Editor's View - August 2012

Words & Meaning
By Wanda Jankowski, Editor-in-Chief

Does the word “luxury” have real meaning anymore? Overused, diluted, stretched and deformed in a sea of marketers’ faux luxe language creations—“affordable luxury,” “premium,” “super-premium,” “hyper-premium”—and misapplied to so many products and services of questionable quality, the word itself has become virtually meaningless, at times taking on even negative connotations. At least that’s the contention of Manfredi Ricci and Rebecca Robins, both with Interbrand brand consulting firm and authors of Meta-Luxury: Brands and the Culture of Excellence, who wrote the book to explore the definition of “luxury beyond luxury” or “meta-luxury”—the real luxury found in the best quality brands.

At a recent meeting of the Luxury Marketing Council, the authors revealed the fours “pillars”—the how, what, when and who that drive value—upon which the concept of “meta-luxury” brands is based:

  1. Craftsmanship: meta-luxury brands are created with extraordinary care, incorporating the best imagination, commitment to excellence and human judgment dedicated to setting or redefining standards. These qualities make the brands and goods produced within them unique.
  2. Focus: items created in meta-luxury brands are the result of authentic capability and stem from the core of the brand’s DNA. There is deliberate limitation of scope or brand growth over time so that excellence can be pursued without blemish.
  3. History: not to be confused with longevity. The meta-luxury brand’s value reflects sustained achievement, preservation and innovation—creating something that makes a mark in history and is a valuable part of culture. There is a passivity about inheritance—it dies or can grow stale if not nurtured. There is a sense of eternity about the true luxury item, because it is constantly relevant, embodying the past and future. The passion and emotion involved in creating meta-luxury goods and lacking in standardized goods leads to the storytelling about and behind the meta-luxury brand.
  4. Rarity: the meta-luxury brand is not expensive because it is exclusive, but because of the excellence behind its production, it is a rarity whose quantity is not market forced. Meta-luxury goods have a legitimate cost difference; price isn’t articificially bumped up. The limited accessibility is imposed by intrinsic value.

Selling and branding “luxury” involves adopting a business model based on a culture of excellence, the authors conclude. For the meta-luxury brand, profits are viewed as the means to sustain the pursuit of achievements and not vice versa. The view is long-term rather than short. Meta-luxury is about effectiveness, not efficiency. Meta-luxury brands by their nature tend to create a virtual monolopy because their excellence, rooted in human achievements, creates a uniqueness. The brand and its qualities and value drive the business; the business doesn’t drive the brand. Growth must come from the capabilities of the brand, even if it means saying “no” to expansion.

To sum up this exploration of what real or meta-luxury means: “In real luxury, creations are marketed, whereas fake luxury is about creating marketable things.”—Francis Kurkdjian, founder, Maison Kurkdjian

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