再The future of luxury, December 13th 2014 SRP12 (贅沢品の将来)
Providers of luxury need to offer more than expensive baubles to take advantage of a growing market. “Ten years ago you would have auctioned handbags.” Ben Eliot, the boss of Quintessentially Group, a concierge service that helps the rich organise their lives, is explaining a shift in the way that money is raised for charity. These days a kickabout with David Beckham, or perhaps a cycling trip from Venice to Rome, would be more effective：“It's about the bragging rights of doing something others can't do,” he says. If sophisticated consumers are shifting their preferences from handbags to handlebars, makers of luxury goods need to pay attention. The rich set trends, and their notions of luxury trickle down. European consumers now “put more value on inward things”, Mr Elliot thinks. Revenues of upmarket hotels this year are expected to grow by 9%, four times the rate of luxury goods sales. Even the Chinese are tilting a bit from having to being：during this year's Golden Week, an autumn season of concentrated consumer frenzey, the number of transactions in shops was 30% up to last year but that in restaurants and hotels rose by 52%, according to Union Pay, a payment-card company. What qualifies as an experience people are prepared to pay for is also changing, to something more elaborate, more private and sometimes even stripped bare of conventional comforts. David Leppan, a South African-born millionaire, is not much interested in conventional luxury, but reckoned that a recital by Placido Domingo at Seville's Alcazar palace, arranged by NetJets, a firm that hires out private planes, was “pretty much priceless”. Mr Elliot's colleagues at Quintessentially cite the Antarctic Ice Marathon as the sort of activity its clients appreciate. Swish hotels nudge guests away from the familiar to the authentic. “Luxury can be the absence of strawberries in wintertime,” says Frank Marrenbach, who runs the Oetker Group's chain of hotels. His chefs prefer to offer seasonal fruit. In a YouTube video for Johnnie Walker Blue, a top-of-the-range whisky, two friends (played by Jude Law and Giamcarlo Giannini) swap ownership of a beautiful old sailing boat on the basis of unlikely wagers. If ownership does become separate from enjoyment, makers of luxury goods will have something to worry about. That moment may not have arrived yet, but as consumers become more sceptical, more discriminating and more interested in experiences, it is coming closer. It is not as though the rich has stopped buying stuff. The average billionaire own $6m-worth of luxury goods, not to mention yatchs worth $22m, according to Wealth-X, a research firm founded (and later sold) by Mr Leppan. But increasingly such purchases form part of an experience. In the video Mr Law needs a new made-to-measure suit for the dance that will win him the bet on the boat. Savoir Beds, a British firm, is making a rotating bed for the new owner of a French chateau so that he can enjoy the view both of the surrounding countryside and of the fireplace on the opposite wall. Sellers of less bulky luxuries who make bespoke products for their best clients often add events to their offering. Ferragamo, the Italian shoemaker, treated its favourite Chinese customers to a trip to its workshop in Florence. Most consumers are not in that league. More than a third of luxury handbags sell for less than E500. The ranks of people who covet such goods are destined to grow；once hooked, they will trade up. Globally, McKinsey expects the number of big-city households in emerging markets with incomes of more than $70,000 a year to treble by 2025. Makers of luxury have come to realise that the paradox of industrial craftsmanship can be pushed only so far. To captivate new clients and keep the older ones on board, brands will have to invest shopping with a sense of occasion and give ordinary customers some of the individual attention they have lavished on their biggest-spending ones. Increasingly, that is what they are doing. When Burberry launched a perfume in September, it gave customers a chance to inscribe bottles with their own initials, both in shops and online. Customers still want to hear the story that luxury tells, perhaps more than ever as the world comes to seem more rootless and mass-produced. In London's Savile Row a small crowd of men and women, nattily clad in mid-20th-century garb, recently staged a demonstration against two shops selling clothes by Abercrombie & Fitch, an American fashion chain. “Give Three-Piece a Chance,” demanded their placards. To the demonstrators, the intruder was the antithesis of Savile-Row's made-to-measure tailoring. “We're not proper Savile Row-type people,” said the protest's organiser, Gustav Temple, who edits an obstreperously nostalgic magazine called The Chap. “But we hope to be one day.” The brides of Trang Tien Plaza would understand.