Why luxury is the new exclusivity

I’ve been having trouble with a word this week.

It’s an important word for women who want to put together their own individual, confident style.

It’s a word which has become, if not devalued, then at least confused in recent years.

And that confusion is arguably a big contributor to changes in the industry which have made it increasingly difficult for people to develop an individual style.

The word is ‘exclusive’.

Not so very long ago, exclusivity in high fashion was valued as a combination of high quality (luxury fabric and beautiful cut) and a (usually) associated limited availability – reducing the chance that you’d look the same as someone else whether during the day or in the evening.  That generally came at a price which not everyone could afford.

So exclusivity was a combination of quality, scarcity and price.

It seems to me that as high fashion has become owned by a few big companies who control most of the big names (now called brands) in fashion, this has become less true.  Many of the top fashion houses are copied immediately the fashion shows are over and in some cases you’d be hard pressed to know if it was D&G or Debenhams – especially as so many of the high street emporiums are using designer names for their products (Jimmy Choo at H&M being among the latest of them).

Even at the top end, most brands today are trading on their brand names; lowering their spend on fabrics.  Escalating marketing spends mean they cut corners on the cloth and the cut/design.

And they’re not even scarce.  The big brands, which understandably are more financially- than style-oriented, make such high volume of what they produce that their clothes are no longer exclusive, just expensive.

So how does someone wanting to create their own individual style – exclusive to them – go about it.

Exclusivity is something that can’t be copied cheaply. And what makes a garment impossible to copy is a fantastic cut and top quality fabrics. Immediately you put on a well cut garment you can tell the difference immediately and you only need to touch the fabric.

I believe that the new exclusivity is where you can see the luxury of the garment without an over-marketed logo or symbol.

Brands do perform one useful role: they give people a sense of security – even if they can’t tell whether it’s a good garment, at least other people will see from the logo that it wasn’t cheap.

But even that is wearing thin now. At a recent event I ran for alumni of London Business School, members of the audience were saying that they bought logos because it gave them confidence – but also that they were aware that they weren’t getting value for money…

… which brings me to a post for the next week: why you need to find a “professional friend” to help you buy high quality and good value clothes.

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