Experience, not expense: The evolving definition of luxury brands

This story originally appeared on Glossy, Digiday’s sister site about all things fashion, luxury and tech.

Luxury used to mean flashy handbags, fine furs and five-star hotels. Yet in the era of modern style, it’s no longer synonymous with exorbitance and exclusivity. Luxury has morphed beyond high price points and iconic labels, and instead now revolves around everything from uniqueness to meaning to experience.

We asked fashion insiders what the word means to them and how it’s shaping business strategy and consumer engagement.

Tammy Eckenswiller, vp of brand creative, Rebecca Minkoff
The definition of luxury for me would be a direct, authentic relationship with a brand, whether that’s a $15 flip-flop or a $15,000 bag. There’s something really luxurious about that connection that you have with brands and that brands can make with you.

For example, athleisure retailer Outdoor Voices right now is to me a luxury brand, even though from a financial perspective, it would not traditionally be considered a luxury brand. It’s this connection they develop that’s very authentic. As a brand, you want to create more of that, to make a direct relationship that’s a more real-time conversation where you’re not just firing out campaigns and messaging. It helps you to think outside the box because consumers are co-creating with you.

Kristen Naiman, svp of brand creative, Kate Spade New York
It’s been a long time since luxury products could be defined as luxurious simply because they were made out of something super expensive or rare, or because they were only accessible to the few. We’ve also moved beyond luxury as simply intelligent design accessible to many.

To me, luxury now is that incredibly unique thing, different for each person, which can express the spirited voice and individuality of the person wearing it. Luxury is the perfect match between the product and the customer. To create luxury products now, you must know not only whom you are talking to, but also what she wants to say about herself.  

Rony Zeidan, founder and creative director, RO New York
Luxury hasn’t changed; it still represents a high level of aesthetic of execution at all levels form creation, to manufacturing, materials, craftsmanship, service, experience and sensibility. What has changed in recent years is what the consumers think luxury is, influenced by marketing and social status.

Jane Lewis, founder and designer, Goat Fashion
The connotation of luxury as we have come to know it has evolved. It now embodies a more rounded and meaningful customer journey and relationship. I believe customers seek to understand and relate to a brand’s integral values, craft and expertise. It’s simply not enough to have a high price tag to denote a luxury item — customers need to feel an emotional connection of sorts and an intellectual investment in the pieces they purchase. The experience rather than the expense is what true luxury is about.

Inii Kim, co-founder and creative director, King & Partners
To me, luxury is still about being extraordinary in what you do. Staying true to the idea of luxury to me is brands that go far beyond regular procedure to stay exceptional in terms of the quality of their products and the experience they provide, while staying pure and aspirational on every channel. Being more accessible does not necessarily mean losing the title of a “luxury” brand, but when you start to dilute your brand value in order to capture a greater audience, that’s when “luxury” is lost.

Malinda Sanna, founder and CEO, Spark Ideas
What has emerged as the new definition of luxury is the small, the rare, the thought leader. True luxury today is experiential; it’s having the inside track that not everyone knows about. It is highly personal and intuitive. It never copies, it leads. It surprises and takes risks. And it makes you see the brand as the only solution to your desire in a sea of sameness.

But whether it’s a fashion brand, a boutique luxury villa subscription service or a young jeweler, the new definition of luxury encompasses a belief in something.  It’s a piece of global soul. The specialness comes not just from the connection you have to the “thing” or even to the experience but to the entire set of values that surround it.


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