Luxury Industry

Luxury Redefined: The Fast-Changing Meaning Of Luxury In Culture Today

What is happening to luxury today?

The recent global political, social and economic events and the ongoing cultural disruption have rewritten the rules of luxury for good. As a result, traditional luxury brands are now finding it difficult to adjust to this altered reality as their new normal. Luckily, luxury brands can respond to these new challenges by learning how to navigate the power of culture on a strategic level.

The world of luxury today is changing beyond recognition and it’s harder for brands to remain relevant today. This is twice as true for the luxury brands whose very existence is tied to their cultural and symbolic value. When brands are at odds with culture, they can lose their value even if their legacy stays strong. This affects luxury and premium sectors far more than any other category simply because they have a lot more to lose.

As the new markets are opening up, new media and technologies are entering our lives and a whole new generation of luxury consumers is emerging who think, act and connect in radically different ways, luxury is being pushed to diversify and find a new role in our lives. Brands who seize this opportunity will enjoy impressive growth. But those that ignore it will continue to struggle. ​

“We need to revitalise luxury brands by helping them connect back to their true essence. When the essence of luxury meets the human essence – our real needs, values and desires – magical things can happen. Luxury managers need to make sure that they embody these new values to connect with their audiences in the 21st century in ways that are seen as relevant to them.”

Welcome To The New Age Of Identity

Come 2020, brands – including the luxury brands – are entering the new age of Personal Relevance that will be driven the Power of Identity. In this new paradigm, the core of value is meaning and the signs and symbols we get to consume in the brands and products we choose to buy. This symbolic aspect of purchasing has huge implications for luxury especially.

Luxury is all about meaning: the very essence of luxury is based on the inflation of its symbolic value over the functional value of its goods and services. Luxury costs more simply because it means more. The cultural relevance of meanings that luxury brands associate themselves with and embody in people’s minds decides whether the brand thrives, plummets or faces unforeseen challenges. This is why luxury brands can no longer take their past prominence for granted and instead need to look for new avenues of relevance, value and growth in better alignment with the course of global culture.

The whole consumer paradigm is shifting from aspiration to identity, from ownership to usership and from buying to being. This means a 180-degree shift in the dynamics of the luxury market that has the potential to redefine the future model of luxury consumption. Authenticity, transparency, diversity and inclusivity are not trends; they are social signals pointing to the new emerging state of being, where who we are, how we feel and whom we are becoming takes precedence over how we appear to others, the status and image we build for mere perception.

Fundamentally, we are shifting our focus from brands to people. It is no longer about people looking up to brands as vehicles of praise, image and social aspiration, it is now about the brands looking up to people and embodying their values in a relevant way that helps us to better and more creatively express who we are: our own individual authentic identities. It’s because being our highest and most authentic selves is the highest form of Luxury.

For the luxury brands especially, adapting to the codes of the rapidly changing global culture today can be a daunting task. This is because the majority of their value is often tied to heritage and legacy. But these are increasingly at the odds with culture today. Unless luxury brands managers understand and learn how to contextualise the luxury essence within the fast changing world today, they will become obsolete. We could see it recently with the likes of brands such as Barneys or Zac Posen’s House of Z. This shows that without crafting cultural relevance in the now, the heritage alone will not save brands no matter how long their tradition is or how great their legacy value is.

LVMH, on the other hand, is paving a brave new way forward with their strategy of global cultural diversification. We’ve seen Bernard Arnault invest in FENTY, the young mission-driven MadHappy and most recently in the largest ever acquisition of Tiffany. LVMH is clearly on the path of owning, consolidating and leveraging new relationships with their consumer audiences in order to grow their next-gen global luxury empire.

The Luxury Report 2019

Cultural diversification is the way into the future as it is a steady strategy to build cultural relevance that creates value far beyond the likes and fads of today. But in this redefined global luxury game, not everyone knows how to become a winner. As many luxury brands continue to lag behind today, I was compelled to write and publish The Luxury Report with a vision to help luxury managers shine light on the importance of meaning and cultural relevance for growing luxury value and equity.

My ambition is to help luxury leaders make sense of how the cultural shifts today erode the traditional perception of value in luxury and what strategic actions they can take to capitalise on these cultural changes, rather than being passively affected by them.

You need to understand the patterns of culture to anticipate where the value moves next to keep your brand profitable and relevant for its global audience. When brands get in a position where they know how to craft, manage and control their own symbolic meaning, they can become the true masters of their future destiny.

What’s inside of the report?

This report will help you better navigate the quickly changing waters of global culture and understand what actionable steps you need to take to turn your luxury brand into a cultural icon.



From Luxury Goods To Empowering New Identities And Lifestyles

Consumer habits are undergoing a rapid change today as the new generation of consumers focuses on expressing their own individuality rather than ownership. The consumption of luxury is becoming less and less about the luxury brands themselves and more about empowering people to become more of who they are. This shift pushes luxury brands to be the active agents in their customers’ identity creation, which goes far beyond the traditional limits of luxury branding. It reverses the industry dynamic from aspiring to own brands to empowering people and their individual identities.


