Humour me: Why luxury brands are taking a more light-hearted approach

InStyle's Emily Taylor takes a walk through luxury fashion's recent transition from serious to sarcastic.

The word luxury, by definition, is state of great comfort or elegance; something inessential, desirable, expensive and difficult to obtain. Indeed, luxury brands have long sold consumers much more than mere product, offering a lucky few an entrée into an elite and exclusive community that favours aspiration over access.

Are these wares fundamental for everyday existence? No. In Maslow’s popular theory, status symbols barely get a look-in. Rather than fulfilling a basic need, they’re about living a dream. And that’s a matter that’s been taken very seriously, until recently.

It’s no secret that we’re busier and more available than we ever were, and the biggest modern-day luxury is time, which, in part, has signalled a significant shift in what we define as luxurious. Of course, multi-carat diamonds, super yachts and first-class air travel will always be traditional emblems of achievement, but luxury and success don’t necessarily fit hand in glove any more, or even into their traditional tropes. And nor do luxury consumers.

We know that the millennial audience is now driving a huge percentage of luxury spend. And they’re not so interested in what their parents and grandparents had. Instead of sumptuous “stuff”, they place value in brands with a narrative, not simply a heritage; on uniqueness over a cookie-cutter (albeit expensive) offering. It’s no longer just about the amount of dollars spent, more how it feels when they are.

Enter humour. Fun makes us feel good, helps build intimacy, soothes stress. All big benefits in a hyperconnected yet ever more disconnected digital world. It also builds loyalty. The new-gen consumer is seeking ways to fight the loneliness and increasing isolation that can happen when life is lived in front of a smartphone screen.

Viktor & Rolf’s meme gowns provided a shareable moment

Suddenly, a not-so-serious approach that promotes meaningful connection is infinitely appealing. And unsurprisingly, savvy high-end brands are taking notice. With an increasing push towards digital sales in the luxury sector, the value of likes and shares is paramount. It’s proven that content consumers find funny or relatable promotes engagement, just as that which feels elitist, inapproachable or cold can do the opposite.

In the fashion sphere, international houses are leaning into a lighthearted modus operandi via both marketing collateral and physical product.

Back in 2017, progressive Gucci’s artist-curated memes (#TFWGucci) promoting their witty watch line broke new ground in luxury fashion marketing, as did last year’s cool collab with Spanish painter Ignasi Monreal that showcased the Italian label’s SS18 looks in offbeat renaissance-style portraits.

Storied brand Fendi has loosened up its image, too, with a renewed focus on their double F logo – stamped across Instagram-friendly items from slouchy hoodies to fuzzy slides (and seen draped over millennial poster kids Winnie Harlow, Chiara Ferragni et al). 

Elsewhere, brands from Coach to Moschino and Miu Miu are also offering up quirky catnip for the new-gen luxury shopper. And take Tom Ford – one of the fanciest fashion names out there, who’s evening dresses that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Last season, he partnered with Aussie social media sensation, comedian Celeste Barber, on a suite of hilarious videos that poke fun at the traditional runway show.

This unlikely duo, and the waves they created among the international fashion set, proved that even the ritziest labels are more than ready to lighten up a little (or a lot).

Traditionally staid high end jewellers are also welcoming a knowing wink into campaigns and product lines. Cartier has recently rebirthed its 1970s unique Juste un Clou collection, the bent-nail motif now seen wrapped around the wrists and fingers of the style set, without a solitaire in sight.

While New York stalwart Tiffany and Co has riffed on classics Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Alice in Wonderland as inspiration for their recent feel-good ad campaigns. And while engagement rings remain the brand’s bread-and-butter, their Everyday Objects line transforms the mundane (bone china “paper” coffee cups, sterling silver clothes pegs) into the turquoise-and-fabulous, for those who favour a little tongue-in-cheek luxury with their morning routine.

Is it now a case of be funny or perish? Well, no. Equally, every piece of content needn’t be slapstick-hilarious, nor should luxury products come with a clown nose. What this shift does signify, though, is that as international luxuries start taking themselves less seriously, local labels should consider following suit.

As Australian price points rise and competition from global online retailers increases, it has never been more important to foster consumer loyalty. Sure, your trusted friends make you laugh, but more than that, they make you feel warm and connected. Such is the power of a welcoming, inclusive approach for brands. I like to think of it as style with a smile. And we could all do with a little more of that.

Emily Taylor is the editor of Pacific’s InStyle.


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