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Vuitton is banking that men, too, will feel the lure of intensified luxury. “I think about hyperluxury as well as normal luxury,” says Kim Jones, the new men’s style director, whose spring collection was inspired by his upbringing in Africa, and such mesmerizing house lore as the 19th-century Franco-Italian explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, who ventured into the Congo with monogram Vuitton trunks. Figuring under the hyper category: a nifty binocular case in rubberized alligator for 26,000 euros, about $37,390, and a silk necktie shot with 24-karat gold thread, for 255 euros or $360.
Chez Alexander McQueen, the hyperluxury trend is particularly evident with footwear. “For Lee’s last collection, we did quite extreme, more interesting show shoes—and the stores bought them,” reports ceo Jonathan Akeroyd. “The Armadillo shoes in particular were meant to be a runway item, but we were inundated with requests for them. They were handcrafted, and priced at $13,000. In the end, we sold quite a lot.” Akeroyd is referring to the sloping, animalistic shoes that Lady Gaga famously sported in her video for “Bad Romance.”
This fall, McQueen is releasing the Lancelot, a shoe featuring carved platforms with silver stud and chain details—and a price tag of $3,500. “Customers are looking for one-off, exclusive pieces, shoes with the wow factor,” adds Akeroyd. “A few years ago, we would have never expected these shoes to be selling.”
Now the trend has begun to spread to bags, to clutches in particular, he says, which McQueen has been making in precious skins or with diamanté. This season, the house has a mink clutch in stores, as well as a version in a Swarovski Elements-encrusted pink leather with a skull closure.
While many purveyors of hyperluxury stress exclusivity, Roger Vivier artistic director Bruno Frisoni notes the need to incorporate a modern aesthetic into the notion. “Consumers today need rarity and beauty in a more contemporary way,” he says. Three seasons ago, he replaced the Paris house’s ultrafancy couture accessories collection with Rendez-Vous, a limited edition concept involving innovative takes on traditional techniques; the shoes are sold by appointment in the brand’s nine worldwide stores. Highlights from the latest collection include a clutch inlaid with golden stalks of straw arranged in a sunbeam formation ($19,850) and sandals in hand-draped jersey ($12,950). Moved by the “uneasy” sentiment that consumption had become all about overload and excess, Frisoni says he wanted to offer “a new proposition of luxury.”
Louboutin credits the Internet, ironically, for spurring the hyperluxury trend. While the Web has given people unprecedented access to high-end goods, it also arms them to the teeth with intricate knowledge of where and how things are made. “When people ask me for specific things, I’m always surprised how much they know,” says Louboutin, who established a made-to-order atelier in 2007. “People are so informed that they really want to have the best of the best.”
Indeed, many of his clients are aware of the grades of quality in crocodile skin. A few also know of Louboutin’s passion for collecting antique textiles, and commission evening bags made of, say, late 18th-century silk from Syria. “It’s jewelry, really,” he says, noting bags must be carefully hinged so that the delicate fabric is not damaged by the opening and closing motion. The designer also stocks his boutiques with extraordinary footwear styles, such as crocodile motorcycle boots that retail for around 15,000 euros, or $21,100. Coming next February: a pair of sandals adorned with rock crystals and precious and semiprecious stones, selling for around 3,000 to 4,000 euros, or $4,200 to $5,600.
Hyperluxury may ring of snob appeal, but the reasons for its burgeoning success might have little to do with superficial fashion-flaunting. Louboutin argues that economic uncertainty has triggered among consumers a greater awareness of and demand for value, and hence, among those with the means, exceptional products. Others concur.
“People are moving away from throwaway consumerism, from buying things that don’t last and that they don’t really care about,” muses Tomas Maier, creative director at Bottega Veneta, known for its painstakingly made woven leathers. “Perhaps the financial crisis has made us all consider our purchases more carefully. There will always be people who seek out exceptional luxury products. Maybe the next stage will be an even greater demand for artisanal craftsmanship, to balance our increasingly digital daily life.”
Ford couldn’t agree more. “I don’t believe it is a trend at all but is here to stay for those who are fortunate enough to afford it,” he says. “Quality is remembered long after style is forgotten.”