From Personal Luxury To Personalised Experiences

We are moving away from the tangible aspects of personal luxury to the intangibles –– the unique and personalised experiences that have the potential to better and transform our lives. Today, globalisation and mass production mean that more people can afford to own more things than ever before. But the more we can buy, the less it means to us. The new generation is in the active search for meaning. These savvy consumers came to adulthood in the world of ’sharing economy’, where direct access to utility overtakes the idea of aspirational ownership. The unaffordability of the traditional big milestones of adult life further shifts focus towards experiencing the most in the here and now.


From Excess, Rarity And Opulence To The Everyday Luxury Essentialism

Luxury used to be reserved for ‘best.’ Rare and special things, treated with awe and kept carefully aside for special occasions. But a rising tide of affluence, combined with the rise of ‘always-on’ social media and 24-hour internet shopping, means that our access to luxury has become more democratised. The result is that more of us desire luxury to be a part of our daily lives, especially as the meaning of luxury diversifies. In the age of market oversaturation, the new savvy consumers are becoming more of shopping connoisseurs as they look for premium quality to meet and satisfy their own essential needs. To become essential, luxury brands need to create meaningful value in people’s lives.


From Heritage And Legacy To Seeking New Relevance

Around the world, people are less and less willing to respect established brands and institutions just because they have a long-standing legacy. The past is no longer here. The key to the heart of a new luxury consumer is personal relevance. In today’s world, no brand has an eternal right to claim its luxury status, which is why no brand can afford to rest on its laurels. To be relevant today, every luxury brand must constantly look for new and refreshing ways to contextualise the old within the new. Luxury brands need to bring the story of their heritage, craft and legacy within the cultural context of today to appeal to the new generation of customers.


From Luxury Consumption To Catalysts Of Culture Change

We live in a world where we create who we are. We use our choice of brands as the markers and signifiers of identities we create for ourselves. Successful luxury brands are realising that by advocating for social and cultural values their customers care about, they can grow their business organically while also remaining authentic to their inner essence. Meanwhile, some of the biggest recent luxury disasters have arisen because brands have misjudged their cultural expressions, which is why it takes a trained cultural perspective to translate such strategies into a meaningful brand and business value.

What are the actionable steps luxury brands can take proactively today to seize new cultural opportunities and avoid serious new threats?


1. Embrace Your Brand Identity And Essence

First things first. Understand who you are as a brand, what your values and beliefs are, how you want to express them, where you stand in this new world and how all this could complement and empower your customers’ own identities and personal lifestyles.

2. Enhance Your Customers’ Identities And Lifestyles

Being in sync with your customers’ identities and lifestyles is a transcendental act for any brand. Here, the task isn’t about who you are as a brand, but who you are to your customers and who you want your customers to become when they purchase your brand. It is about empowering their own identity through the strength of yours.

3. Become Essential To People’s Real Lives

Being essential to your customers is about discovering new ways to create meaningful value in people’s lives. You need to know what your place is in the everyday context and the role you play in your customers’ lives, given the values and beliefs you stand for and the meanings you create through your brand.

4. Mind Cultural Context: Know What’s Happening Around You

Pay attention to what’s happening in the culture around you and actively seek out moments of surprise that can bring a new sense of relevance to your brand. Mind your context and draw relevance from what surrounds you to evolve your own meaning and inspire people.

5. Tap Into Cultural Zeitgeist And Capitalise On Change

Finally, once you’re tuned into the culture and what the emerging cultural streams are telling you, capitalise on where society is going by creating your own platform that helps you reinforce your brand values and beliefs to become an active agent of culture change.

When applied together, all these actions lead to a meaningful brand strategy. Making these conscious steps while being mindful of your essence and legacy will help your brand regain cultural relevance and rewrite the story of luxury, one step at the time.


TLR2019 cover Luxury Redefined: The Fast-Changing Meaning Of Luxury In Culture Today - EAT LOVE SAVOR International luxury lifestyle magazine and bookazinesYou can download the full report at Martina’s website Meaning.Global:


About Dr. Martina Olbertova 

Dr. Martina Olbertova is a leading expert on brand meaning and cultural relevance. She is a global brand consultant, cultural strategist, semiotician and social scientist on a mission to redefine the role of meaning in business. She helps brands and organisations become more culturally savvy and lead with meaning at the core.

Martina is the Founder and CEO of Meaning.Global, a strategic intelligence consultancy powered by meaning, where Martina helps brand and business leaders adapt to the quickly changing cultural context of the 21st century to profit from culture change and create new value and relevance. Her ultimate goal is to bridge the meaning and value gaps in business between brands, organisations, culture and society to restore real value creation, promote meaningfulness, integrity and long-term meaningful growth.

She’s contributor to Branding Strategy Insider, Forbes, Luxury Daily and Luxury Society, and the author of The Luxury Report 2019 on Redefining The Future Meaning Of Luxury. She is currently working on a new book on the future of luxury in the age of personal identity.

Martina holds a BSc., MSc. and a doctorate in Media Studies from Charles University in Prague. She is passionate about tapping into the hidden cultural layers of reality to unlock new value, business humanisation, innovation, social progress, anthropology, human behaviour and all things culture. She is based in Europe and consults, teaches and speaks at conferences around the world.



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