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Looks from Gucci’s Cruise 2016 show (left) and the Spring/Summer 2016 menswear collection. Photographs: Courtesy Gucci
Looks from Gucci’s Cruise 2016 show (left) and the Spring/Summer 2016 menswear collection. Photographs: Courtesy Gucci

New frontiers of luxury

The turnaround of Gucci, how brands can contribute to sustainability and environmental conservation, and other ways of taking the luxury conversation forward

Lose the watch, mark the moment

It’s a eureka moment for luxury. For years, luxury brands built themselves around a culture of exclusivity, rarity, finesse, an elusive combination of heritage and contemporariness. Till changing relevance forced luxury to shed its baggage. Fatigued with celebrity hype and logomania, luxury houses then began revisiting history to renew their intimacy with the handmade, old traditions and local talents and materials that created extraordinary products. Till even that began to lose its aura. In the last year or two, luxury brands have begun to show a keen interest in a topical discourse.

The last year sparkled with important dialogues on sustainability due to climate change, necessary course corrections to avert the detrimental effects of some manufacturing processes on the environment. Some luxury houses pledged corporate social responsibility, others engaged openly with fair trade and ethics in supply chains through collaborations with UN organizations. Some, like Fendi and Tod’s, shifted focus towards restoration of historical monuments as public service initiatives. Livia Firth of Eco-Age (The true cost of cheap clothes) talks about these concerns.

If these brands continue on this path, luxury will move from a circle of exclusivity to becoming a public-private concept. This also reveals the growing political value of the voice of the young, educated middle class in the West. “There’s a real desire today among our staff members—especially the younger generation—to be associated with charity. And they ask the company to back a global project. Something meaningful and impactful," Louis Vuitton chief executive Michael Burke said in January, when he announced a global partnership with Unicef to raise funds for underprivileged children.

There are other new frontiers of luxury. Techno luxury is certainly one—watches that read our minds, clothes that change hues with a sensory pick-up of moods, technologically smart socks that regulate temperature and wick moisture and don’t need to be washed for days, omni-channels for shopping and hyper connects via e-commerce that shrink time zones.

There are others. The exciting reinvention of Gucci (The Gucci turnaround) is an emotional story more than anything else. Gender-fluid clothing on the ramp and in advertising imagery, and the emphasis on body positivism and racial diversity, introduced a bold democracy in fashion.

Luxury will always be about distinction, yet it is not narcissistic any more. During World War II, brands like Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo stopped making leather goods due to the paucity of materials and a necessity-driven re-prioritizing as European fashion moved towards austerity. Today, there is a growing recognition about the concerns of this century. Soon, many brands using exotic animal skins for leather goods will need to do some serious reflection on their choices.

But for now, we can definitely say luxury is no longer a lean back, look-at-it sport. Instead, it has become a participative pursuit. Even without a bespoke watch to tell us the time, we know that this is the moment to raise a toast.

Shefalee Vasudev

Issue editor

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