Opinion: Rethinking ‘modern luxury,’ a term misleading brands

    Why 'modern luxury' falls short, and the importance of crafting compelling, unique narratives
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      Published   in Fashion

    In the busy corridors of brand strategy and luxury marketing departments, a phrase is repeated with increasing frequency: "modern luxury." Over the past month alone, I've been approached by more than 20 brands, each aspiring to be, or become “modern luxury.” Yet, as alluring as this term may sound, it often misleads brands in a web of ambiguity and cliché. Let's unravel why modern luxury can be more of a trap than a winning strategy for brands striving for extreme value creation, distinction, and relevance.

    Ambiguity of modern luxury#

    At first glance, modern luxury appears to encapsulate a forward-thinking, contemporary approach to opulence and exclusivity. Common interpretations suggest a blend of cutting-edge technology, sustainable practices, and innovative design. However, herein lies the first pitfall: overuse has rendered the term excessively broad and nondescript. It's akin to a sartorial trend adopted so widely that it loses its uniqueness and appeal. Brands clinging to this term often find themselves deeply in the same sea of sameness they try to escape from, struggling to articulate what truly sets them apart.

    Pitfalls of stereotyping#

    The allure of being perceived as modern can be intoxicating for brands, especially those eyeing the attention of the next generation of affluent clients, Gen Z and young millennials. Yet, the pursuit of wanting to be modern for its own sake almost always leads to disaster. Without a precise, client-centric definition of what modern luxury entails, brands risk diluting their identity further, instead of building it up.

    This vagueness not only confuses customers, but also hampers internal clarity. When a brand's ethos is shrouded in generic terms, fostering a unified vision and mission within the organization becomes challenging. I have come across a vast number of companies that use the same generic terms and feel safe and future-ready. Then, as a result, the necessary work in defining a client-centric brand identity is not done.

    Let me be crystal clear: “modern luxury” on its own means absolutely nothing. It’s an irrelevant term that often does more harm than provides organizations any benefit. The much more pressing questions organizations need to answer are: Why would the next generation of clients develop desirability towards our brand? Why would they choose us over our competitors, especially those who also promise to be modern and progressive? Which target emotion do we want our clients to feel? These are the relevant questions, which, when masked with “modern luxury” are often neither asked nor answered. Therefore, pursuing “modern luxury” is a recipe for disaster. Luxury is not about generic terms; it’s about creating the desirability of distinct brand markers.

    Crafting a narrative that resonates#

    The crux of brand distinction lies, therefore, not in chasing buzzwords, but in translating the brand vision into a compelling, unique narrative that resonates deeply with clients. It's about storytelling that transcends the misleading allure of modernity and taps into the timeless essence of what the brand stands for. This narrative should be so distinct and vivid that it sets the brand apart in a crowded marketplace.

    When the narrative is right, then brands should never need to change it. Because the brand story should always reflect the core values. The best brands in the world never change those and stay distinct, while many other brands tend to follow a more generic narrative that fundamentally holds them back from being truly successful.

    Modernity without substance#

    Brands fall into the modern luxury trap when they prioritize effect over substance. The quest to appear modern can lead to a superficial adoption of trends without a deeper understanding of their relevance to the brand's core values and client expectations. It's not enough to label a brand as modern; what matters is how this modernity is articulated and experienced by clients in a way that is both authentic and unique to the brand. The client decides what is luxury for them, and frankly – in thousands of conversations with affluent luxury clients – the term “modern luxury” never came up.

    They rather look for meaning, for human emotions, for community, artistry, cultural capital, and for moments that are so unique clients want to relive them forever. The drivers of extreme value center around a very personal anticipation of positive perception shifts and experiencing unique and exciting moments. This has always been what luxury is about and always will be. Modern luxury is nothing but a buzzword that sounds great but means nothing.

    Distinctive storytelling, client-centric innovation#

    The call to action is clear: move beyond the allure of buzzwords like "modern luxury." Brands must dive deeper, crafting a narrative and experience that are not only modern but also uniquely their own. This involves a relentless focus on extreme craftsmanship, perceived innovation, a “wow” customer experience, and – most importantly – ultra-precise storytelling that expresses the brand’s ethos and its clients’ aspirations. To create these stories is hard, and most brands significantly underinvest time and resources in this.

    While the term "modern luxury" might offer initial appeal, its true value lies in how distinctively and authentically a brand can interpret and embody it. The journey towards excellence in the premium and luxury segments is not about being modern for the sake of modernity, but about crafting a unique story and experience that clients desire. I urge brands to embrace this challenge, steering clear of the trap of being generic, and pave the way for a future where luxury is not just modern, but meaningfully memorable. Luxury can never be generic, so why aspire to a generic vision of luxury?

    This is an opinion piece by Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité, recognized as one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch.” Executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu and professor of luxury at NYU, New York, he’s authored best-selling books on luxury management, and is a respected global keynote speaker and sought-after luxury expert, appearing on platforms like Bloomberg TV, Forbes and The Economist. Holding an MBA and a PhD in luxury management, Langer has received education from Harvard Business School. All opinions expressed in the column are his own and do not reflect the official position of Jing Daily.

    Follow him: LinkedIn: Instagram: @drdaniellanger

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