Essential reading for the luxury Industry – a review of the book “Real Luxury”

Pam Norfolk reviews Real Luxury by Misha Pinkhasov and Rachna Joshi Nair.

In a commercial market where everything from a biscuit to a bathroom can be labelled ‘luxury,’ where next for the real luxury brands?

Heritage, quality, craftsmanship, artistry and exclusivity – the words that once were the hallmarks of excellence – have become an interchangeable and meaningless jargon, subsuming luxury to the cult of celebrity, vanity and greed.
So if luxury can now be thought of as mere ‘bling’, devoid of the vision, passion and culture that has epitomised its success down the centuries, what must today’s true luxury brand leaders do to turn the tide?

Misha Pinkhasov, an international communications adviser and writer who has covered luxury, culture and socially responsible business for consumer and trade magazines in the US, UK, France and Russia, and Rachna Joshi Nair who has worked in the luxury, apparel and hospitality industries for 20 years, have come up with a grand plan to set luxury brands on a new and more sustainable footing for the future.

These two remarkably perceptive analysts have their fingers firmly on the pulse of successful branding and in Real Luxury, an indispensable guide for anyone connected to or interested in the luxury market, they set out a vision that is authoritative, well-researched, perfectly balanced and seductively workable.

Far from reaching the end of the road, claim the strategy gurus, the concept of luxury is at a crossroads which could lead to a renaissance in the market and an opportunity for luxury brands to assert their innate leadership potential in both business and society.

As Pinkhasov and Nair so rightly point out, the yearning for comfort, beauty and rarity is an essential part of the human psyche and has an enormous influence on the way people think and act. Right back to the ancient civilisations of Greece and China, this longing has been answered by the provision of luxury goods manufactured by craftsmen able to take a product and evolve it into the highest expression of its art.

Their customers then were kings, clerics, merchants and the famous; today they are joined by newly rich and aspiring consumers who link their feelings of success with ‘extravagant icons of conspicuous consumption.’
Inevitably, this has led to a flourishing trade in imitation and black market luxury goods but the problem does not just lie in counterfeits. Brands like Zara and H&M have appropriated the ‘look of luxury, even if they cannot match its feel or quality.’

Speaking at a top French university, fashion leader Karl Lagerfield noted that you no longer need a fortune to be well dressed. ‘This means luxury has to make superhuman efforts,’ he concluded.

So it’s time for luxury to claim back its authority and make clear its ability to raise a product or a skill to a class way beyond the everyday and by so doing, actively encourage and promote the highest standards of design, production, communication and behaviour.

In this way, explain Pinkhasov and Nair, luxury brands can once again make the true meaning of luxury central to their business by turning their ‘universe of conspicuous consumption into one of intelligent demand.’
Luxury sets a high standard and becomes the reference to which future generations look for inspiration and knowledge. Eradicate luxury and you immediately lose knowledge and time-honoured skills.

But if nothing else, the recent economic crisis made it patently clear that the world could not continue with business models that relied solely on growth and put financial gain ahead of all else. There has been too much focus on economics and not enough on human psychology.

Social harmony and stability rely more on an equal distribution of feelings of dignity and self-worth than on an equal distribution of wealth. And when people stake their self-worth on the ownership of luxury objects, this gives the makers of luxury goods a burden of responsibility they cannot ignore.

This notion of social responsibility, along with environmental sustainability, integrating ‘doing good with doing well,’ have become key words in business. This does not mean that the profit motive should be ignored but adopting a healthier, more balanced attitude towards profitability can improve productivity and help foster innovation and creativity on the road to perfection.

It seems the last word in luxury is value or to be precise, shared value, taking a business from being self-focused to other-focused, and building the bridge between creating art and creating value. Instead of being simply ‘a purveyor of pretty things,’ luxury can be an innovator and agent of change, a leader in the true sense.

And luxury is certainly more about ‘leadership’ than its more contemporary links to the word ‘brand.’ That is why the luxury market has everything to gain and little to lose, say Pinkhasov and Nair. By becoming social leaders rather than simple manufacturers, purveyors of luxury will help to create a more prosperous and fruitful market for their products.

Real Luxury by Misha Pinkhasov and Rachna Joshi Nair, published by Palgrave Macmillan in hardback at £22.99, is also available as an ebook. To order copies from Palgrave directly, please visit www.palgrave.com. In the USA or Canada call 1-888-330-8477 or e-mail sales@palgrave-usa.com. In Australia or New Zealand, e-mail palgrave@macmillan.com.au. In the UK or elsewhere, call +44(0)1256 302 866 or e-mail orders@palgrave.com