‘Patient and Particular in Provenance’

CONVERSATION

According to the Australian Financial Review, our Slow Luxury ‘phenomenon’ is part of a move towards transparency, meaning and ethics in today’s consumer behaviour.

The article ‘Patient and Particular in Provenance’ (by Hannah Tattersall) explains all…

“In a scene from hipster comedy Portlandia, two characters order chicken from a local restaurant, but not before questioning where the chicken came from, what sort of life it led and what it ate before it was killed. They learn that “Colin” was woodland-raised and fed a diet of sheep’s milk, soy and hazelnuts.

The scene pokes fun at the slow food movement – a development that in recent years has become more a norm than a trend. Today, restaurants on every street corner spruik farm-to-table ideals; at the very least they offer artisanal sourdough with organically whipped butter.

Slow fashion, in particular slow luxury, is based on much the same principles. It follows the idea that consumers aren’t interested in simply buying a leather bag any more: they want to know which cow was killed to make it, how that cow was treated when alive and whether it ate organic grass. They’re also willing to wait months and sometimes years for a better-quality, more exclusive item, giving rise to the belief that the longer you wait for something the more you appreciate it once it’s yours. It’s not a new idea. Savile Row tailors and companies with British royal warrants built businesses on the values of supplying the best-quality products through the most sustainable means.

Savile Row master tailor Steven Hitchcock says he often makes garments for customers willing to wait years for their creation. “A client fell in love with a cloth, then when I went to order it from the mill it was out of stock and they had to reproduce it. The procedure of weaving the cloth was about five months. So by the time I managed to cut it and fit it to the customer in New York, it amassed to nearly two years.” He says the customer was enamoured. “If someone is looking for something unique and has a certain image they want, then the wait is worth it.”

Britt Allanson Bivens, a trend forecaster and lecturer at The New School in New York agrees. “What the customer is getting is complete and utter exclusivity, and they’re part of the design process – that’s desirable,” she says . “We have had the whole, ‘fast fashion is evil’ pushed down our throats now and there’s definitely a much higher awareness than there ever was about the price to pay for fast fashion. Second, luxury companies – because they wanted to justify the price of their products – started putting all those marketing videos out there detailing things such as the 51 steps involved in making a Chanel 2.5 bag.”

360-degree consideration in a product

American Jade Dressler and Scottish-born Fiona Fraser co-founded Slow Luxury two years ago, to teach brands and consumers about ethical manufacturing and alert them to where their products are originating. “It’s really about all the things that Slow Food is similarly about – taking care of community, making sure people’s families are taken care of, so that it’s a ­360-degree consideration in making a product,” Dressler says.

Prior to forming Slow Luxury, Fraser had developed her own bag label, Fraser Balgowan. Deer were often killed for their prized venison but their hide went to waste – so she found a way to put it to use. Customers interested in the bags could visit the estate in Inverness-shire, where the deer were raised and killed by a single deer hunter. Buyers from Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, the Middle East and Russia travelled to Scotland to enjoy a highland experience with tailored local food and whisky – and place an order for a £400 to £1700 ($700 to $3000) bag. Fraser says it was important to draw attention not only to the provenance of the bag but the history and traditions of the families of the Scottish highlands. (For personal reasons she is no longer able to produce the bags but is working on a new project.)

Luxury brands are also doing their part. Louis Vuitton allows customers to order custom-made pieces including handbags and shoes in exotic leathers such as alligator, ostrich or python that can take 12 to 18 months to produce. The main reason for the wait is that these skins are hard to come by. To ensure a steady flow of sustainably produced, untarnished leather, LVMH last year bought an Australian crocodile farm for $US2.5 million ($2.7 million). Competitor Kering followed suit, acquiring a majority stake in French tannery France Coco, which specialises in sourcing and processing crocodile skins. Last year one brand in its stable, Gucci, released new eco and ethical versions of its famous Jackie, Hobo and Tote bags. The bag now comes with a “passport” detailing “the precise history” of the cow it was made from, from birth to the final product.

Others have the long wait without guarantee of best-practice. A Hermès International Birkin bag, a staple of the wealthy, sells for about $10,000 in leather; a crocodile version could set you back $50,000 – with a five-year wait. Dressler says they are not as transparent as they should be about the materials used. “We talk so much about sustainable cloth and no one wants to wear fur, but there is conversation around that. There’s no conversation around leather,” she says.

