I recently discovered the term ‘power millennial’ and fell in love with images of Cara Delevingne in a cat suit, saving 20-somethings from urban ennui. And Gigi Hadid, tweeting her 34.4 million closest friends how to best belt their new Gucci bag. But while millennial ‘it girls’ are definitely a thing, they’re not as omnipotent as their antecedents—girls like Kate Moss or Chloë Sevigny. Why not? Because to millennials, luxury brands are no longer high church.
What that means for many luxury lifestyle brands is that they can no longer bank on their apparent exclusivity as a guarantee of new generational appeal. In fact, gold standard brands like Dior and Louis Vuitton know they’ve painted themselves into something of a gilded corner. How to reconcile exclusivity whilst enjoying almost quasi-ubiquity? How to remain deliciously unattainable while being available in every airport duty free on the planet? Millennials’ lack of logo loyalty is a game changer, but who knows the new rules?
Andrew Moultrie, global marketing director of Extreme International, sees it like this. “They grew up watching their parents or older siblings struggling. They saw that playing by the rules doesn’t really work, so they want to have fun while growing up.” Moultrie recognises that what millennials prize is the Instagrammable experience, the Facebookable fantasy come true. “They will vacation in Ibiza with their friends or fly to New York City for the weekend. They see the richness in the storytelling of having an experience, rather than buying one expensive item,” he told Forbes magazine. “It’s not just ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’. It’s now ‘Hanging with the Joneses’ family’. They are inviting everyone to participate rather than show off.”
That said, a handful of boomer luxury brands have managed to resonate with the millennial mindset. Gucci is the demographic surfer par excellence. Launched in 1921 to appeal to the ski-resort-exclusivity of the silent generation, it managed to reinvent itself for boomers under the guidance of Tom Ford, whilst also appealing to the rebel slackers of Generation X with his slouchy take on urbanity.
Under Alessandro Michele, Gucci is now the go-to brand for millennials. For centennials, who totally get The Royal Tenenbaums/Marcia Brady/thrift shop vibe, Gucci is an aspiration. Michele’s latest Gucci Cruise collection featured 1960s psychedelic print palazzo pantsuits, 1970s accented Renaissance revival gowns, dandy velvet capes, checked tweed tailoring and sensible quilted outdoor coats. So very then, so very now.
Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, which focuses on affluent consumer behavior says, “Millennials don’t want their grandfathers’ or fathers’ luxury brands. They want to embrace their own. They look at traditional luxury as elitist, snobbish and exclusive. They want something more personal, democratic and inclusive.”
Inclusive is an applicable term to designers such as Demna Gvasalia and his gang of rebels, who aid and abet the Soviet bad boy with his Vetements collections as well as his work for Balenciaga. When Gvasalia announced that he was swapping his hedonistic Paris lifestyle for a “boring” Zurich existence, millennials understood his motives.
And when he said he was stepping off the glamour treadmill, preferring to “Do something when there’s a time and the need for it” he was reflecting on the millennial mistrust of established ways of behaving. Rejecting the fashion system makes Gvasalia’s work even more appealing to his millennial customer. By rebuffing the attitudes of yore, Gvasalia has secured his position at the summit of urban credibility.