Not that long ago, the core business of fashion houses was solely garments. Slowly they began to design and sell not only couture and ready-to-wear, but bags, shoes, accessories, children's wear, cosmetics, home furnishings and, if you're Louis Vuitton, even pet accessories. But currently there is a growing phenomenon amongst luxury fashion houses, particularly the Italian ones. They are selling something intangible, something their clientèle can't have gift-wrapped to take home: they're selling experiences.
It began in 1997, when Versace dared to take fashion where fashion had never gone before, beyond the catwalk and towards the building site. Versace opened its first hotel, Palazzo Versace, on Australia's Gold Coast in 2000. The iconic brand is now known as a pioneer of the fashion-branded hotel movement, a trend now in full swing across the Italian fashion industry.
The houses of Bulgari, Moschino, Missoni and Salvatore Ferragamo have all opened hotels across Europe and the Middle East in the last decade. Back in 2004, Giorgio Armani entered into a partnership with Emaar Properties (the Persian Gulf region's largest real estate developer) to open a chain of luxury hotels and resorts across the globe. Coming to fruition in 2010, Armani Hotel Dubai opened, closely followed by Armani Hotel Milano in 2011, with hotels in New York, London, Tokyo and Shanghai to follow. Speaking of the hotel in Dubai, Giorgio Armani himself said, "I have been personally involved in all aspects of the hotel's design and every component has been carefully conceived to create an exquisite and intimate lifestyle experience."
|Armani Hotel Milano. Source: italialiving.com.|
Furthering the "lifestyle experience," designers have discovered that fine dining also allures clients as much as designer accommodation. In addition to Armani's budding hotel empire, the label operates successful cafes, restaurants, delis, lounges and bars in New York, London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo and Dubai. Speaking of their lounge Oasi in Dubai, Armani described it as, "the definitive lounge experience, in a contemporary and vibrant ambience that remains true to the style of Giorgio Armani." Italian brand, Roberto Cavalli, has stamped clubs in Dubai and Milan with the brand's signature animal prints - the latter including a restaurant. The brand also has a cafe in Florence and another to open in New Delhi. Dolce & Gabbana opened their flagship restaurant, Gold, in 2009, an elegant refuge in the heart of Milan to enjoy traditional Sicilian cuisine. Gold is also the venue for the brand's fashion week after-parties and welcomes internationally-famed celebrities, such as Justin Beiber, Kylie Minogue and Bruno Mars, who celebrated his birthday in the boutique dining destination. With mottos such as "Glamour is served" and "Would you like to take part in the Gold experience?" Gold is, as the attached Bar Martini slogan reads, "Where relaxation and glamour go hand-in-hand."
While fashion houses aim to replicate the essence of their products in experiences, is it the right move; could this ambition for brand extension result in market saturation and, ultimately, brand devaluation? Dr Klaus Heine of Technische Universität Berlin and author of The Personality of Luxury Fashion Brands published in The Journal of Global Fashion Marketing, says, "Of course, for a long time there has been discussion about benefits and risks of brand extension, especially for luxury brands....There are some examples of brands which were ruined because of excessive diversification, such as Pierre Cardin, who sold virtually everything from clothes to books and pens with his label. For brand extensions, it's crucial that the consumers do not become confused as to what core products the brand stands for - what they are absolute masters and experts in."
Dr Klaus Heine.
In their pursuit of brand extension, fashion houses have changed, but their clients have changed as well; their needs are different. According to Dr. Heine there is a long-term societal shift occurring from product-oriented consumerism (materialism), to experience-oriented. As Dr Heine explains, "You can observe this with the change of status symbols; some years ago it was great to say, 'I have this bag/car/yacht,' and so on. Today people speak about what they've experienced- which countries they've visited, who they've met and so on."
In an increasingly experience-oriented market, the "lifestyle experiences" propagated by Italian fashion houses, seem to be on the money. By investing the same decadence usually reserved for the runway into their destination hotels and restaurants, brands such as Armani and Dolce & Gabbana are using diversity to guarantee brand longevity. Although Dr Heine admits that brand extension works best when expansion is made between similar product lines, he admits that it has worked for some of the world's most respected luxury brands. "Ferrari sells cars, that's what everyone knows [them for], but this brand is also very good at selling a variety of other products under the Ferrari logo. However, this does not jeopardise the brand because consumers can differentiate between these categories. This only works because Ferrari is not compromising on the status and luxury level of their cars - there is not a democratically, lower-priced, small Ferrari - and this is the reason why the diversification works very well for Ferrari. For fashion companies expanding into hotels this could be very similar. People know that Versace is not a hotel company but fashion companies incorporate certain lifestyles, emotional benefits and symbolic meanings, which many people probably would like to enjoy in their holidays."
As the intangible, yet glamorous "lifestyle experience" populates sought after shopping destinations across the globe, we can all one day hope to absorb the full experience of shopping, eating and sleeping in the "lifestyle" of our favourite brands. Until then, the materialistic of us can take solace in knowing that one thing won't change: what is tangible in fashion is here to stay.
Sign up to receive a weekly dispatch from
The Genteel is committed to delivering quality journalism, unearthing the forces shaping international fashion and design, through the lens of business, culture, society, best kept secrets and street style. As multi-dimensional and stimulating as its readers, The Genteel is the inspired destination where informed readers converge with in-depth fashion and design coverage.
A worldwide collective of contributors currently form The Genteel. On a daily basis our team dispatches thought-provoking and insightful articles from the streets of Oslo, Toronto, Beirut, Moscow, United Arab Emirates, Seoul and beyond.