One of fashion’s most iconic, classic and luxurious brands keeps up with the future of fashion, keeping in mind the sway and influence of the millennial consumer.
Flashing lights, rows of multi-coloured wiring and racks of servers in a clinical, white space – this is the scene for Karl Lagerfeld’s SS17 Chanel show, set in the unrecognisable Grand Palais in Paris in early October. Welcome to the Chanel Data Centre. Then, as if you couldn’t feel more thrown into the future, the music starts: a heart-pumping Patrick Cowley electro remix of Donna Summer’s classic ‘I Feel Love’. Enter the models: two Stormtrooper, bot-like characters (who, to me, look like the love children of Daft Punk and The Stig) walk out as the first looks of the collection, wearing classic Chanel tweed suits of black and cream bouclé jackets with giant robot hands and white moon boots.
‘Intimate technology’ is how Karl described the collection, perhaps referencing the contrasting flashes of pink chiffon lingerie, slips, camis and lace shorts underneath the thick tweed. The classic tailoring of the bouclé jackets and two-piece sets is given a futuristic update with an array of graphic digi-prints that resemble dizzying laser patterns. The threads themselves, reflecting the colours of cable cords, are woven in every which way and can be seen in the Chanel standard quilted garments.
The collection moves on to breezy chiffon dresses that float as the models march down the runway in their simple ballet flats. The dresses, too, are painted in a Technicolor kaleidoscope of glowing print.
You can always count on the great Karl to put on a spectacle. Chanel turned the Grand Palais into an art gallery for SS14, then a supermarket for the AW14 show. In 2015, a brasserie was created, followed by an extravagant casino for haute couture. Then, last year, the building was transformed into a Chanel airport terminal before he rounded up the fashion industry and took them and his resort collection to Cuba. You’d be hard-pressed to find a disappointed audience. This year felt a little different. While still in the realms of complete fantasy, it was perhaps less dreamy and, instead, a dose of a potential reality – a look at what will very likely take place in the future.
Perhaps it was the unexpected peek of lingerie that came through the expected two-piece tweed suits, or the fuzzy, colour explosive digi-prints. Maybe it was the light-up bags or the repetition of those 80s cool-kid caps worn to the side with an extra serving of side ponytail and ear medallions that got me thinking about how this heritage brand is so unashamedly and deliberately turning things on their head to reach a new generation of consumer: the millennials. An overused term, perhaps, but this 18-34 age group is predicted to be one of the most powerful consumer groups in the market.
According to The Business Insider, ‘Millennials are more cash rich and willing to spend money on goods and holidays because saving to buy a property in an incredibly inflated market seems like a fantasy.’ By 2035, millennials will become the largest spending generation in history. As a result, we have seen the rise of image reinventions by brands to cultivate a younger generation of shoppers. Why shouldn’t this be the case for luxury brands too?
Until recently, luxury brands were only for those who could afford them: the wealthy, older generation with money to burn. But marketing strategies have had to change drastically and immediately as the world has realised that millennials are the future. Theoretically, a young girl will buy into a brand with the purchase of a fragrance as her first signature scent. She may then buy a scarf or a pair of earrings when she’s finished school, and then a handbag with her first work bonus. With each experience her loyalty and relationship with the brand will strengthen. Appealing to this generation isn’t about traditional means of advertising or buying space on social media networks. The goal is to get ordinary people to crave extraordinary things.
‘Millennials have redefined the term “luxury”,’ says Wwd.com. ‘Luxury no longer refers exclusively to expensive bags, shoes and watches. It now includes experiences like farm-to-table dining and uber-luxe travel.’ They prefer experiences to possessions, and luxury shopping is indeed an experience. Added to this, roping in a power millennial to make your offering even more authentic means bringing in the likes of Gigi Hadid, the Jenner sisters and Cara Delevingne, the pop culture icons who have more influence on kids than their parents. And if they say it’s cool, you better believe it is.
Critics have expressed reservations at the new marketing strategies, questioning if the girls who are chosen to front the fashion campaigns are themselves in the life stage of buying the luxury goods they are paid to advertise. The answer is, probably not. But millennials do eventually grow up. According to an article by Erin Shea of Luxurydaily.com, ‘In order for a brand to survive for the long term, it needs to grow with its existing customer base, while simultaneously attracting the younger audience to have this generation embrace the brand with time. Money spent on building a brand with younger people is not wasted even though younger consumers today might not purchase many of a company’s products.’ So perhaps a young person can’t afford that Chanel handbag just yet, but she’s not afraid of it. Millennial spending on luxury fashion has grown at 33% a year in the US alone.
It’s important for heritage brands such as Chanel to remain at the forefront of fashion, maintain relevance and uphold the philosophies with which the brand was born. Bringing in unlikely faces such as Kristen Stewart and 17-year-old Lily-Rose Depp is a grand gesture towards underpinning a modern mindset, appealing to a new generation of Chanel devotees. Last year also saw a rebirth of the legendary No.5 perfume. Chanel No.5 L’eau is a younger, cooler sister – another nod by the fashion house to reinventing itself for its next client. It wasn’t the all-star model cast that gave the show its virtuosity, nor was it the celebrity-filled front row (although I did spot Usher).
It also wasn’t the complete transformation of the Grand Palais or the exceptionally crafted clothing. So what made this particular Chanel technology extravaganza so genius? It was a bite out of our future-reality, and a not-too distant one.