection in an old warehouse in Seoul, it is unpredictable, and it is this kind of experience, that might be lacking for Millennials in the traditional luxury brands.

It seems like these young luxury brands know a mathematical formula that equals success. But then again, brands shouldn’t rely on any rules or “mathematical calculations”, when it comes to the young generation. The moment a brand thinks they figured out what makes Millennials crave their products, they are already bored and looking for a new kind of luxury experience. Maybe, in the end, the secret to successfully gain this young generation as a target is to be as unpredictable as the generation itself. Give them something unexpected, and they will come back for more.