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Make a better future by developing elements of the past – Goethe

When on the right track, luxury is something that will never fall out of style. True luxury is not a fad or whimsical fancy, nor is it a flash in the pan fashion trend. Luxury is an experience that transcends the product, its something rich, sensual, and spellbinding.

Finding That Golden Thread

When dealing with luxury marketing we talk a lot about gifting a lifestyle rather than selling a product. Branding in luxury is about binding dreams with reality, folding together the tangible and intangible, and finding that all important golden threat that connects the past, the present, and the future.

When someone decides to invest in a luxury product; whether it’s a Cartier ring, a Philip Patek watch, or even a Hermes scarf – they are not just buying a thing, they are choosing to be a part of a story. They are looking to place themselves in the landscape these luxury brands have built. They are seduced by the lineage, the heritage, the language, and the culture that has carried the brand to their door.

Heritage is a secret weapon when used artfully well, and the best thing – all brands have it.

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In a Fleeting World, Heritage Connects Us

Why is heritage so important?

In today’s world it’s easy to feel lost. Earlier this year Britain elected a minster of loneliness, the popularity of DNA ancestry kits are soaring in sales, and there seemed to be a rise in the frenzied desire for connection. This could be linked to the rise of technology, the daze of entering a digital age, it could be the hangover shift into the new millennia, whatever it is, the message is clear – we are seeking stability, a tribe, and a sense of timeless belonging.

Heritage taps into some of our deepest set emotions. It has a soft scent of nostalgia, a craving for the golden era gone by, it exudes the idea of quality and craftmanship, things built to last with the hands and the heart. In our modern paced and throwaway world, one filled with electronic books, fast fashion, and abject consumerism– we hanker for objects of beauty and desire, things with weight, wonder, and their own history. We long for something that has and will, stand the test of time.

Preserve and Protect Your Heritage

The sense of wonder and belonging also extends to the exotic nature in which we view luxury goods. In the book The Luxury Strategy by Jean-Noel Kapferer and Vincent Bastien, they note that A luxury product is rooted in a culture. In buying a Chinese luxury product (silk, let’s say), you are buying not just a piece of material but a little piece of China as well – a luxury product comes along with a small fragment of its native soil.’

Luxury brands have a duty to preserve and protect their own stories. This can be difficult in a world of conglomerates and the mad dash towards the top of the capitalist ladder. It’s all to easy to get swept along in the current of changing trends, and as you do so, you start to lose grip a little on the heritage story that has kept you afloat for many decades.

The Luxury Strategy goes on to say that ‘A luxury brand has to stay absolutely true to its roots and be produced in a place that holds some legitimacy for it: by remaining faithful to its origins, the luxury product offers an anchor point in a world of cultural drift, trivialization and deracination. A luxury brand should not yield to the temptation of relocation, which effectively means dislocation: a relocated product is a soulless product (it has lost its identity), even if it is not actually anonymous (it still bears a brand name); it no longer has any business in the world of luxury.’

What Kapferer and Bastien are referring to is the importance of remaining authentic to your heritage. Heritage should be seen as so much more than a backstory, as mentioned it is an anchor point, the root from which your brand blossoms.

Making Heritage Modern

Brands that build their empire on heritage need to strike a balance in the modern market. While heritage is still something concrete that we crave, this doesn’t mean that these brands can rest on their laurels during such culturally tumultuous times. Finding a way to make your heritage story relevant to today’s consumer is the strategy that will set you in good stead.

‘Tradition is not something that can be simply inherited; those who want to take possession of it must conquer it with great difficulty,’

Burberry may have had a few rocky moments in its history, but there’s no denying that as a brand it has managed to bridge that gap between classical style and modern innovation. In an article for Harvard Business School called Luxury Isn’t What it Used to Be, they point out that both Queen Elizabeth and supermodel Kate Moss dress in Burberry.

Matthew McEvoy former strategic planning director at Burberry notes that ‘You can buy the classic trench coat forever. But we’ve introduced products that have added more modern style so you don’t have to be over fifty to appreciate what we’re doing,’

Beyond the borders of fashion, luxury heritage brands can often be synonymous with products that feel more familiar with an older market. We are talking handcrafted lace and fine china – the onus is now on these brands to find a way to blend heritage and innovation in order to connect with the up and coming generation.

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Heritage Can be Homegrown

Blake Kim also talks about heritage brand storytelling in the modern age, especially for newer brands that may not have the heritage of history to fall back on. He touches on the point that the concept of heritage should be fluid. Kim uses Shinola to illustrate his point; ‘Shinola is a company that created a brand around the heritage of an entire city and its legacy. Founded by the man who started Fossil watches and built it into a publicly traded fashion watch empire, Tom Kartsotis, Shinola is best known for being “Built in Detroit.” But while the brand has a powerful feel-good, homegrown, small batch brand story, in reality, Shinola’s successes are largely the result of millions in dollars of funding and meticulously planned brand-led thinking.’

Heritage shouldn’t be seen as something solid and stagnant, an anchor that weighs you down but one that moves through the world with you. You only need to look at brands like Apple to realize how fluid heritage can be. This is a brand that has built up a lasting legacy in just 20 years and it will easily stand the test of time against brands who have taken centuries to leave their mark.

Heritage shouldn’t be seen as something solid and stagnant, an anchor that weighs you down but one that moves through the world with you.

Finding Creative Ways to Curate Heritage

Those companies who don’t have swathes of time behind them can still curate an element of historical significance. In the Luxury Business publication From Pierre-Yves Donze and Rika Fujioka, they showcase some examples of ways in which brands can creatively use the term heritage to build themselves up within the industry;

‘Pronitcheva (2016) also showed that luxury companies use public museums to co-organize exhibitions, and hence benefit from academic validation of their discourse on their own history. Other actions carried out to strengthen brand identity based on heritage include the publication of books and commissioned corporate histories, such as that of Desbois-Thibault (2012) on champagne or that of Cologni (2005) on Vacheron Constantin. Such works give a historical dimension to today’s forms of communication. They look at the past from the perspective of the present, emphasizing the continuity of today’s messages and values, rather than offering an academic historical work, which would focus on the process of the construction of values, brands, and identities.’

They then go on to say that ‘Furthermore, heritage and tradition are not the basis of brand management for all luxury goods. In some specific cases, such as the hotel industry, luxury is instead associated with advanced technology and the high quality of its service. This feature can be observed as early as the first part of the 19th century in the United States (Berger, 2011). The brand image of luxury hotels is directly linked to these characteristics (Kim & Kim, 2005). The car industry is another example in which technology can be a basis for building a luxury brand.’

Heritage Goes Beyond the Needle and Thread

Luxury has always relied on heritage stories, but now in today’s world we can’t just sit back and hope those tales will continue to carry us forward. We need to start thinking creatively, seek ways to make our glorious anchor tales fit into this modern landscape, to use those first sparks of innovation to inspire a whole new generation.

In New Luxury we recognize that heritage goes beyond the story of a man, a woman, a needle and thread. While there is an abject romanticism to that idea, if we hold on to that too tightly we run the risk of falling into the trap of fairytales. Heritage is made of stronger stuff than whimsical fantasy.

It is the foundations on which we build an empire.

Heritage Stories is a New Luxury value. Now, let’s explore the next luxury anti-value.

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