Consumers showing abundant purchasing power do always have very high expectations, enjoy surprises that make life a lot more vibrant and when taken by pleasant surprise, seldom argue about price. Hence, permanent creativity is one of the essential ingredients in any luxury product or service. Quo vadis, Luxus?
The creative ability is fascinating. I admire talented minds that create, inspire, provoke and surprise, whether in arts or business.
“Memoirs of an Amnesiac”, the book by French pianist and composer Erik Satie is an example of fascinating
and provocative creativity. A delight for the intellect. Satie was a genius in music and revealed a surprising talent as a writer.
As far as art is concerned, creativity is usually regarded as highly valuable and is an asset in itself. However, in the business world, creativity is fundamental raw material for innovation. Put simply, one can say that creativity is the ability to generate original ideas and innovation is the ability to apply these ideas to business and thus generate differentiated products and services with added value to the market.
“In the luxury universe, the constant challenge is to transform creativity into profitability”, and I am quoting Spanish luxury expert Maria Eugenia Girón, who was my teacher in the Luxury Brand Management executive programme, at Financial Times ranked IE Business School, in Madrid.
And where do luxury brands get inspiration and that creativity, so needed to make the difference? Well, first of all, if one wishes to be creative and surprise one’s audience, one needs to develop and regularly practice mental elasticity, the ability to stretch the mind and think out of the obvious. Once that status is achieved and ensured, it will be important to observe customers. Regular consumers of luxury products and services, particularly those who do it out of personal pleasure and not so much for social competition, usually read books, buy art, listen to orchestras, enjoy and/or play elite sports, they like drama plays or opera and are regulars at the Theatre, they appreciate beauty and la joie de vivre.
As a consequence, premium and luxury brands often seek inspiration and creativity in art and culture, in storytelling, in elite sports, in the stimulation of the senses as well as in unexpected experiences and also eventually in seductively elegant and veiled eroticism. There is a vast and interesting array of examples of all these sources of inspiration and creativity in luxury businesses.
As far as art is concerned, Louis Vuitton regularly invite artists to design exclusive collections and decorate their stores around the world. Yves Saint Laurent launched a collection of dresses, in 1965, totally inspired by a famous painting of Piet Mondrian. Montblanc presented several exclusive editions of pens, the most valued in the collectors market being the pieces inspired by notable writers from Wilde to Hemingway, from Dostoevsky to Kafka, from Voltaire to Cervantes, Verne or Proust, among many other figures of the world literature.
Culture and ethnography details also motivated well-known brands. In 2011, Hermès launched a limited edition of silk dresses inspired in the Indian sari. Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin has designed watches with details of tribal masks and primitive art. These are true pieces of collection and seduction. And in 2009, John Galliano, who at the time was still working at Dior, upon returning from a holiday in Kenya, surprised the world by creating the Déese sandals, whose heel is a mini-sculpture of the Goddess of Fertility, worshiped by the Masai tribe. It was probably the Dior sandal with most media coverage ever and one of the most desired shoes by the fans of this iconic brand.
Storytelling or the art of knowing how to tell stories is a creative way to engage the imagination of consumers, develop the intangible component of the brand and add value to the product or service. The champagne brand Pol Roger have launched ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ limited edition. A bottle in a beautiful velvet lined wooden coffret with a booklet telling short stories about the friendship uniting the Roger family and the British politician, as well as episodes of stays of Churchill, sipping champagne during summer in the Roger family wine farm in Épernay, France. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society invited 26 writers and 26 designers to undergo a peculiar experience: a social gathering during one weekend for a blind tasting session of 26 whiskey brands, talking while drinking and getting inspiration from the conversation, the aromas and flavours in order to jointly create new labels for the whiskey bottles. Writers wrote loose words, short sentences and poems for the labels. Designers gave graphic interpretation to those writings. The output is a collector’s box with 26 bottles of whiskey with original beautiful labels and a book named “26”, which narrates the experience lived. A true sales success! And the Italian luxury fashion house Tod’s launched the mobile app ‘My Life is in this bag’, which features six women and their lives. The app tells short stories, displays products and creates emotional bond with brand consumers and fans.
Elite sports are a true passion of the upper classes and a good source of inspiration for luxury brands. Ralph Lauren adopted polo as brand image for the products and logo. Prada launched a line of fragrances inspired by sailing. And the ultra exclusive champagne Boërl & Kroff brand organize and sponsor every year, the snow-golf tournament in Gstaad, where millionaires from around the world gather to play golf in the snow and sip the World’s rarest champagne.
Stimulating the senses and providing experiences are the essence of luxury. Brands belonging to this universe, know how to do it well. Six Senses is probably the World’s most famous luxury spa chain. There is one of such spas in Portugal, in a luxury hotel in Sintra. The spa in Laamu, Maldives won the award for Best International Spa 2012 and prepares an Experience Buffet that awakens the 5 senses simultaneously. The sixth sense – hence the name – is the rare sensation one feels when all the 5 senses are jointly provoked in one go. El Celler de Can Roca in Catalonia, Spain is one of the best restaurants in the world, holds 3 Michelin stars and owes its notoriety mainly to sweet desserts created with luxury designer fragrances, namely Bvlgari, Lancome, Lanvin and the like. Vertu is the first and only truly luxury brand in mobile phones and manufature each piece by hand, in Europe, with premium watchmaking design, screen made out of thin sapphire crystal layer, crocodile loin leather in the back to stimulate the touch, high-fidelity sound system with exclusive music composed – upon order – by the London Symphony Orchestra, Concièrge key to offer exclusive, customized service anywhere in the world and finally a mobile app developed in partnership with Ferrari, to provide assistance in finding the closest, adequate, safe and vacant parking places. And this is all designed to stimulate the senses and offer remarkable experiences.
And last but not the least, seductive and veiled eroticism will occasionally also provide inspiration to some creative minds in high end markets. An advertising campaign of BMW’s Premium Selection second-hand automobiles is sheer evidence of such creativity. The message is very subtle, intelligent and sharply directed to the target audience. Chapeau!!!
Apart from developing mental elasticity and observing consumer behaviours, creativity – particularly in luxury businesses – requires boldness and risk-taking. Seneca (4 BC – 65 A.D.) famous philosopher of the Roman Empire once said and I quote “… but risks should be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love or live. Chained by his servitude, he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom. Only a person who risks is free!”