Fashion is, by definition, in a constant state of evolution — but today, the rate of change seems faster than ever. Even luxury, a world steeped in heritage and generally resistant to trends, is adapting daily to new digital demands and increasingly letting customers set the agenda, in terms of where and how they want to shop. Competition is fierce, and shoppers have new expectations as they seek out in-person experiences after more than two years of pandemic-related disruptions.
From June 6-8, Glossy brought together some of the industry’s most compelling voices at the Fashion & Luxury Summit in Naples, Florida. We heard from forward-thinking leaders about how they’re safeguarding for the future, keeping customers engaged across every channel, and bringing fresh ideas to legacy retailers and DTC brands alike. Here, we’ve broken down some of the key ideas our speakers returned to throughout the summit, highlighting the challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.
Embracing the new shouldn’t come at the expense of the established
Many luxury brands today are navigating the same dilemma: how to stay relevant and pique the interest of new audiences without alienating swaths of loyal, deep-pocketed customers? It’s a delicate balance to strike — though not one that should dissuade even the most traditional brand from finding their voice on TikTok or experimenting with NFTs or metaverse partnerships.
Neda Whitney, svp and head of marketing at Christie’s, pointed to a recent partnership between the auction house and Edward Enninful, Vogue’s European editorial director. In a series of videos, Enninful walks through the Old Masters collection, by European painters working before 1800, and discusses the links to contemporary fashion and cultural discourse. The tone is appropriate for the sale of multimillion-dollar paintings, but the content lends relevance for a wider audience and potentially introduces some of Enninful’s followers to the Christie’s brand.
“If you have a really valuable, established legacy audience, that bread-and-butter audience is really important and critical to your brand,” said Whitney. “Whenever you’re thinking, ‘How do I need to speak to new consumers? How do I need to evolve?’ It’s not a table-flip of innovation. It’s not, ‘Go and be a bull in a china shop,’ and ‘I want to innovate for innovation’s sake.’ It’s thinking of things that are additive, instead of thinking of a complete overhaul.”
Christie’s is similarly careful in tailoring its content strategy to specific channels. It chimes in on viral hashtags like #coastalgrandmother and #oldmoney on TikTok, while sticking to scholarly, didactic content on its website and online magazine, where the audience tends to skew more toward traditional clients.
The additive philosophy also holds true for Faith Connexion, which this year has made enthusiastic strides into web3 and NFT projects — all without tearing focus from its physical stores or core customers. At Paris Fashion Week in March, the label celebrated its latest collection with a glitzy invite-only party with music from the crypto-savvy DJ Blond:ish. Weeks later, it recreated the event digitally for Metaverse Fashion Week, inviting the public to Decentraland’s virtual world to attend a live performance by Blond:ish and see looks from the collection rendered by the digital fashion company DressX.
“For me, the metaverse is joining physical with digital,” said Maria Buccellati, president and owner of Faith Connexion. “It’s important for us to keep a physical touch.” The brand has spent nearly two decades cultivating a community of fans and collaborators in the physical realm, and they remain central to the business. In recent months, though, it has expanded its web3 presence with the launch of its open-source design platform, Faith Tribe, and brand launchpad, Fashion DAO.
These efforts are a chance to interact with global audiences who may otherwise never come across the brand, let alone attend a fashion week party. Attending an event in the metaverse “is easier and more affordable than flying to Paris. But it’s also more intimate, more personal than just watching a video online or going to a website,” Buccellati said.
Wring more value out of marketing spend
Gone are the days of shelling out for an influencer activation or retail space without getting the maximum return on investment.
Mytheresa, one of the few consistently profitable luxury multi-brand retailers, stays that way in part by being thoughtful about the impact of its marketing dollars.
“I’m held accountable. Our entire team is held accountable. We don’t just do things to do things,” said Heather Kaminetsky, president of Mytheresa’s North America business. The splashy event it threw in Miami this spring to celebrate Dolce & Gabbana’s lemon-print collection wasn’t just an opportunity for headlines and Instagram content.
“All of that collection was exclusively sold on Mytheresa. So, yes, we drove brand awareness, but we also had a commercial element that made it totally worth it and a profitable function. A lot of times people lose sight of that.”
Neiman Marcus is also now taking a 360-degree approach to activations, said Tatiana Ferreira, the company’s svp of customer service excellence and east region integrated retail. To illustrate this, she pointed to the success of its latest campaign, Neiman Marcus Summer Camp, which launched in May with a multiday editor and influencer retreat that blanketed social media alongside editorial content and print and digital advertising. The aim, said Ferreira, is to think about how to convey the story across every channel and “tell something that’s very cohesive in the eyes of the customer.”
Likewise, when Levi’s sponsored Neon Carnival at Coachella this year, it ensured the event was a sales driver and source of design inspiration as much as a press opportunity. In the U.K., the brand is leveraging another festival, Glastonbury, to drive customers into stores, using its locations as pickup points for tickets.
Even physical locations can serve multi-pronged purposes. Levi’s operates five Haus of Strauss locations globally — in Mexico City, Los Angeles, Johannesburg, Tokyo and London — aimed at content creators and other VIPs.
Each Haus “really is a feeder for us, from a trend perspective, for seeding. It’s where we create all of these really deep, rich partnerships and collaborations with influencers,” said Karen Riley-Grant, CMO at Levi’s. It’s also a chance to test experiential elements that ultimately make it into consumer-facing stores, like the custom tailor shops that draw in customers with interactive, personalized experiences.
Consider consumer behavior at every step
It isn’t easy to get people to change their habits—but if we’re going to work toward a more sustainable future, customers need to buy into new behaviors. This is the dilemma Kristy Caylor, co-founder and CEO of For Days, faces when designing circularity initiatives like the brand’s Take Back Bag. The Bag allows customers to send in unwanted clothes of any brand and condition for sorting and recycling.
