Comment counts: How luxury went tribal

A new luxury is emerging based on the idea of creating belonging over exclusion, says Eleni Chalmers of Leo Burnett; a world where knowledge and passion frequently trumps wealth.

GivenchySS16

Givenchy offering up 820 seats at its spring 2016 show during New York Fashion Week to whoever got there first wasn’t just a one-off publicity exercise. It was symptomatic of a major shift in the luxury sector.

Luxury has become defined by what matters to the public rather than the traditional conventions of marketers. We at Leo Burnett call this new trend “tribal luxury” because, unlike traditional luxury, which is based on what a brand can offer you to the exclusion of others, tribal luxury is rooted in belonging.

Tribal luxury isn’t just confined to new brands. Selfridges has demonstrated a real sense of democracy and inclusiveness. The 100-year-old London store has held events and activities recently showcasing its accessibility, such as its gender-neutral pop up store Agender and Bright Old Things, an initiative celebrating older innovators & influencers.

Burberry exists in both the traditional sector selling luxury high status goods, and the tribal sector with activities such as the famous Art of the Trench initiative, which crowd-sourced photos of everyday people wearing trench coats to attract a new generation of prospective customers effectively displaying their “membership” of this tribe.

Net-a-Porter’s fashion social network The Net Set shows tribal luxury at work. The site, which launched as invitation only, is now open to the public after “insatiable” demand – further proof luxury consumers love to belong.

What these brands understand is that creating inclusive communities doesn’t dilute your exclusivity – rather it fans the flames of passion for the many, which in turn, elevates the appeal of the brand to the few who can afford these high ticket items.

Inclusiveness does not reduce the aspirational appeal of luxury brands. While the skater cool of New York’s Supreme clothing brand may be available to everyone, a pair of sweat shorts will still set you back over £100. But people will still pay because getting to express your membership of the Supreme tribe is worth it.

Kanye West’s Yeezy adidas sneaker range has caused a bidding war because of limited supply, with people offering up to £8000 for a pair that would normally cost £275. Needless to say those “in the know” probably got them at the retail price.

Luxury remains exclusive, but in the new world of tribal luxury the currency is the knowledge borne out of passion, not wealth. Tribal luxury is here to stay because old-fashioned one-upmanship has morphed into something more collaborative and arguably human. Elitism has given way to the more democratic idea that knowledge and passion can enable you to experience luxury. It’s not money, but the need to belong that is making the luxury world go round.

Eleni Chalmers is luxury and lifestyle strategy director at advertising agency Leo Burnett.

Comment Counts is a new series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via info@fashionandmash.com.