“An amazing Hermès bag is made of factory-farmed leather. We’re having this consciousness around our food, but it’s not necessarily extending full-fledged into what we put on our bodies – what we wear, and the impact on the environment, whether it’s factory-farmed animals or whatnot. Of course Hermès is going to pick a really high-end leather, but that animal suffered just the same.”

She believes luxury consumers are far more educated than they used to be and that will drive a change. “It’s not a niche discussion any more. I know couture designers may not be all open to considering it, but I think within the next five years, it’s going to happen.”

Certainly, as with the slow food movement, the idea of slow fashion is starting to enter the mainstream. Even fast fashion retailer H&M has a Conscious Collection of clothing made from organic cotton, Tencel and recycled polyester – God forbid that the consumer feel shame at buying a $5 factory-made maxi dress.

Dressler says “there’s a growing number of people who want that connection with their purchase and it’s absolutely about some kind of emotional connection with a product that means something to them”.

 Read the original article: ‘Patient and Particular in Provenance’ (by Hannah Tattersall)

 

GREAT SCOTS: Scotland’s Slow Luxury Culture

CONVERSATION, DESIGN, FASHION, LAND, MANUFACTURE, PEOPLE

A Story About Luxury by Fiona Fraser

We Scots we don’t tell stories or shout out about our excellence, our luxury. While our invention, creativity and influence is felt throughout the world, most are unaware that the story of the luxury products we associate with Paris, London or Milan, actually originate from this wild and poetic place I call home, Scotland.

chanel

Tilda Swinton for Chanel

From a Chanel dress to a rare whisky; from a cashmere blanket to a $5000 designer suit, more often than not, while a label bears a famous name, the material inspiration and invention originates in Scotland.  Besides luxury fabrics and materials, we’ve created other inventions that have influenced the world.  Many began as the luxuries of their time, now necessities of today, such as the refrigerator, tires, steam engine, penicillin, colour photography, Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes, golf, the telephone and television.

The-Balvenie-whisk_2201558b

The Balvenie

In Scotland, our ‘material culture’, the relationship between people, land and product inventions, is the story we have to tell. Aside from our great ‘social’ gifts to the world such as whisky, tartan and travel destinations, we have, however, failed to fully develop recognition for our other aspirational products, wholly owning our luxury brand identities that relate to Scotland’s materials, from pure sea salt to luxurious textiles.

Hebridean Sea Salt

Hebridean Sea Salt

Our heritage is based on hundreds of years of imaginative, ethical, sustainable production of material goods, (what we call Slow Luxury) and this is exactly what makes our products so desirable. Now is the time for these products, and their connection to people, land and time, to become the stories we tell globally. Now is the time for imaginative storytelling, for ‘imagination is the foundation of everything that is uniquely and distinctively human’ (The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything; Sir Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica) – and human interest, connection and relationships are what we know now drives the luxury desires of the contemporary consumer. The truth of the materials and production is the reward for the story.

Johnstons of Elgin2

Fabric from Johnstons of Elgin

Integral to this new idea of storytelling is Slow Luxury, not a fantasy nor a rigid and imposing ‘walk the talk,’ marketing “story”, rather an aspirational belief, an invitation for conversation, and an authentic way of blending lifestyle, community and commerce that has some greater depth of truth, transparency and meaning. 

For business, this framework must deliver returns but dare we anticipate that those returns might include benefits to the wider bottom line in addition to short term, hard cash?

For me, as the designer of a luxury collection, the benefits of this new adventure include becoming far more connected with my passions in life and questioning how I can contribute towards the sustainability of the economy, particularly in Scotland’s most fragile communities. I often ask this question of my clients and friends in luxury; ‘What might inviting dialogue and conversation focused on the stories around your brand actually realise for you personally and professionally; for your business, for your community, for your culture?’ ‘What is the market opportunity for us in using our vulnerability to ‘dare greatly’, to see the next adventure, given our knowledge of the thirst for connection with Scotland worldwide?’

We have lived through boom and bust times, particularly in terms of the manufacture of textiles.  We faced the near death of the industry and its negative impact on many communities, but we are re-inventing our offering as niche, as something of special, global value.  There is real vulnerability in this experience and we can use this to unlock our creativity.

Tweed Shop at Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland

Tweed Shop at Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland

What makes for this poor visibility or recognition for true Scottish luxury brands in the marketplace? Many of the best known Scottish (luxury) companies produce private label garments for other global brands such as Louis Vuitton and Burberry, sell through third party wholesalers, or in cases such as Pringle, our companies have been bought by international concerns who have expertly traded on ‘Scottishness’ and heritage, while moving much of the management and production out of the country.

