When luxury brands started releasing Q3 2023 results, analysts and observers were quick to predict the end of luxury as the first published numbers seemed disappointing.
However, upon closer inspection, there are some brands that not only showed resilience but even grew to an all-time high during this quarter.
While the more “quiet” luxury brands that cater to top-tier clients, such as Hermès, Brunello Cucinelli, and Zegna, confirmed stellar financial results and strong demand in Q3, other brands like Gucci disappointed.
Gucci, the former growth star of Kering, reported a revenue of €2.2 billion, a whopping 14 percent drop on a reported basis and a 7 percent decline on a comparable basis. Sales within its directly operated retail network contracted by 7 percent on a comparable basis, while wholesale revenue declined by 17 percent. Kering’s Bottega Veneta sales decreased 7 percent. The group’s “Other Houses” division, including Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen, fell 15 percent — a dramatic decline when compared to brands that were growing double digits in the same period.
Additionally, such a notable decrease in demand for brands that were once some of the most influential, inspiring, and relevant brands in luxury is less of an indicator of a market contraction and more of a warning sign of what can go wrong in brand storytelling, brand execution, and the creation of desirability in a short period of time.
Let’s look at Gucci.
I have praised the brand in many of my past columns as one of the best in brand storytelling and experience execution. However, towards the end of Alessandro Michele’s era, cracks and inconsistencies were visible — early warning signs for the results we are seeing today. Collections became gimmicky and theatric, with many observers saying the brand was doing “more of the same” and losing its innovativeness and inspiration.
Consequently, Kering initiated a brand reset to take the brand further upmarket and correct some of the previous executions. However, with the reset, it seems that the brand is forgetting its biggest asset: its brand story.
Significant academic research on luxury and countless brand audits over the last decade have shown that the brand story is the main driver of value. The more a brand can own a story and execute it in a distinct way, the more value it creates.
Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Zegna, Rolex, Porsche, and a few others have shown mastery in brand storytelling, thus creating a virtuous cycle of creating extreme value while always innovating, inspiring, and delivering the utmost quality of product and client experience. And these brands are being rewarded with continuous growth in revenue and profitability, which they can then reinvest in brand equity building, creating more and more desirability.
Gucci took a major departure from the brand execution of Alessandro Michele. But unlike other brands that changed designers, Gucci cut ties with the past and now is becoming more normal, predictable, and, as some industry observers note, boring in terms of execution.
The brand story of an unapologetic expression of individualism and freedom is not coming across anymore. This is one of the biggest weaknesses of the current brand execution, as well as its biggest opportunity: the chance to reinterpret the brand ethos for today’s clients in an unmistakable way.
Similarly, Bottega Veneta has also become ambiguous in terms of brand storytelling. Once regularly named as one of the most luxurious brands in the world and proudly refraining from showing any logos, the brand was the byword of quiet luxury. Under Daniel Lee, this changed, leading to short-term meteoric growth, but came at the expense of clarity of brand storytelling and execution.
The once quiet brand became loud and trendy, and I know many of their past top clients, including myself, started to feel alienated by the flashy executions. At a time where quiet luxury is more relevant than ever before, Bottega Veneta should be among Kering’s fastest-growing brands and not significantly negative. An indicator of weakened brand storytelling.
Balenciaga, which was one of the most admired luxury brands until its recent child-advertising scandal, also seems to be in an identity crisis. Once known for taking clear positions on its values, the silence in the weeks following the scandal had a significant impact on client trust. If brands are driven by values, looking the other way when something goes wrong internally sends mixed signals and can impact the desirability of the brand going forward.
There is a significant lesson for all luxury brands: Don’t blame the market. Issues are often self-inflicted. The brand story and the precision of its execution — the ability to wow and surprise while being clear on core values — are among the most critical success factors.
The luxury sector has always been more resilient to economic uncertainty than all other sectors, but not all brands are faring well. Those who fire from all cylinders — who inspire, innovate, and communicate clearly on their values — are the ones able to stand out. Brands that neglect their brand story or show ambiguity in their values will lose.
In times of uncertainty, there is no room for complacency and imprecision. The market is changing rapidly; any brand that is not perfectly executed will decline faster than ever before. Time to act.
Daniel Langer, CEO of Équité, is recognized as one of the “Global Top Five Luxury Key Opinion Leaders to Watch.” He serves as an executive professor of luxury strategy and pricing at Pepperdine University in Malibu and as a professor of luxury at NYU, New York. Daniel and his team collaborate with luxury brands, mid-sized enterprises, and startups to enhance brand positioning, messaging, pricing strategies, and overall profitability. He’s authored best-selling books on luxury management in English and Chinese, and is a respected global keynote speaker. Daniel frequently conducts masterclasses on various topics across Europe, the USA, Middle East/Africa, and Asia. He’s a sought-after luxury expert, appearing on platforms like Bloomberg TV, Forbes, The Economist, and more. Holding an MBA and a Ph.D. in luxury management, Daniel has received education from Harvard Business School.