The Luxury World Is Having Its Makeover Montage Moment

Versace prefall 2022. Photo / Supplied

At Paris couture week in January, the schedule was filled with the usual suspects (Dior, Chanel, Valentino), street-style photographers amassed outside the shows, and swathes of young fashion fans mobbed entranceways, hoping to catch a glimpse of famous front-row attendees.

Collections, too, were replete with the same kind of opulence that luxury customers are accustomed to: tweed pantsuits cut to svelte figures; chiffon gowns hand-embroidered by les petites mains; ornate, dangly earrings grazing the collarbones; and intricately embellished, sky-high heels.

As at the shows, for many of the fashion industry’s top players, it’s business as usual in 2022. Despite having a tough couple of years, the luxury goods market has rebounded quicker than many others impacted by the pandemic consulting firm Bain estimated the market hit €283 billion in 2021, topping its 2019 record.

Appetite for the traditional hallmarks and best-sellers of luxury handbags, footwear and accessories has returned, shifting ever so slightly away from the cashmere loungewear and hoodies so beloved by those working from home.

Also returning is the messaging around the impacts of the fashion industry on climate change look to Demna Gvasalia’s latest runway show for Balenciaga, easily the most talked about of the AW22 season, which replicated a giant snow globe and pitted models against a blizzard, designed to cast a vision of extreme weather (and later interpreted as a political statement against the war in Ukraine).

Balenciaga's arresting autumn/winter 2022 show earlier this year. Photo / Supplied
Balenciaga's arresting autumn/winter 2022 show earlier this year. Photo / Supplied

It was the second of a two-part series on what the climate crisis could look like in the future; the first, shown two years prior, was an apocalyptic vision of fire and floods, in which the first two rows of seats were submerged in water, signifying rising sea levels.

Indeed, the climate crisis, and the need to make changes in order to combat it, is something that the fashion industry makes a lot of noise about, some acting in vain and others with genuine urgency.

The use of the term ‘sustainability’ however, overused and green-washed, has lost its meaning, and many brands have stopped using it as a blanket term. Instead, they talk about recycling and upcycling, using deadstock fabrics and circular business models, which close the production loop so that, eventually, no virgin materials need to be sourced.

French house Chloé, now under Gabriela Hearst’s steer, became the first luxury fashion brand to become B-Corp certified, one of the most rigorous evaluations of a brand’s social and environmental practices, thanks to the use of recycled and low-impact materials and employment of artisans in Kenya and Uruguay.

Alternatives to leather, the making of which is one of the fashion industry’s big polluters, have attracted significant luxury players, particularly those made from fungi: Gucci owner Kering has invested in Mylo, made from mycelium, while Stella McCartney used the material for a small collection last year, and will soon release the world’s first Mylo handbag.

The designer, one of the earliest advocates for cruelty-free luxury, said with her spring/summer 22 collection launch: “Mushrooms present a vegan alternative [to leather] that can be grown regeneratively, renewably and quickly. How can you not be obsessed with these fantastic fungi?”

Even Hermès, whose handbags made from bovine leather and exotic skins elicit waitlists, recently launched its Victoria shopper in Sylvania, a mycelium leather made with California biotechnology company MycoWorks.

JW Anderson's avant-garde designs for Loewe are already proving popular with local consumers, available from luxury emporium Faradays. Photo / Supplied
JW Anderson's avant-garde designs for Loewe are already proving popular with local consumers, available from luxury emporium Faradays. Photo / Supplied

Another aspect of the industry touted for its eco-credentials is the rapidly burgeoning fashion luxury resale market, which was estimated at US$25-30 billion in 2020 and is predicted to grow annually by 10-15 per cent over the next decade.

Second-hand marketplace Vestiaire Collective, headquartered in Paris, was valued at $1.7bn in September last year, and San Francisco-based The RealReal, which sells luxury ready-to-wear, accessories, jewellery and watches, posted revenues of US$145m for 2021.

Burberry, Alexander McQueen, Gucci and many more have since taken advantage of consumer interest in second-hand, either partnering with existing resellers or, in the case of Oscar de la Renta, launching its own platform for vintage. Luxury resale is a model that local boutique Scotties has tapped into for decades and has had increasing success with, stocking second-hand Gucci parkas and Bottega Veneta pumps alongside new-season Dries Van Noten and Marni.

“In terms of sustainability, the most environmentally responsible thing you can own is the thing you’ve owned the longest,” says Philip Corne, the former CEO of Louis Vuitton Australia & New Zealand and brand consultant. “Luxury goods are designed to last you for as long as you are willing to use them. They don’t have any built-in obsolescence. In the Louis Vuitton best-seller list, you can see products that were designed in the last 12 months and products that were designed in the 1920s,” adds Corne.

The change in attitudes toward buying pre-owned is fuelled by Millennial and Gen-Z shoppers, the luxury industry’s new key demographic, who are more willing to buy second-hand, in part thanks to the use of sites such as Depop.

They’re also mostly responsible for the growth of social shopping, where consumers can buy directly through apps such as WeChat, TikTok and Instagram, and the presence of luxury brands in the metaverse.

