London’s Marylebone High Street is a curious place. A decade of curated management by the singularly effective agency CWM has transformed it from village backwater to uber mittel-European playground for the wealthy bored. Prime rents are eye watering, but a full occupancy and mega premiums attest to its success. The de Walden family must be very happy.
I was having breakfast there this morning with my friend and buyer from David Jones in Australia. Actually, though we met at 8.30am, the restaurant didn’t start to serve food till 10.00am. The service was brisk to the point of disinterest. No smiles. But they know their client. Those ladies who breakfast ambled in at ten. No hurry…Plenty of time for a tall skinny latte and a spot of something tasty before the hard work of shopping. Someone’s gotta do it.
Our conversation turned to how luxurious I felt, sneaking off for the morning to gossip, essentially, dressing it up as business relationship building. ‘Ah’, asked James’ is that what luxury means to you?’ I had to think about that, and asked him why he’d brought that up.
‘I was in Selfridges yesterday,’ he explained. ‘As ever, looks amazing, but isn’t it just Bond Street in a big shop? Where’s the sense of exclusivity and luxury now? I didn’t see anything I’d not seen before’.
He raised a good point. As Selfridges becomes ever more a collection of expensive global brands, all in their own shop fits, all under one roof, has it just become a supermarket of very pricey stuff? How does it compete with those brands’ own stores, often just a few minutes down the road? I have huge admiration and respect for Selfridges, but I have to concede to James; it’s not my idea of luxury.
Sophisticated consumers are constantly redefining luxury, and I wonder at one point big brands such as Gucci and LV reach saturation? Are they still on your Christmas list? I’m not so sure. Wouldn’t you rather go to a chic boutique hotel and have an amazing, memorable weekend?
I think luxury is in a process of being redefined. Just because something is expensive doesn’t make it luxurious. Sure, a Rolls Royce is a luxurious car; but it becomes much more so because Rolls will customise it and make it unique for you. Is a Burberry wallet, bought at any duty free shop anywhere in the world, really luxury?
Luxury should be personal, defined by the individual. It should stir the emotion, not necessarily empty the bank account. The challenge for retailers is to deliver a sense of luxury at all times, across all products, to all customers. We need to move away from an association of price with relevance, and focus on the experience we can give the customer. As brands, we need product that resonates and connects with shoppers. It doesn’t have to carry a big ticket. It could start with a smile.
It can start with a simple cup of coffee.