In last week’s Evening Standard, Hatton Garden jeweller, Sam Hunter, brother of director, Sophie Hunter, wife of Benedict Cumberbatch, said, “People are bored of the little blue boxes, extortionate prices and minimal design that is now completely characterless,” he went on “It’s the name you’re paying for and nothing else… It’s fine if the piece is exquisite, but they’re producing less and less of those!”
He was, of course, talking about the American jeweller, Tiffany & Co., but he could have easily have been describing the majority of modern luxury brands.
There was a time when you wanted everybody to know your brand. There was a time when success was built on brand awareness. There was a time when consumers wanted you to know the brand they were wearing in order to convey status, but times change and this awareness and ultimately saturation has breed predictability and boredom.
For example, I was recently in Berlin. I walked past their fanciest department store, KaDeWe, and in the windows were great looking clothes. I always like to try and guess the designers and then, like a museum piece, look at the labels on the glass. I didn’t recognise a single one of them. In the past you would dismiss this as being a second rate store or inferior because the ‘big labels' weren’t there, but instead it was far more interesting and refreshing.
Inside was another story. The usual luxury shop-in-shops: Bottega Veneta, Valentino, Gucci, acres of marble and the same look, the world over, but the element of the unknown is what will get people off their sofas and into stores.
It’s much more exciting, today, to not recognise a label and go purely on quality and design. It’s a sign of good taste and a good eye rather than blindly buying a ‘name’. It's also a sign of confidence. But, it’s hard to stay unknown forever and why shouldn’t brands that are good be celebrated, but it’s the level to which they are exposed and rely solely on the name or label that I have a problem with.
A good example would be the Italian brand, Slowear, soon to open another store on London’s Marylebone High Street, they are understated and their multiple labels - Incotex, Montedoro, Zanone - aren’t household names and don't seem to want to be. Slowear, while not cheap, offers better quality, fit and value than clothes at twice the price. This isn't about being a contrarian and always different and obscure. It's about brands that have a humility, aren't a vehicle for a designer's ego and are understated with a ‘we’re too busy making great clothes-to-focus-solely-on-the-label’ attitude which makes it very democratic and far more interesting.
Go seek out the unknown. I've never heard of them. Tell me more.
This week's video includes reviews of grooming products with sun protection, dinner with Dominic West, bumping into Carolyn Massey at her new role at Next and the must-have glittery beard.