REBECCA ROBINS is European Director for Interbrand and co-author of the book META-LUXURY.
Rebecca has extensive experience in branding, consulting a diverse range of clients across a number of industries and having held a variety of roles in New York and London. A prolific writer, Rebecca has been featured in such publications as The Economist, the Financial Times, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. This is her second book, having co-authored Brand Medicine (Palgrave). Rebecca holds a First Class degree from Cambridge University in French and German and an M. Phil. in European Literature.
INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ABOUT META-LUXURY
Meta-Luxury sets out to define the ultimate meaning of true luxury, exploring it as both a culture and business model. Inside the pages of Meta-Luxury lies important research we think serve as great guidance to steer the luxury market and brands well into the future as we navigate towards a better understanding beyond the current confusion and dilution
Why did you feel compelled to write ‘Meta Luxury’?
The overwhelming majority of individuals involved in and engaged with the industry would agree that ‘luxury’ has become one of the most problematized terms in business language today. The more prevalent its use has become, the less clearly it is has been defined, to the extent that the term ‘luxury’ has been so diluted, stretched and overused, that it is practically devoid of meaning. If we look at the sheer array of creations that exist under the same nomenclature, how can a branded t-shirt produced in mass volumes and made widely available, be articulated under the same aegis as a unique, one-of-a-kind creation, bearing the signature of the craftsman? [pullquote]The problematisation of ‘luxury’ had reached a point at which you either disengage or you draw a line. Meta-luxury was about drawing a line. Meta as a term derived from what was ‘beyond’ this now banal notion of luxury, speaking to excellence as a conviction rather than to luxury as a convention.[/pullquote]
Our own compulsion to put our thoughts into action, was also consolidated in the course of the research that we conducted and in a number of conversations that we had over the years with clients, academics and a diverse array of creators.
Why did you feel now was the time?
The economic crisis was a point that catalyzed many leading luxury brands into action and indeed constituted a catalytic point at which to begin to transform our thoughts into tangible action. This was a time during which the whole notion of value was called into question as never before – and a point at which we saw a radical reassessment of what we value and why.
How have you seen the industry respond since the books release?
Based on the premise of both a cultural and economic paradigm, meta-luxury brands constitute some of the most sustainable businesses in the world. These are brands that might not deliver magnitude in numbers – other models exist to do that – but what they do create are non-volatile streams of economic value across generations. As such, the demand drivers of the four pillars also represent the greatest barriers to competition, creating a rather unique competitive status, analogous to virtual monopolies. In the contextual light of recent IPO successes of Cucinelli (a brand established on the conviction of “a more sustainable approach to profits and growth”), it is telling that we have seen some recent signs of capital markets starting to put a value on risk mitigation as much as incandescent (and potentially less sustainable) trajectories of growth.
The true value of writing is in the readership and the response has been nothing short of inspiring. Upon launch, it was a privilege to see Meta-luxury officially introduced in the Financial Times and the conversations have continued since then. From creators and leaders of brands, to those advancing collaboration across the industry, the true testament has been in the diverse spectrum of individuals that we have had the privilege to meet along the way and the inspiring conversations and exchanges that continue to ensue…
META LUXURY AND DIGITAL
Do you think that a four pillars approach can be applied to technology and the online extension of a meta luxury brand?
There are two interesting strands of conversation here. The first applies to the role of technology in meta-luxury brands. In the same way that meta-luxury brands are not necessarily brands that are centuries old, the role of craftsmanship in meta-luxury should not be misunderstood as being incompatible with innovation and technology. History in meta-luxury is as much about looking forward as looking back. It is about the incessant pursuit of excellence and the desire to make one’s mark in history.
Zai, a brand founded on the premise of excellence in ski performance, is a compelling case in point, as it stretches the boundaries of materials used in high performance skis. As Simon Jacomet, founder of zai, says: ‘We work with our hands where this is the best option, and employ advanced machinery where that is better. There are elements in which one hundredth of a millimetre makes a big difference in performance, and using technology is simply better.’
The second strand relates to construct. [pullquote]Brands are living and breathing assets and an increasing element of the environment that they inhabit is digital. Luxury brands have proven themselves to be some of the world’s preeminent storytellers. As such, the communications platforms that have burgeoned over the past decade afford a wealth of new ways in which to engage with audiences.[/pullquote]
However, let’s remember that for HNW individuals, the question is as much, if not more, one of intellectual affordability as economic affordability. It is about the journey of discovery, the quest for knowledge, the sense of something that resonates at a deeper level. This is where Rarity comes into play. Creations in meta-luxury are not rare because they are expensive. They are expensive because they are rare. In sharp contrast to the notion of artificial limitation, rarity is the pure and natural consequences of the resources, savoir-faire and time that are requisite to bring these creations in to being. Similarly, rarity applies to the context of a brand’s presence. Meta-luxury brands reside at the confluence of the four pillars of Craftsmanship, Focus, History and Rarity. As such, these pillars act as drivers and guiding principles across every touchpoint of the brand.
So, the question for brands may be as much about where they are not present as where they are, or rather, where they are not discovered as where they are.