Introducing the Glossy+ Luxury Briefing, our newest member product uncovering the strategies driving the success of global luxury brands. Become a member here. To kick it off, we’re rolling out the State & Future of Luxury Report in five parts over five weeks. Each will focus on a luxury category across fashion and beauty, and will feature insights from a focus group of luxury marketers, founders, investors and analysts. In addition, we’ve worked with Saks to compile exclusive insights from its panel of luxury consumers. Week 5 focuses on luxury experiences, with insights from executives from Farfetch, Brunello Cucinelli and Mytheresa, among others. –Zofia Zwieglinska, fashion reporter
Experiences for the 1% are hyper-personalized, curated and private
Experiences are the new luxury. In a post-pandemic world, nothing draws customers in more than experiences, particularly those that are expertly curated, add value to the shopper’s relationships and, in short, go beyond their wildest expectations.
Today, brands and marketplaces are pulling out all the stops to deliver value through one-of-a-kind experiences for high-spend customers. For most luxury brands and marketplaces, a large portion of their revenue now comes from top customers, as entry- and mid-level customers are more affected by higher prices and economic instabilities.
These top customers are typically defined as those who spend over seven figures per year, and that category is growing. For luxury marketplace Farfetch, the top 1% of its customers generated more than 27% of its gross merchandise value in 2022. And roughly 3% of the customers of luxury e-tailer Mytheresa are currently driving 36% of its annual turnover. Mytheresa shared in a recent earnings call that its number of top customers grew 28% in the three months ending March 31, with the average spend among this clientele increasing 6.7%. Revenue associated with high-spend luxury customers is not disclosed by brands like Burberry and Chanel, but it’s also assumed to be significant.
As a result, brands are curating new ways to separate the experiences offered to their high-spend customers from those open to the rest. From exclusive boutiques to special dinners to high-touch concierge services, the experiences offered to the 1% are only getting more numerous and elaborate. In 2021, quiet luxury brand Brunello Cucinelli opened its first Casa Cucinelli, an invite-only location. It now has seven private shopping locations around the globe, where it focuses on building intimate relationships with shoppers, plus hosts events and dinners. Meanwhile, Gucci opened its ivy-covered appointment-only salon in L.A. this month, as part of its turnaround strategy. Chanel has also announced plans to open separate, private boutiques dedicated to serving top-spending clients, starting with locations in key Asian cities in 2023.
“When we’ve been tracking experiential luxury, it’s been growing at a much higher rate than personal goods for some time,” said Sarah Willersdorf, head of luxury at Boston Consulting Group.
Coming out of the pandemic, special private client fashion events boomed. This was only accelerated by the trend of brands doing fashion shows in far-flung locations that could then be the focal point of private client events and luxury tours. “On the travel front, people are doing trips that they’ve never done before,” said Thomas Carreras, gm of the Four Seasons Hotels New York Downtown. “Some of the journeys that are being curated are absolutely incredible.”
These travel events are becoming an industry standard, and they often involve partnerships. In April, Mytheresa brought top shoppers to Venice through a partnership with Jimmy Choo. For the trip, it created a program featuring a gondola tour and a private experience at a gelateria with branded ice cream. In the evening, the guests had an intimate dinner at Palazzo Zeno. And, the next day, the retailer surprised the guests with lunch and drinks at Caffe Quadri in St Mark’s Square. Of Mytheresa’s private client events, this one was among its more public iterations, with content captured for social media amplification.
As for a more private event, in 2022, Mytheresa held a private dinner for 35 people at Schiaparelli’s salon in Paris, four days after the brand showed its collection on the runway. The female guests flew in from Singapore and L.A. to tour the French salon, have dinner and meet the brand’s CEO, Delphine Bellini. Many of the guests were not fashion insiders, making it a truly unique experience that money can’t buy.
“We need to offer different experiences to different personalities,” said Isabel May, chief customer experience officer at Mytheresa. “That’s why we also have parties and dinners and lunches and different formats, because not everyone wants the same format. It’s about diversifying how you talk to your customer in creating these experiences.”
