The face of luxury retail has changed. Think back 15 years or more and it was all ‘it’ bags, big watches, flashy cars, glitzy stores all emblazoned with a massive f**k-off logos. Flash forward, post-recession and things have definitely changed. Luxury is still about status (as we imagine it always will be), but in a more understated way. Post-recession there’s a level of guilt (or taboo) associated with flashing your wealth; and so luxury has moved from overtly ‘showing off’ to this weird concept of ‘pretending not to show off’.
We’ve seen this move in retail, as luxury stores have become more about dropping hints they’re luxe, not resorting to an all out assault on traditional symbols of wealth – gold, diamonds, logos etc.
Here are some of our favourite examples of how to pull off ‘pretending to not show off’:
1. Christophe Lemaire (28 Rue de Poitou, 75003 Paris, France): This unsuspecting shop is the home of Hermes designer – Christophe Lemaire’s own label. There’s no logo on the door – in fact the whole building is painted black. Once you’ve worked out where you are, you know you’ve entered somewhere special (and not just from looking at the price tags). The interior is highly crafted using leathers, furs and fine textiles all in a subtle muted palette. The shop assistant is not dressed ‘to the 9’s’ but rather like Lemaire’s clothes is relaxed. The philosophy of this understated brand is summed up by the designer, when he says ‘The idea is that they (the clothes) should accompany and help you. There’s nothing superficial about getting dressed’.
2. Paul Smith Space (Jungumae, Shibuya, Tokyo): Paul Smith Space is more like a home than a store. That makes it understated. You walk in through a bamboo garden and then you can meander through the rest of the residence – menswear, womenswear, accessories and an art gallery on the top level. All through the store are hints of home – comfy chairs, books to read etc. It’s a place which is inviting and unassuming.
3. Dover Street Market Ginza (6-9-5 Ginza, Chyo Tokyo): This store can be entered through neighbouring Uniqlo (how is that for understated luxury?) It’s an extension to the London concept, dreamt up by Comme des Garcon designer Rei Kawakubo. As is typical of Ginza, this is a big store – 6 floors, stocking high-end designers (they are currently showcasing Louis Vuitton), but pulled together in a slightly chaotic but creative way (inline with it’s ‘market’ name).
4. Berluti (multiple locations): Owned by LVMH since 1993, menswear brand, Berluti is only really getting it’s chance to shine now – launching it’s first pret-a-porter collection in 2012, and being headed by Bernard Arnault‘s son, Antoine (which would indicate the importance this brand is being given in the company). Their stores are understated, working with natural materials and focused on hand-craftsmanship. The whole ‘pretending not to show off’ is epitomised in the window’s of their Cannes store, which we passed the other week, the mannequin was holding a bike on his shoulders (instead of striking some ‘power pose’).
So it seems the recession hasn’t changed the meaning of luxury, but rather how we want it presented to us. It’s no longer about all out showing off, but rather helping people pretend they’re not showing off.