Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Nicole Vulser a few questions regarding an interesting new development in fashion. Some of you may be aware that several media outlets have run pieces in the last couple of months pondering the “disappearance of the logo” from the m.i.a. “LV” on the Vuitton runway to new philosophies in China. The situation really struck me so I decided to do a bit more reading on it. As I began to research, I actually found that Nicole, through her solid work as a reporter covering the luxury industry for the French newspaper “Le Monde”, seemed to be the first to note this socio-economic occurrence. So naturally, I decided to go right to the source in order to ask a few questions about this trend, as it intersects with the growth of technology. She replied back tout de suite, and I thought our Seamless tribe and fans might be interested in her thoughts. Here we go:
LdC: Nicole, I’m fascinated with this slowly rising change in the perception of luxury logos and what is all means in terms of introduction, impact and integration with society. In your original story (2/1/13, “Le Monde”) you quoted Haber regarding how logos can create “….illusory well-being” and that this is why some people are re-evaluating their presence. If this is truly the case, do you think the use of digital platforms and sharing images/sentiment has contributed to the expanse of this “illusion” or the demise. Why/how or Why not?
NV: About Haber, the quote was about luxury in general, not just about logos. He spoke about anti-luxury philosophers, such as Platon, Seneque or later Rousseau who, each of them, have criticized the futility of a life directed by useless things and illusory well being. The Chinese government uses the same theory to try to ban too (many) precious gifts made to the main Communist Party government officers. Xi Jinping considers that it ‘s a question of scale of richness and thinks that the advertising of luxury products creates a bad social ethos. In fact, he is afraid of social discontent. More than that, the government thinks that TV and radio must have a role of educator of the population! Of course, advertising of luxury products – digital or print- contributes to the envy of the population. It is the reason why the Chinese government wants to control this type of advertising.
LdC: Given an intangible, viral digital world; messages, advertising, and sentiment obviously spread much faster now than even just a few years ago. Individuals carry the messages now in fashion just as much, if not more, than traditional media outlets. This reminds me of how you mentioned that “Internet vigilantes” have “reported” on luxury accessories flaunted by politicos in a number of countries. How do you think this affects sentiment from citizens when it comes to luxury and logo presence in this instance? How about governments?
NV: I don’t know exactly how these images play in sentiment from the masses about luxury logos. The problems between Bejing and EU or USA have been very hard –between the textile importation, non respect of intellectual property , under evaluation of the yen…. During all those years of economic war, China became one of the most important countries of WTO and one the most important creditors of the worldwide economy. Now, luxury is for China a money exchange: It’s only because Chinese consumers buy European luxury that the main groups –LVMH, PPR, Richemont, Chanel, Prada, Hermès -all those European groups- have splendid financial results. And China government knows that much better than anyone else!
LdC: Insightful. I also can’t help but wonder what role 3D printing will play, if any, in terms of creating a new view of luxury/branding, imitation, de-valuation?
NV: I personally do not know a lot about 3D printing, (but it will probably be used somehow with advertising for these luxury brands.) The advertising is of course a huge way of finding new customers. It’s the reason why all the luxury groups spend billions of euros on that.
LdC: Could you tell me more about thoughts from inside the industry on this shift?
NV: The lassitude to the logo is something quite new, that began after the 2009 financial crisis. It’s the first time that Bernard Arnault CEO of LVMH explained clearly that it’s not anymore a priority to the development of Louis Vuitton. He declared January 31st that it would have been very easy to launch every year ten new products with a logo LV , but he does want to do that anymore. His target is to (remain) the most desirable leather goods seller of the world within 15 years. So LVMH has to sell no logo products. It is only a question of image. Too many logos also kills luxury; gives an idea of cheap and (sic) common products. Exactly the contrary to the definition of luxury. François-Henri Pinault, CEO of PPR has now the same opinion. He says that in China, PPR has to be able to offer a large scale of products: access products (with logos) in T4 or T3 cities but much more sophisticated products (without any logo) in the flagships in Shanghai or Bejing. The main problem for the luxury industry is quite difficult: the more desirable you are, the more you sell, but the more you sell the less you are desirable… How is it possible to keep the rarity of a brand? It’s the main question and it’ s true as well as leather goods or fashion industry.
Musings: Given Nicole’s great insight, I think that we can see that there is a combination of socio-economic and socio-political at play; but I believe there might be another element that is subtly in the mix as well. I actually think this new take diminishing visible logos could be said to be part of the new global mindset where we are witnessing a move toward more individual empowerment rather that of giving all of one’s power to the corporation or “authority”. This is part of my what my SmartPower theory explores. It’s about individuals expressing themselves and using digital platforms such as smartphones in order to self-determine. Just look, for example, at Burberry creating “Made for….” (insert your name) metal plates inside clothing that can be ordered in a flash via your mobile device or laptop via Smart Personalization. This not only gives another dimension to the shift in luxury logo positioning but acknowledges the individual/SmartPower thinker now who is, perhaps, demanding such acknowledgement empowered by becoming his/her own publisher via eBooks, paparazzi via Instagram, retailer via Square, etc. etc.
Who knows, the hottest logo/most coveted status item in the near future just might be a blend of the individual and said “luxury” brand as luxury houses re-think their logo strategy.
Major thanks to Nicole for her thoughts and participation. Stay tuned for a new thought-piece from a fellow Collective member soon!
Lauren deLisa Coleman