Her team developed a litmus test for the messaging and user experience around the final product: “Can you explain this to your grandmother? If you can’t, we’re doing something wrong,” she said. On the other hand, “Would your grandmother maybe send us a Take Back Bag? If the answer is yes, we’re doing our job right.”
There’s a misconception in the industry that retailers need to offer costly incentives to get customers to participate in these kinds of programs, she said. “People think it has to be huge, and it doesn’t. It just has to be easy and consistent and trustworthy.” When customers order a Take Back Bag, for example, they instantly get $20 in Closet Cash to spend on For Days clothing.
Rebag has also taken cues from its customers to ensure it offers the best experience upfront while setting itself up for repeat business down the line. Because the vast majority of its in-store POS sales come from new customers, the resale platform provides plenty of information there about what products retain their value over time and how to best care for bags and accessories to keep them in resale shape.
Armed with this education, customers are increasingly participating in both sides of the transaction. “Over time, with Rebag, buyers become sellers, and sellers become buyers,” said Elizabeth Layne, the company’s CMO. This trend helped prompt the company to launch a trade-in program for customers to buy and sell in one transaction. With a trade, shoppers pay only the difference. And, as with car trade-ins, they save the tax — a substantial draw when purchasing, say, a $20,000 Birkin bag.
Catering to these major purchases is essential for luxury brands. At Ring Concierge, founder and CEO Nicole Wegman was initially wary about diluting the company’s bridal business, where rings average $30,000, with its fine jewelry offering, where stud earrings start at $70. But she determined the opportunity to reach customers at a lower price point was too great to pass up. What she’s found is that even the top-spending clientele is happy to shop the full range.
“We will have clients come into our by-appointment-only showroom to shop for large diamonds, and they are wearing head-to-toe Ring Concierge,” said Wegman. “They have on a $100 ring, they have $80 studs stacked in their second hole, and they might also have $60,000 diamond studs in their first holes — so they’re doing this big high-low mix.”
Offering a mix of price points allows Ring Concierge to be more reflective of how people might actually style the jewelry themselves, helping its audience connect with the brand.
Leverage local culture and community beyond the coasts
When Lauren Amos started the pioneering streetwear and sneaker store Wish Atlanta nearly two decades ago, many brands wouldn’t give her the time of day. “Nobody cared about Atlanta. People thought we drove tractors,” she said.
Now, luxury labels are clambering for access to the city’s culture and fashionable denizens — and Amos is doubling down on local retail with the high-fashion boutique Ant/dote, which opened last year. “There’s a lot more opportunity in a place like Atlanta than in New York or some of these bigger cities. There’s barely any competition. You can make a bigger impact,” she said. “I’ve had people who cry when they come into the store. I know it sounds dramatic, but I’m totally serious. They’ve wanted access to good product, and they haven’t had it until Ant/dote or Wish opened, and that’s so satisfying to see.”
In a smaller city with a vibrant music scene and film industry, there’s also plenty of local talent to tap into for events and collaborations, making the stores community hubs as well as retail destinations.
Billy Reid’s president Jeff Zens also cited the company’s headquarters in Florence, Alabama as an asset — one that’s pivotal to the brand’s identity at the intersection of fashion, art, music, food and Southern hospitality. Its 14 physical stores are mainly located throughout the South and accounted for more than half of total sales before the pandemic.
“A lot of our business was based on clienteling, which, coming out of Covid, we need to start doing more,” he said. Two years ago, “we needed to figure out how to convert those in-person people to buy online, and now we need to convert them back.”
With its strong momentum, the brand is carefully mapping out its brick-and-mortar plan moving forward, partnering with specialty retailers to fill in the gaps in markets where it doesn’t operate its own stores. If it does open a new owned location, it will be a play to get boots on the ground in a city where it already has a growing e-commerce presence. “It’s less about, ‘How do we add a bunch more stores?’ and more about, ‘How do we get the right stores in the right markets?’” Zens said.
“People feel like they understand the behind-the-scenes of the brand and that I’m really putting my name behind everything. They see me working on product drops and working with the team, and with all of that, they feel so connected to me and they trust the brand, and it increases transparency. And when it comes to luxury, especially as a newer player or a newer company — we’re not Tiffany, we don’t have that brand recognition — having this level of trust really helps with conversion.” –Nicole Wegman, founder and CEO of Ring Concierge, on the highs and lows of being the face of a brand
“The customer that’s shopping for contemporary apparel is seven years younger, on average, than our established luxury customer base. So with that, we’ve been able to also expand a little bit more into our digital strategy, social media and also digitally assisted sales. We find that the younger customer is not only more open to it, but they also would like to have those touch points in different places and not just a single touch point in the store… They’re extremely interested in [having access to] multiple sources of information before they shop, while they’re shopping and after they shop.” — Tatiana Ferreira, svp of customer service excellence and east region integrated retail at Neiman Marcus, on the rapid growth of contemporary apparel sales and how the retailer is catering to millennial shoppers
Stat to know
The share of Christie’s bidders — many of whom are buying paintings, diamonds, or artifacts in excess of $1 million — who are willing to do so digitally.
With that in mind, said Christie’s Whitney, it’s hard to believe some brands are still limiting their business to physical sales or thinking of their customers as either in-store or online shoppers. “The same person who gets a hard copy of The New York Times also swipes on Tinder and gets in an Uber and has very digital behaviors. We’re not analog versus digital. We’re everything. So to segment your user in such a black-and-white way is just leaving money on the table. User behaviors are evolving. And brands that succeed are the ones that listen to the changing and evolving consumer, not the ones that make decisions in a vacuum.”