Luxury Travel, Lifestyle and Marketing Trends

Is Aspirational Luxury Dead?

Ralph Lauren men's shop

Ralph Lauren men’s shop

 

Retailing and the world of luxury fashion is all aflutter with the appointment of Stefan Larsson as CEO of Ralph Lauren. Larsson came up through fast fashion giant H & M and then went on to get Old Navy back on track. As you know, Lauren built his business with fashion that called to mind Old Wealth which was personified in an upscale preppy way of dress and lifestyle. One could say he took the Brooks Brothers approach, added more of a fashion element, and marketed the fashion with Old World trappings. The price point wasn’t cheap, but it was accessible, compared with the look he imitated. Aspirational luxury. Is it here to stay in fashion, travel and lifestyle in general?

Now this new CEO has a totally different background in new -to- the- brand market segments and comes from the egalitarian Swedish society. One’s first reaction. Can he recreate this aura of luxury lifestyle, albeit updated, which Lauren obviously wanted to do by going with such a radical new hire? Or, as Barbara Thau wrote in Forbes.com, does this mean aspirational luxury is dead so he’s going to take a totally new approach to the brand?

She also ties that in with her contention that conspicuous consumption is a thing of the past. I don’t agree with either premise.

First, conspicuous consumption. As I’ve written about before, during the Great Recession, extravagance was seem as unseemly and, in the hotel business in particular, a serious negative. Companies couldn’t be seem as having luxury trips for executives when the public was suffering financially. But all of that has changed. The elite 1% has no compunctions about spending — the media is filled with stories about extravagance and over the top purchases reflecting the reality of what’s going on out there.

And as for aspirational luxury, I contend that it will always be with us. What will change is what is the desired luxury lifestyle to be emulated. There will always be a “luxury uniform” as Thau called it, though it will change. Instead of rich Mahogany paneled studies filled with antiques and Persian rugs, maybe there will be minimalist Italian furniture that cost five figures, and technology that’s in the same ballpark budget. The clothes? No gold buttoned blazer to be sure, or a fine Egyptian cotton bespoke shirt and custom trousers. How about a t-shirt made from some hard to get hi-tech fabric, a hoodie from the rarest of rare cashmere along with custom sneakers and  a Hermes Apple watch? And, a new turn is having fashion reflect one’s individuality and creativity — perhaps the ultimate luxury?

Hotels you say? Much less about baroque palaces from European nobility with Michelin star chefs in formal dining rooms. Think Richard Branson and the kind of hotels he builds and travel experiences   that personify the adventurous, innovative lifestyle. Things certainly are a changing. Lauren got that right as he has been so prescient with many other customer aspirations. It will be fascinating to watch.

Restaurant Trends: Experiences

DinnerLab_expansion

The golden word in the travel and hospitality industry these days is “experience” with hotels, tour operators and travel agents touting their special offerings.  Why the interest in “experiences”? Because they evoke powerful sentiments – the stuff that memories are made from, landmark celebrations, and, most importantly, the promise of involvement.

Experiences in the form of  interactivity are hitting the restaurant industry in a big way in innovative directions.  Many of these have the added benefit of more social interaction and the promise of making new friends. Underground dining, where a chef cooks a gourmet meal in his or her home or unusual venue for a prix fixe has been around for a number of years. Here in Miami several prominent foodies started a club where you sign up for a pricey mystery dinner at an undisclosed location and it is often oversubscribed.  Then there’s an extension of the cooking class with not only a market tour to choose ingredients for the class, but also, foraging in fields and streams for special herbs, vegetables or fish.

The latest twist is Dinner Lab which operates popup restaurants across the US.  Emerging chefs prepare a high end prix fixe dinner ($50 to $80  a meal, drinks and tips included) for members who rate each dish’s creativity and taste and each drink pairing as well as whether the course was “restaurant worthy”. Communal tables, guests talking about the dinner as they fill out the rating forms, family style service, and chefs chatting up diners all contribute to the social interaction.

Meals are also presented as a performance, with each getting a name from the chef. And even the setting is different from the usual – dinners are held in large open spaces like the roofop of a parking garage or at a motorcycle dealership.

Dinner Lab’s plan is to operate in 40 cities including international ones and to sell the data at events for anyone looking to overhaul or create a menu.

Photo courtesy of www.forbes.com