Published in Lifestyle, The Collective by Lewis Silkin newsletter in November 2020.
Together with The Collective by Lewis Silkin we present the new The Future of Luxury in Times of a Global Pandemic monthly series. I hope you’ll enjoy them!
Part One: The New Meaning Of Luxury is here.
Back to Essence: Entering new luxury paradigm. What does COVID-19 mean for the future of luxury brands?
The COVID pandemic has impacted the business sector very powerfully this year. But, the impact hasn’t only been in terms of declining sales, government restrictions and volatile purchasing power. It’s shown us what was long brewing underneath the surface.
Uncovering our essential needs
The inability of many businesses to deliver true and meaningful value that resonates with people in a way that feels authentic to them, adds something substantial to their lives, like fulfilling their essential needs for instance.
Those same human needs that we neglected for decades. Peace of mind. Mindfulness. Clarity. Space. Time. Comfort. Security. Self-soothing. Joy. Togetherness. Belonging. Sharing. Self-expression. Self-care. Authenticity.
And this is where luxury quite powerfully enters the situation because everything we have neglected — and therefore what has become scarce to us — is now becoming the new luxury. Our neglected human needs are ushering the way for the emergence of the New Luxury paradigm.
A way for the future of businesses and brands to deliver the lost value in our lives to makes us wonder again, make us connect with nature, others and ourselves, make us experience new things that will transform our viewpoints and challenge our legacy beliefs that we’ve stuck with for far too long and make our lives more meaningful and exciting. A way for us to become more empowered, conscious, lively and balanced individuals.
Where we are in 2020 and why
The cracks have become self-evident. Many brands have lost the connection to who they were — to their very essence. And in luxury, that’s a double whammy because the essence of the brand, its roots, where it came from and its symbolic value are the primary assets that make it feel like luxury.
This symbolic disconnect has created a crisis of meaning in business. But, unless luxury companies take a longer-term view, their brands could face another crisis of meaning after the coronavirus pandemic lifts. Because now they will not only be disconnected from themselves, but also from the people they serve and create their products and value for.
As always when dealing with great complexity and unforeseen setbacks, we need to take a holistic perspective. This global health crisis and the way we are reacting to it is a symptom of underlying weaknesses. It is a wake-up call for us and for brands. And if understood correctly — as a unique opportunity in time to innovate and diversify — it can serve as a great catalyst for brands to transition to the New Luxury paradigm much faster than they probably would under normal circumstances.
Entering the new luxury paradigm
On the horizon, the luxury consumers will be moving more toward experiential luxury and away from its materialistic expression. Brands need to put more meaningful values into their offerings that branch out into services and experiences and away from luxury in a strictly physical sense — as ostentatious symbols of wealth and power.
In Part One of this series, I wrote about how and why the intangibles are becoming the primary currency of business in the future over the tangible assets. The tangibles are the physical, material forms of luxury that are easily replicable, but also those that no longer soothe our essential needs.
The shift from collecting material objects for the praise and envy of other people towards experiences and transformative moments that feed our soul and satisfy our own individuality is a clear manifestation of it.
This rebalancing of scales correlates with a greater energy shift currently running through our society, changing the human paradigm in a way that we should live our lives for ourselves, for our own happiness and fulfilment and not for other people’s approval. External validation only makes sense when it’s supported by individual fulfilment. When it isn’t, it becomes empty, much like many brands themselves.
How did we get here?
Luxury was never supposed to be about the surface value. It’s always had its own inner essence that corresponded with education, cultural knowledge and the way of life. It was contextualised in a real lifestyle. Every object had its proper place, way of use and was passed down to future generations.
During the rapid consolidation of the market in times of early globalisation in the 1980s and 1990s, a different situation occurred. Suddenly, the outward display of wealth through status symbols, logos and opulence was back in style because it allowed its owners to signify strength, power and success.
Thirty years on, this is where we are. Luxury has become commodified. It’s largely become an empty vessel — a mere status symbol for the wealthy and those who use luxury pragmatically as a social mobility vehicle. Because it was stripped away from its rich heritage, generational knowledge and authentic lifestyle, it was bumped down from the value culture into the disposable culture. And what is disposable cannot be luxury.
Back to essence: reviving meaning and humanity
By us returning back to the inner essence of things and to the meaning of luxury in our own lives, we can now put this lost meaning back where it belongs — at the core of brands to give them true value that enriches our lives.
Maybe this pandemic is to remind us that we live in a society that worships meaningless things instead of embracing and fully activating things that truly matter, such as unlocking our dormant human potential, self-actualisation, self-expression, meaningful experiences, rich memories and moments shared with other people.
After all, the authentic expression of life is the true luxury. The kind of luxury that if we all start doing more of, it will soon become the new norm.
The next part of this series will be about the role of functionality in luxury: how the function is the lost part of the symbolic value that luxury brands seem to struggle with today and why it might be the right way out.
Where to next?
For more information on the New Luxury paradigm and why Authenticity is the new luxury, read Dr. Martina Olbertova’s interview with Eat Love Savor featuring her thoughts on the subject.
About the author
Dr. Martina Olbertova is a social scientist, strategist, brand advisor and the world’s leading expert on creating meaning and cultural relevance in business.
She is the Founder and CEO of Meaning.Global, a strategy & cultural intelligence consultancy helping companies adapt to the quickly changing symbolic codes of the 21st century to create meaningful brands, meaningful business and meaningful luxury.