Like any great relationship, our feelings about our favorite luxury brands usually start out in a blaze of passion, excitement and positive feelings. The first time I could afford a pair of Manolo Blanik shoes, I was almost as giddy as I was the day I met my best friend in college. The shoes were black patent leather high-heeled pumps, and they were so much fun, and so chic, that they made me feel that I was my best “me” whenever I put them on.
Yes, shoe love can run deep.
But sadly, like many relationships, my feelings about Manolo started to fade over time. I’d look at what was on offer, and somehow it didn’t move me. I felt that I had seen it and done it before, and I wanted something new. I was . . . bored with this relationship. I’d changed. But Manolo hadn’t. We were growing apart. Eventually, I ran off with Christian Louboutin. And I am now secretly dating Gianvito Rossi.
As one would say on Facebook, it’s complicated.
What’s a luxury brand to do? Marketers of all stripes, myself included, preach that brands must have a strong identity, that they have to stand for something, that they cannot jump from one aesthetic to another, and that they have to “stay in their lanes.” But what happens when consistency becomes dullness, and reliability becomes being stuck in a rut?
Luxury companies spend a great deal of time and money working to ensure that this doesn’t happen. The recent churn at the top of a number of luxury houses in both the executive and creative ranks is testament to the fact that in luxury, what works well is absolutely perfect until it stops working, and then immediately everything has to change. That entails huge risk – changing creative directors or CEOs means being willing to invest in a number of other changes: store design, web presence, in some cases, even the brand name (Yves Saint Laurent becomes Saint Laurent Paris, because the creative director deems it so). The jerking back and forth, sometimes from one extreme to another, can cause sales to plummet as whiplashed consumers try to reconcile with the brand’s ever-changing identity.
I have deserted brands, yes, but some brands have also deserted me – becoming too young, too high-heeled, too rock-and-roll. You know how it goes.
The legends in this business are legendary for a reason. It’s because they manage to balance very precisely the need for continuity and change – that’s a tough creative and commercial challenge, but not impossible to pull off. Valentino, Dior, Louis Vuitton – all have had changes in their lead creative talent, yet all have somehow managed to move forward in exciting new ways while staying true to their brand identities and heritage.
The luxury brands that win long-term are those who stay true to “who they are,” yet keep evolving. Like our best friends and greatest loves, the brands we stick with long-term are both reliably consistent and continually full of delightful surprises.