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The Future Laboratory: The Outside Edge: September 2010

Date: 26th Aug 10

WE’RE just back from a fantastic few days at Cape Grace in Cape Town, there very well looked after by GM Nigel Pace, colleague Carol Stent and a team who thoroughly understand the true meaning of the ‘L’ word – service. With a smile, seamless, ef?ciency and attention to detail that is second to none.

Sure, the One & Only has opened opposite them, all the talk of the town – the bling, the celebrities, the Nantucket modern fabrics and a façade that looks like an Egyptian Pharaoh has gone over Cape Town with desert palms and Las Vegas lights – but when the lights go down, those in the know slip over the marina to the Cape Grace library for a glass of port. Here, the bling, the bluster and the suits with labels that cut you like razor blades are all a memory. And it was here that we and a chosen audience considered carefully a few future strands in luxury, and the luxury moment. Trends including rough luxe, destination luxury; even mobile luxury. Luxury with an approach that is more in keeping with the changing needs of consumers today. So here goes.

Rough luxe
As a direct reaction to bling, Rough Luxe continues to be a force in design to be reckoned with. A term coined by Rabih Hage and realised in his hotel of the same name, it has become the new look du jour for twenty- and thirty-something luxurians who want a little edge with their polish. It can be seen in Paris, in L’Eclaireur’s multi-experiential retail space, in Alexa Lixfeld’s perfume packaging, and in Lisbon’s new Museu do Design e da Moda – and it is fabulous. This shift against luxury’s more excessive concerns can also be noted in Moscow, where Magazin Kuznetsky Most 20 recently opened to acclaim among luxury consumers in the know about what is new, next and acceptable.

Destination luxury
Hotels are increasingly hosting visiting luxury stores. In London, Liberty set up shop in The Sanderson’s lobby, while the St Martin’s Lane hotel hosted mini-outlets by fashion brand Comme des Garçons, furniture company Established & Sons and retailer Dover Street Market. In Shanghai, Chanel opened in the Peninsula Hotel. Armani and Prada stores are set to join the company there soon. This is a trend we have called ‘destination shopping’, and for luxury brands looking for new, easy ways to set up venues, it is an idea to consider.

In a shift toward the higher stages of the Luxury Lifestyle Matrix we have developed to place brands within a grid that helps them better understand the consumer (more of this in our next column), brands are engaging consumers through more senses in quite subtle, yet poetic ways. At ground level, the new Aesop store in Singapore looks like a normal, slick space. Look up, though, at the ceiling made from coconut husks, and you cannot help but have a visceral reaction to it. Hermès’ recent window displays by Japanese designer Tokujin Yoshioka evoke a fun sense of wind. As a woman on a screen blows, the Hermès scarves in the window ruf?e. At the London Design Festival, Corncraft celebrated the beauty of corn, showing the crop transformed from inexpensive raw material to re?ned, sustainable design.

Mobile luxury
As a response to our changing times (and the vicissitudes of the luxury consumer), many brands are now visiting the consumer. “I was one of the ?rst designers to take the plane and ?y out to the Middle East to my clients to see where they live and what their lives are like,” says French couturier Stéphane Rolland. “The time when a designer could sit in a beautiful ivory tower is ?nished.” Gucci is one brand not sitting in its ivory towers. Its Icon-Temporary store moves from city to city, offering goods unique to each location, based around events such as Design Miami in Florida in December. The moving store concept has also been successful for Belgian fashion retailer, Clemens en August. Rossana Orlandi opens a store in Sardinia’s billionaire playground, Porto Cervo, each summer. The fashion label Guerilla Store Aktion 1 is following a similar, slightly artier version. Once its ?rst store, which opened in Antwerp in December, closed in March, it moved to a new city. It uses former boutiques, launderettes, bakeries and other unique places to house its collection. From Net-a-Porter’s mobile app to the more dynamic, untethered retail concepts of recent months, it is clear that innovative retail increasingly means going to where the consumer is.
Once there, a brand has to use the techniques and technologies hitherto associated with the art, design and alt.culture scene to imbue itself with the magic, theatre, provocation and experiential moments a new generation of luxury customers now expects as standard if they are to be lured away from the all-pervading presence of the keyboard and social networking. Jason Beckley, general manager of Europe, US and Middle East for Dunhill, agrees. “The future is how we take luxury service to our customer,” he says. “How we can serve them to the highest level whether they are in our homes or in theirs.”

True. But over and above all of this comes service, something the Dunhill team excels at, and something we will see more of, as luxury consumers return slowly to the market over the coming year. Service with a smile, yes, but service that uses everything from the internet, to Foursquare, to the growing number of loyalty cards we predict major luxury brands will be issuing in September, to do one very simple thing – offer you more ‘face time’ with the brand, as they say in the US. Face time meaning a sales person in the store, or a manager in the hotel who addresses you by name and knows your form. So it should and must be, if luxury is to embrace the one thing that has been in short supply in those heady years of the long boom. Manners.

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