Looking to the high street, Brooks Brothers and Paul Stewart shop windows in New York this very week are all ‘Highland’, featuring Scottish fabrics made by Scottish manufacturers, with little trace of a Scottish brand name to be seen.  In fact, Brooks Brothers has ‘Highland Heritage’ as its lead fashion trend for this season online, and the first edition of the Brooks Brothers magazine, published this week, features an extended editorial piece about Scotland with rich Scottish imagery and style sensibility.

This position is underpinned by the current Financial Times ‘How to Spend It’ edition, which speaks to technical innovation and the unrivalled quality of Scottish textiles, citing a who’s who of designers and luxury brands sourcing from Scotland, but with only passing reference to Scottish labels such as Begg & Co, who have invested in brand development in order to create visibility as a stand-alone proposition.  However, expert in the business of knowing how to ‘hook’ the audience, the FT article begins with a story; a story of Johnstons of Elgin, its film set-like archive and a royal connection.  Imagine if we were the ones telling this story?  Why encourage others to take ownership of our heritage, style, craftsmanship and luxury?

This invisibility, lack of individual brand identity and an inability to compete with large, international marketing budgets, goes some way to explain why Scotland’s luxury brands in fashion and interiors aren’t among the world’s best known names in luxury.  All the pride of manufacture and provenance, combined with our culture, inexperience, and less than bolshy approach to marketing, somehow precludes us from telling the world about our innovation and creativity, about our stories.  We collectively fail to envisage how our voice might be heard.  However, with social media and a plethora of online channels at our disposal, we do now have the opportunity to compete in a very cost effective way.

Style, Travel and Luxury on the Royal Scotsman

Style, Travel and Luxury on the Royal Scotsman

Marketing luxury is a game of desire and aspiration told through inventive stories. How do we get our Scottish selves into that mind-set? Appeal to our sense of adventure, sensitivity and imagination. Desire, and what is aspirational today is changing, as our world and environment necessitates. The fast, exploitative, rare, and controlled is thankfully now seen as excessive, wasteful and singularly offensive.  Luckily for Scots, pure slow provenance, balance and connection are our basic luxuries and what the world desires.

 B+W Slow luxury

Enter Slow Luxury. 2014 is a BIG year for Scotland on the world stage.  We will host the Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games, and the ‘Year of Homecoming’.  The world’s media will be trained on us, it has already started, and this is an unprecedented opportunity to share with the world our old/new essential paradigms…and in the process, raise our luxury profile.

There is much support for the development of Scottish luxury from within Government and industry bodies.  Only this week, James Sugden, Director at cashmere weaver Johnstons of Elgin, said the ‘tide has turned’ for the Scottish textiles industry and ‘the time is now’ for the Scottish Government to support investment in a textiles centre of excellence, as retailers are ‘re-shoring’ their orders from Far East suppliers to our own in Scotland. It is interesting however, that focus is predominantly aimed at innovation and production, with little evident discourse about connecting our brand identities and marketing development to that very innovation by developing new products with an ‘old soul’.   In any event, following closely behind must be development of capacity and capability within companies, to engage a workforce in cultural change and a refreshed common goal that is centred around developing identity, selling the story and delivering world-class service.

Ryder Cup 2014

Ryder Cup 2014

How does Scotland further develop its own brand of luxury culture?  This idea of Slow Luxury includes both accessing our vulnerability and ‘daring greatly’, a philosophy coined and described by US researcher and storyteller, Brene Brown that has achieved global recognition.  What is the vulnerable, the daring we all aspire to?  What are the strengths of our stories and connections with our past? The world today is loudly social, mobile and imminently promoting itself in a collaborative, connected way. Strength in messaging, in collaboration and its ultimate success will depend on the extent to which Scottish luxury companies can envisage their marketing activities solidly taking place in a new paradigm.  We can’t compete with the multi-million pound budgets of our global luxury brand cousins but there may be a better way to reflect our excellence.

How to create a compelling brand story today to expand profits tomorrow? Scotland is a perfect case study to illustrate how the concept of Slow Luxury can be a lens applied to brands and product offerings, to offer luxury consumers specific compelling reasons to purchase now.  In the presentation below, we  roadmap the steps smart brands can take to target more desire for their products and services through this proven new thought leadership, shaping the marketing of the best luxury brands today.