Luxury has always been about servicing a limited and exclusive group. Its foundations are in craftsmanship and artistry in the details. The quality of design and recognisable style produced in small quantities is part of the heritage that remains the inspiration for luxury brands from Patek Philippe to Hermes.

But luxury has changed, and the idea of accessible luxury has gained traction, helping to grow new markets. Appealing to these wider demographics has transformed the style and presence of today’s luxury brands, increasing “massification” from its original roots, and aiming to fulfil the aspirations of an eager audience.

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 Virgile + Partners’ Director and Founder Carlos Virgile
Virgile + Partners’ Director and Founder Carlos Virgile

It is not easy to pin down who the new consumer of luxury is.

Their image might be significantly different from the reality of those who really buy. Are the Bond Street shoppers and the brand logos in their carrier bags really those we’ve imagined them to be?

In the pre Covid-19 days they had access and means and were open to being seduced by objects of desire. They were ready to shop from exclusive fashion accessories, beauty or jewellery brands. Coronavirus may have paused this, but they are likely to return to stores if the attraction of brands continues to be irresistible.

Expansion is driven by the dominance of trend influencers and the ever-growing presence of social media. Carlos Virgile

In parallel to the evolution of the established luxury shopper, mid-market and even high street names have been closely observing this high-end style – adopting their image posture, mimicking the language, trying to assimilate their brand values, and even encroaching on physical territories previously exclusively luxury.

We’re at an interesting point of confusion between the highbrow and lowbrow visual iconography of brands. There is a new route emerging for the beauty world, tapping into these fervent shoppers – not significantly different from those who have always had an eye for luxury brands – outside the typical luxury locations of Bond Street or high-end department stores.

Beauty has always been a portal to the luxury world. It has all the associated glamour of the luxury fashion brands but at a relatively lower purchasing point, compared with the same names in fashion or jewellery. Owning Chanel or Dior make-up could easily be the first step towards a feeling of belonging to a top brand.

It is interesting to observe that in times of crisis such as the current one, beauty has always shown extraordinary resilience, being resistance proof to defeat. Those best-selling products have always lifted the consumer spirit, even in the worst of circumstances.

This new emerging beauty model levels up the power of traditional brands with increasingly successful new names and their capacity to understand the changes in the approach to beauty.

The explosion of the market for a young generation is key to sustaining growth in the beauty business. Expansion is driven by the dominance of trend influencers and the ever-growing presence of social media, increasing the constant need for self-gratification and reassurance of status from consumers, making the beauty business grow and spreading fast.

A relevant case within this context is H Beauty, a new brand owned and created by luxury department store Harrods. The 23,000 sqm store – a first of its kind – was launched at the Intu Lakeside mall in Essex and will soon extend to other UK sites. These geographical mall locations might seem unexpected settings for introducing a new luxury beauty brand. They might be far from their Knightsbridge origin, but they are not different in their common spirit of bringing quality, newness and innovation.

H BEAUTY
H BEAUTY LAKESIDE 2020 – PHOTOGRAPHER AUSTIN HUTTON

The new store designed by Virgile + Partners is a bold move for a luxury brand so closely associated with their exclusive experience and an impressive grand image that has always attracted well-heeled customers and visitors to London.

H BEAUTY, LAKESIDE CHAMPAGNE BAR – PHOTOGRAPHER – KENSINGTON LEVERNE

The H Beauty store shows no fear and make no concessions to the current insecurities of the retail scene or its out-of-London context. The new ‘playground’ format – almost a beauty club – integrates the best of the beauty market with playful make-up tables and a glamorous champagne bar as key features. There is an almost entrepreneurial attitude to testing a potential new frontier for luxury, away from its traditional demographics and reaching towards and growing its area of influence, opening an exciting new development for the beauty market.

H BEAUTY LAKESIDE 2020 PHOTOGRAPHER – KENSINGTON LEVERNE

This breath of fresh air, injecting a further democratisation of premium and luxury beauty brands will hopefully start a circle of revitalisation and regeneration of a new type of luxury, and a much-needed uplift of the places where people has always enjoyed shopping, meeting friends and socialising.

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