She added, “Relationships create loyalty and incremental spending. We want to reward our top clients who are so loyal to us through one-on-one experiences and clienteling.”
Meanwhile, in January, Saks hosted an event for influencers and select shoppers in Aspen, complete with programming and skiing. “There are certainly things that we do that are about serving VICs [very important clients] through amazing experiences that money can’t buy and that are focused on access,” said Emily Essner, CMO of Saks.
Other brands are building their efforts catering to the 1% around their brand world and identity, with a focus on how they’re differentiated within the market. For his part, designer Brunello Cucinelli, who hails from Solomeo, a hamlet in Umbria, Italy, is focused on bringing the experience of his home to the private Casa Cucinelli spaces dotted around the world.
“Brunello Cucinelli always talks about behavior,” said Massimo Caronna, president and CEO of Brunello Cucinelli North America. “It’s how you relate with clients in a very private environment, where people can get to know you in a very personal way. It’s like inviting people to your home.”
For top customers, the global Casa Cucinelli spaces serve as meeting places, private shopping closets and places to dine. Each aspect of the stores has a connection to Solomeo or Italian craft, from the food to the furniture. According to Caronna, the focus is as far away as possible from the purchase; instead, it’s all about experience. “Events are fine, but always [with the] understanding that there is the privacy component that really allows you to have that personal one-on-one experience,” said Caronna.
The brand hosted two events last month at the New York Casa, located next door to the brand’s offices. It flew in a chef from Solomeo to New York to introduce the food of the Italian region to a select few guests in a curated, private setting.
“There’s a desire [among customers] to get closer to the culture of the brand, [beyond] just purchasing an item of our collection,” said Caronna. “People want to live the brand, not just wear the brand, and they’re so curious about the brand founder and his everyday life.” Cucinelli also flies friends of the brand to Milan and Florence for one-of-a-kind experiences.
Considering the fascination with Brunello Cucinelli ‘s heritage, maintaining authenticity is especially important to the brand. As such, the founder has gone so far as to invite 600 of the brand’s workers to Solomeo, so they could experience its splendor and spread the word about it and the culture to their private clients.
For these showstopper events, Caronna and May agreed that, most importantly, attending customers want to meet interesting, like-minded people, and walk away having had a new, valuable experience. Brands are seeing to this by working with private client managers to hand-pick hosts and other partners. “All our customers have one thing in common – they have no time,” said May. “To come to an experience somewhere, to have a dinner with people – that needs to add value for them.”
By the numbers: Travel and experiences are top of mind for luxury customers
Powered by Saks Consumer Insights
In April 2023, Glossy partnered with Saks to survey 3,944 luxury consumers on their current shopping habits. This week, we spotlight the ways their shopping habits have changed and the extent to which they’re investing in luxury travel and experiences.
Almost two-thirds of respondents to the survey said that, in the next 12 months, they are likely to spend the most money on travel. That was followed by beauty products (37%) and local experiences/entertainment (37%). With the pandemic easing and revenge travel on the rise, luxury customers are looking for in-person connections and immersive experiences.
“The luxury consumer does not necessarily tend to trade off experiences and physical purchases. They’re often doing both, and so, for us, travel is largely a very good thing,” said Emily Essner, CMO at Saks.
Customers are not looking to spend much more than their typical amount, but they are upping their focus on the value that any investment in experiences, goods or travel brings them. According to the survey, nearly half of the respondents said they will be spending the same amount in the next 12 months, compared to the prior 12 months. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they will be spending slightly more on luxury goods, and 16% will be spending slightly less.
Those that are spending more could be responding to the new convenience that luxury brands and retailers are offering. “It’s almost like one-stop shopping. If we can provide everything in the luxury category for them, that’s a major benefit,” said Betty Huang, vp of clienteling service Private Concierge at Farfetch. “As we’ve expanded our supply reach and our relationships with luxury brands, we’re seeing more of our customers stay with us because they know that it can be so seamless.”