Louis Vuitton’s participation includes a game in which players can collect NFTs and skins for game League of Legends; Balenciaga has teamed up with Fortnite to sell products virtually and digitally; Burberry released limited-edition NFTs digital vinyl sharks called Burberry Blankos which reportedly sold out in 30 seconds of launch; while Gucci opened, and encouraged players to spend in its virtual garden on gaming platform Roblox.

In the real world, one of the biggest retail trends to come out of the pandemic is a repatriation of sales to local markets, rather than luxury customers travelling to international cities to buy the latest Bottega Veneta handbag or Chanel shoes. This is a trend seen throughout China and the US, where spending hubs have popped up in cities such as Pittsburgh and Austin.

Stella McCartney, an early advocate for cruelty-free luxury, has designed a small collection using mushroom leather. Photo / Supplied
Stella McCartney, an early advocate for cruelty-free luxury, has designed a small collection using mushroom leather. Photo / Supplied

The same can be said for New Zealand, where Europe's biggest names have steadily been taking up bricks-and-mortar space on Auckland's Queen Street, including jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels and Bulgari, in Westfield Newmarket.

“The luxury retail market is maturing rapidly in New Zealand,” says John Papagiannis, director of leasing and retail solutions at Scentre Group, which owns Westfield, where Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Moncler, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent and Burberry have all opened in the past 18 months. “The last two years in particular have shown us that luxury brands value the New Zealand customer and see significant growth potential in the broader region.”

Papagiannis notes that the success of the openings, some with lines out the door for the first week of trade, has sparked interest from other luxury retail brands, including Versace, which is opening a store in the precinct later this year.

Independent boutiques, too, have satiated the appetite for luxury goods. Eddie and Constance von Dadelszen, the husband-and-wife duo behind tailoring brand Dadelszen, opened luxury concept store Faradays in November 2021, buoyed by interest from their existing customers.

“We had taken a group of about 10 VIP clients to Europe on a buying trip, to visit the ateliers where their clothing was being made and show them some of our favourite stores,” says Constance. “We realised they were spending a lot of money on other items home, shoes, all these sorts of things and the one thing they kept saying to us was that they wished there was some of that experience back home.”

The Cheshire Architects-designed store in Parnell sells ready-to-wear and accessories alongside jewellery, beauty and homeware, and also includes a VIP suite, restaurant and wine bar, akin to the kind of end-to-end customer service you might find at Le Bon Marché in Paris or 10 Corso Como in Milan.

“The future of luxury is going to be experience,” adds Eddie, “a constantly evolving, beautiful space that transcends what a normal department store might have been like.”

Faradays’ offering includes ready-to-wear and accessories from Spanish heritage brand Loewe, Paris-based labels Alaïa and Givenchy, as well as footwear from Christian Louboutin and Giuseppe Zanotti.

“We didn’t want there to be any dilution,” says Constance, “which is often what we’ve seen when brands come down here, and in Australia too, where there is only a particular edit of what’s available, or maybe the products aren’t landing the same time as overseas, or just mostly accessories. We wanted to be able to offer our clientele the same range as what they would see if they were walking into a store or concession in Paris or London.”

Gucci's Westfield Newmarket boutique includes a space dedicated to fine jewellery. Photo / Supplied
Gucci's Westfield Newmarket boutique includes a space dedicated to fine jewellery. Photo / Supplied

And so far, the move seems to be paying off. “We’ve been very fortunate that across the breadth of the brands that we have, the sell-through has been really good so far, which means less sleepless nights for me,” adds Constance, who curates the buy for Faradays.

“Alexandre Vauthier has done wonderfully, and even though maybe people haven’t necessarily heard of the name before, they fall in love with the product when they see it, just because it’s very glam and fun, and very Parisian,” says Constance. “But Loewe, in particular, has really taken me by surprise; I thought maybe it was more of a niche luxury brand to come to New Zealand shores, but that’s the one we’ve found has a very strong following here. We’ve had a lot of waitlists or products that haven’t made it to the shop floor, because they’ve been pre-sold.”

Across the board, Loewe is one of the top-selling brands among shoppers from Australia and New Zealand on Net-a-Porter, while the brand’s small leather Puzzle bag ranks among the top 10 best-selling products.

Also popular are Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, The Row and Chloé, while Zimmermann’s playsuits and dresses are among the best-selling products, and the best-performing categories are shoes, bags, casual, denim and beachwear.

Georgina McCormack, director of Auckland concept store Simon James, says she has seen a marked increase in demand for luxury goods.

She and husband Simon James, who founded the store in 2001 as a furniture design company, have introduced London-based fashion brand Emilia Wickstead and Los Angeles jeweller Sophie Buhai to its offering of contemporary New Zealand designers and edit of homeware and interiors.

Recent renovations to the Herne Bay boutique include the addition of a dedicated suite selling Christchurch-born, London-based designer Jessica McCormack. "We've had exceptional growth in fine diamond jewellery with Jessica McCormack," says Georgina McCormack, also the jeweller's sister. "There is a playfulness to her work and an ethos that diamonds should not be too serious she encourages people to wear them with denim."

This mentality, of mixing high-end with low, and buying pieces that last, seems like the exact mood for luxury in 2022, especially in New Zealand.

“Luxury is so subjective and personal,” adds Georgina. “I think what we see the most with our New Zealand-based clients is a desire for something that lasts, is honest and can be enjoyed every day.”

This story was originally published in volume eight of Viva Magazine.

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