It seems that now more than ever, the luxury industry is changing more rapidly and dynamically than ever before. Whilst some brands have historically embraced the advent of the digital market, several older houses have remained steadfast in their traditional beliefs. The future of luxury will seemingly be determined by technological advancements, as wearable tech competes with hard luxury and high-end jewellery. The big debate in the contemporary world of luxury, therefore, is the increasing impact of technology in an industry where tradition and heritage are far more familiar terms. The question of whether to embrace the digital age with open arms is multi-faceted, and whilst hard luxury has always been about craftsmanship derived from handiwork, it would seem that there is still a place for technology within that.
David Lauren, Executive Vice President of Global Advertising, Marketing and Corporate Communication at Ralph Lauren, opened the second day of the inaugural Condé Nast International Luxury Conference in Florence by discussing how the brand is embracing technology, by connecting with new and existing consumers. “Ralph Lauren is about a dream and a vision”, Lauren commented, explaining why the brand has stayed strong for more than fifty years. Lauren spoke of “merchantaintment” (merchandising and entertainment) – a philosophy helping the brand establish itself in the new digital age by merging technology, fashion and art. Through the introduction of the Polo Tech shirt last year at the US Open, the brand realised that as technology is something that affects our daily lives, then it is also applicable in the fashion world.
Iris Van Herpen, a vibrant young designer leading her field, spoke of creating future style from the laboratory and cyber space. Van Herpen collaborates with artists, scientists and biologists to ‘‘grow clothes literally,” working together to move into areas that she otherwise couldn’t enter alone. In conversation with Sophie Hackford, the pair noted that technology will provide a whole new range of tools and materials for craftsmanship, rather than replace it.
Alber Elbaz, Artistic Director of Lanvin, asked whether computers could ever replace the creative mind of a fashion designer. Elbaz commented that “fashion is getting softer and softer, but we are not yet a software industry.” Remarking on the location of this year’s Conference, “Florence is the symbol of classicism and art. Florence is about tradition, it is the city of artisanal handwork, know-how and made with love. Florence is about taking the time, making the time and giving the time. Florence is about family business. Technology, on the other hand, is about new innovation, next is now, repeatedly.” Elbaz remarked that he doesn’t believe computers will be able to replace designers, as the creative process starts with intuition, and “computers have a brain but no heart.”
Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, President of Chloé, together with Clare Waight Keller, the label’s Creative Director, discussed how the brand is using technology to better connect with its customers. Waight Keller noted the importance of the digital world in the way they communicate, and that they are trying to create more personal and emotional digital campaigns.
Angelica Cheung, Editorial Director of Vogue China, meanwhile, spoke of how technology connects with luxury, and how consumers in China are becoming increasingly sophisticated and educated. Cheung remarked that with greater competition, designers and brands need to ask themselves who they are and what niche they are trying to cater to in order to reach the multi-layered base that makes up the modern Chinese consumer, in the same way that Vogue China has developed expertise and experience in translating international culture and tailoring it to Chinese style. As for the future? Cheung commented that “China will continue to grow, to change and evolve at a fast space….the sheer size and scale of China is still worth reiterating”.
Ultimately, technology is something that luxury brands can no longer ignore, but the message coming from Florence seems to be that it’s communication, rather than manufacture, that makes technology so important. Whilst there is no technological substitute for the craftsman’s skills or the designer’s creativity, fashion has always functioned so that supply meets demand. As consumers are now increasingly demanding a closer, more personal experience with a brand, it would seem that digital communication is proving the perfect tool to fill that void. Hash tags at the ready!