Monday, April 5, 2010


by Paloma Canut

The legendary Hope diamond at the Smithsonian is believed to have been stolen from an ancient statue then cut from the setting of Louis XIV's jewels to its current size

Magic Flute by Theodor Adorno.

In Magic Flute, German philosopher, Theodor Adorno brings up the subject of art, beauty and its interpretation and value. He reacts against the idea brought up by the ideology of cultural conservatism that art and enlightenment are not linked together, by suggesting that a great part of the creation of art comes from a moment of enlightenment. Enlightenment doesn’t take beauty away from art but only reinforces the beauty in art. For Adorno, the pleasure of contemplating a certain art piece comes from the work of the historical opposites that we can see in the specific work. We can understand an artwork by knowing what it is not trying to show us, and this we can find out from our previous experience. When we feel pleased contemplating or looking at something disinterestedly it is because it reminds us of something that before used to be of absolute interest to us.

Moreover, he continues with the idea that when beauty and luxury were still linked and no distinction existed between them, gold and precious stones were considered to be magical and the light they reflected was proof of it. “The radiance they reflect was thought their own essence. Under their power falls whatever is touched by their light.” Since they were given such important value, they were used as a tool of domination creating an illusion of power. With the pass of time this illusion was lost to the mind’s self-enlightenment, yet men today are still captivated by their radiance, even though men know of the object’s eagerness to achieve power.

As the magical powers were being lost, the jewels were transformed into a symbol of gentleness, and promises that were meant to protect nature from being dominated. This for Adorno is the basis of luxury, which has expanded to all art whether it is luxury item or not, beauty is something that appears to be perfect, unique and harmless yet these provide it with a certain power, a power to dominate over the other imperfect, non-unique, dangerous things. It dominates our lives with the desire of having them around us, we are mesmerized by their beauty and often lose the sense of their real value. What we need to do is be able to contemplate something and really look into the meaning and forget about how radiant and beautiful they are or else the meaning will be lost, the myth and thought process can be forgotten and beauty can take over if we don’t do it. “The bliss of contemplation consists in disenchanted charm. Radiance is the appeasement of myth”

The Great Pretenders; The magic of luxury goods by: Bernard Catry

The Great Pretenders is a text that wants to explain to the reader what the world of luxury is and how to sell it accordingly to its customers.

Step by step, Catry explains the different techniques and elements that determine the image we have of luxury and how they manage to psychologically play with our perceptions in order to make us believe that they are indeed luxury items and that it is something that we need.

Taking Cartier’s example as a starting point, we are presented with the problem that luxury houses have to face, whether to concentrate on maintaining a high-end, elegant image or to open their lines to a wider public, hence lowering the prices so that they become more affordable. If they go with the first option they take the risk of alienating themselves from the market and stop being as competitive, on the other hand if they take the other option they are lowering their image and although their public is wider, the brand equity gets distorted.

In this case, Cartier decided to create a sub-brand with less exclusive products; this began as a huge success until it started to damage the brand’s growth and they were forced to reduce the sales of the second line, Must, in order to re-establish Cartier’s luxury status.

With the help of globalisation and the fact that there is an emerging middle class that can now afford to buy luxury items, luxury has been losing its prestige as it has become more accessible. The audience that these products is generally aimed to try to “distance themselves from the mass and from one another through the emotional value of acquiring well-crafted and rare objects” So, if more and more people have the same taste and are able to buy these items, how is this still considered luxury?

In order to preserve its status and distinction, you can play with several values and strategies:

- Natural Rarity, natural objects are often scarce and depend on time to be created and ready to use; their availability isn’t as immediate as that of products that depend on a man-made core (i.e diamonds, wine, whiskey…) Within natural rarity we can also add the idea of quality manual labour. Nowadays, having something hand-produced adds an extra value to the product, as it automatically makes it different from all the industrially produced ones. (i.e Herm├Ęs Birkin Bag)

- Techno-rarity. Technology is used as a way to distinguish a product from another. Often brands add exclusive technological features to their pieces in order to send a clear message that that specific item has a higher value/prestige than others. In order to be on top of the game with this, the brands have to spend a lot of money and time on research and development, with the hope that it will pay off with the sales revenues, however, for this to happen it has to be produced in larger quantities or else it would become too expensive to produce.

This same idea is followed with the designer’s ready-to-wear collections. Consumers may think that they are more accessible to other consumers yet they are able to let that go by looking at the Haute Couture collections. It’s in these collections that the designer really expresses their inspiration and shows their designing abilities.

Limited Editions. Companies can make some products scarce on purpose by creating a limited edition or a special series. This idea can come from a marketing part of the company or even by the designer who can design to only sign a few of the pieces turning them into unique collector’s pieces. Limited editions can also be done by area, by deciding that it will only be sold in a specific store/region (The Selby’s perfume sold only at Colette, Paris) or can be collaborations between artists and producers (Coca-cola’s limited edition bottles by Karl Lagerfeld)

- With limited editions, the brands are able to customise their process and ‘refresh’ the company’s image. Consumers can be included in this process by asking them directly what it is that they want. This idea was taken to action by Madrid based brand, Loewe, they called in their “VIP” and asked them to create their own version of the “Amazona” bag, their oldest and most famous bag. By doing this they didn’t only please their customers who now felt more important and listened to, but they also manage to get orders in advance and limit their extra stock to the one produced by their other products.

However, when creating a limited edition we need to make sure we are using the best marketing campaign in order to make the message fully come across.

- Information-based-rarity. Price is the key element in this section. The higher the price, the more selective the purchase seems to be which means that this brands have a positive sales-to-price elasticity. However, if the prices are too high and the brand is too exclusive and selective with there distribution points, it may be considered as rare because it is hard to find, in which case the brands should consider opening in places of easy access and with a lot of visibility. The required visibility can also be achieved by associating the brand with others of the same quality and status. These collaborations carry a lot of media and are often launched in a huge PR event.

Moreover, certain characteristics of the product and brand already provide it with the required rarity. For example the logo, the packaging, the colour or the idea of the product, these rare objects often appear on shows and museum exhibition, raising the status perceived by the consumer.

As shown in the article luxury can be set by different strategies but however this doesn’t mean that an article because it is luxurious is always going to have steady sales. If by working with the marketing mix so that you can’t create the correct buzz and mysticism around a product or a brand, previous examples have shown that by combining two brands they will each compensate each other’s flaws and create a balance. However, brands in the past have associated themselves with celebrities and models to try to reach out to another type of audience. This has sometimes been a success (Burberry and Kate Moss) and sometimes not. When it doesn’t work out it usually is because the culture factor hasn’t been taken into consideration. Different things, depending on their geographical area, interest people and if you make a global campaign without trying to adapt it you are taken the risk that that campaign may not be understood worldwide.

To conclude, another factor that is important to consider is the trends. Fashion is a fast moving industry, one day you’re on top and the other you’re out. It is also an industry of rarity and illusion; in luxury they try to sell you the illusion and the dream of it forgetting about its reality. This dream however, is not more than a strategy developed by experts.

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