The State & Future of Luxury Experiences
What’s now and next, according to insiders
The leading trend is intimate experiences
For the most part, digital experiences are out. One exception is clienteling, which is still mostly a digital interaction as brands deal with global clientele via channels like Whatsapp. Today, the focus of experiences and events is largely on intimate connections with the brand’s founders or leaders.
With the 1%, money is no object, and events should offer unique elements that surprise and delight and offer unparalleled access to a brand. “There’s a lot more thoughtfulness: fewer, but better, experiences and fewer, better things,” said Nick Brown, co-founder and managing partner of VC firm Imaginary Ventures. “Part of that is the destination — the event of a trip — and how you tie that into something that feels important.”
Luxury brand and retailer events often involve sports like polo, art exhibitions like Art Basel and gastronomy experiences. In March, Farfetch hosted an intimate dining experience for 25 of its private clients with Chef Yann Nury at La Résidence in New York City, a first-time event at the venue. “We have a highly engaged and valuable private client customer base, which we service in a very personalized way,” said Thierry Pichon, svp of private client and luxury experience at Farfetch. “We have private client stylists on the ground in many of our key regions whose understanding of our customers’ cultural values and nuances enables them to deliver exceptionally curated experiences.” And many of these curated experiences are reserved for small, curated guest lists.
During the Cannes Film Festival in May, the online luxury retailer partnered with Network USA to host clients on an award-winning yacht, ‘The Wellesley’, for a private sunset dinner and cocktail party.
Data and expertise are king
Approaches to experience and event invitations are different, but always intentional.
Some, like Farfetch and MyTheresa, use specialized data from purchasing patterns and past events to inform their guest selections, particularly when the event is a brand partnership. “We bring our partners the most elevated and engaged luxury audience,” said Pichon.
“We’ve gotten to this place where brands understand that we do have this ultra-high-net-worth client within our books,” said Huang of Farfetch. “For a brand that’s reinventing itself, it can be easier for them to work with our styling team and fashion concierge to identify a few more clients outside of their normal reach, especially in newer markets.” Farfetch recently invited some customers who had purchased multiple Patek Phillipe or Richard Mille watches or who had purchased unique jewelry pieces to attend an event in the U.S. in partnership with a Swiss watch company that was reviving its brand.
The data approach allows for clear targeting and direct links to sales as well down the line. Last year, Farfetch supported the launch of Valentino’s fall 2022 Pink PP collection, giving private clients early access to the collection and exclusive products. This drove incremental performance for Valentino sales through Farfetch, with more than an 80% uplift in Private Client engagement and an average order value of approximately $2,500.
Meanwhile, Brunello Cucinelli leaves it up to its store associates and private client managers to learn about the brand’s customers and their preferences, to inform event guests lists. “We go through our space, our managers and our brand ambassadors to select the right clients,” said Caronna. “I don’t really care how much they spend with us. There are a lot of people talking about VIP, VIC. It’s not only about what they spend, but it’s also about the impact that they had on us personally and whether we imagine a long-term relationship.”
Jimmy Choo, Tiffany & Co. and Farfetch are currently looking for private client managers to help manage these relationships.
Concierge and luxury experiences are blurring
New opportunities are opening up for brands and retailers to create connections with their private clientele. Farfetch, for one, is advising on everything from home decor to wedding style these days. It’s also providing concierge services to select private clientele.
“We are really working with these top clients to be full service,” said Huang. “[For example] there’s a big wedding we’re working on right now with an athlete in New York. His wedding is in September, and they’re only planning it now. So in a short period of time, not only have we done the bride’s dress and the rehearsal dress, but also outfits for 10 bridesmaids, 10 groomsmen, the ring bearer and flower girl, as well as a made-to-measure outfit for the groom.”
Farfetch is also sourcing unique items for clients’ gifting occasions and events, to meet client expectations. “There’s a division at Farfetch that is all about athlete relations,” said Huang. “We had a footballer who gifted Cartier watches to his entire team ahead of the World Cup, and we’re continuing to try to work with our clients in that way. It’s bigger than a one-off request about a hard-to-find item on or off of Farfetch. Clienteling is expanding to provide other services, too.”