Georgia Fendley considers what the development of LVMH’s new Maison Fenty means for disrupting the heritage-based model in luxury branding.
For centuries, luxury has been dominated by the concept of legacy; a brand’s heritage determining its perceived value, defined in brand DNA, celebrated in advertising and leveraged at every opportunity.
Every private equity house and luxury brand group was on the lookout for some long-forgotten, heritage brand to re-discover, dust off and re-launch as the last word in luxury. Twenty, ten or even five years ago, if you had approached one of them with an idea for a new luxury brand concept without heritage they would have laughed you out of the room.
Things have changed. The deepening of LVMH’s Fenty relationship was heralded by the New York Times with the line ‘thus the disruption of the status quo begins’. Rihanna is the first woman to create an original brand at LVMH, the first person full-stop since Christian Lacroix in 1987, and the first black woman at the top of an LVMH Maison. The New York Times summed up this shift perfectly: ‘growth in the luxury industry may no longer come just from reinventing old heritage names, but by embracing a new diverse, digital, direct communication-enabled reality’.
This is the first true brand of the Instagram-age to be supported by one of the three big groups that have defined the global luxury era. Rihanna, the 31-year-old pop-star/actress/image-maker said of the relationship, ‘designing a line like this with LVMH is an incredibly special moment for us. Mr Arnault has given me a unique opportunity to develop a fashion house in the luxury sector, with no artistic limits. I couldn’t imagine a better partner both creatively and business-wise, and I’m ready for the world to see what we have built together’.
And build no doubt they will, with the combination of her sector-agnostic creative and cultural vision driven by the powerhouse that is LVMH, we are likely to see the rules broken in more ways than one. LVMH is flying high, having reported first-quarter revenues of 12.5 billion Euros, up 16 per cent; their brave vision is paying off against a backdrop of slow progress for their more cautious competitors.
LVMH has been unafraid to lead, consciously ‘multicultural’ at a time when many other luxury brands have been criticised for cultural insensitivity. They have acted on gender balance, appointing the first female creative directors for both Givenchy and Dior; and diversity, with Virgil Abloh’s appointment as the first African-American to lead Louis Vuitton’s menswear.
This approach is smart. By staying at the vanguard, they can preserve the appeal of their brands while competing directly with the new digital-born players and niche brands taking the luxury industry by storm.
Digitally-native new brands have, by and large, been better at meeting the expectations of the modern, affluent consumer. They have spoken more clearly to their carefully defined tribes, with a new flavour of inclusivity for luxury reflecting this shift. The new players don’t have the heritage or the restrictions of their past, they can innovate fast and they have, in the process, shaken up the luxury sector, re-writing the rules.
Traditional brands are finding that the old rules are delivering diminishing returns and the speed of decline is accelerating. It’s time for a brave view, it’s time to challenge preconceptions. Luxury brands will increasingly reach outside of their sector, from fashion to home, from beauty to wellness. Consumers are embracing polymath brands. They are excited by cross-sector creativity and consumers are no longer absolute luxury shoppers, they want to mix and match brands, sectors and price points, expressing their own style and moving beyond the traditional territory of repetitive status-luxury.
This freedom is set to gain momentum. Watch for further experimentation, sector drift, cultural collaborations, diversity and gender fluidity in brand and product. More brands are providing gender-fluid products, from fashion to beauty.
Chanel has just debuted a men’s makeup line, Boy de Chanel. And more and more, we want to see the brands we love share their vision in fresh sectors. Key to success in this new landscape is a clear and confident understanding of the brand and a brave vision, ready to embrace change. It’s time to start writing your own new rules if you don’t want to fall foul of the old ones.