Shaking Sameness: Luxury Goes Custom To Rev Up Consumers

PARIS — Luxury brands are out of control. That is, they are breaking out of the direct-control mantra that defined the Nineties.As companies...

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In Japan, Chanel has created limited-edition products, including a diamond-studded ring and lipstick and eye shadow collections in special colors, which have created lusty demand. A photo album documenting the March launch of ephemeral beauty products in Tokyo is testimony to the success: lines of women snaking outside the shop.

Sometimes, sleights of hand are employed to give a store a more individual feeling.

Montenay said a Chanel store manager may deliberately delay displaying new deliveries, or stagger them, to cater to customers who may come in weekly or even twice a week.

Al-Sabah confessed that he sometimes creates "pretend" waiting lists. "This tool helps us sell three to four times as much quantities, without having any customer upset," he said.

Al-Sabah said his customers, who travel a great deal, balk at spending up to $1,500 for a handbag that is sold everywhere.

"It’s going to be a long-term problem if the brands continue in such a direction in producing masses of certain expensive products and not give them exclusivity or have them made-to-order," he contended.

Bertelli said initiatives such as made-to-order and exclusive merchandise reflect a mature market. "This is an enrichment of the brand," he said, stressing that "exclusive has to really mean exclusive, and not a product masked as such."

Of course, not everyone agrees eclecticism and variety are the way to go. "We are running contrary to what Diego Della Valle was saying," said Robert Triefus, executive vice president for worldwide communications at Giorgio Armani. "We spent about $543.8 million over the past four years in developing our infrastructures, in acquisitions and renovating our stores to convey a consistent image because we believe it’s important for each of our brands and each lifestyle they represent."

Triefus said Armani, unlike brands like Tod’s or Prada, does not rely on tourist business. "With our Milan, Via Manzoni and Hong Kong Charter House flagship stores, we’ve demonstrated our concept of retail destination as a multilayered experience — where there’s bookstores, cafés and flower shops — so that customers are invited to spend a couple of hours there. It’s a rational answer to a large space," he said. "We are more concerned with cultivating our loyal and local customers, who want a consistent image, a feeling of entering the Armani world in a modern, contemporary rendering."
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