Is it Still Luxury on Amazon?
I'm one of those people that buys the stupidest stuff on Amazon. Like, there's a 24 hr Duane Reade across the street from my apartment, and yet somehow here I am getting moisturizer delivered to my apartment. Because it's two dollars cheaper! And I don't have to wear pants! Let's get to the point here, Amazon sells fucking everything, including, increasingly, clothing from recognizable brands. I bought my brogues on Amazon - Zappos was out of my size, and of course Amazon had them. I'm not so sure about the economic morality of the whole thing, but in theory, I'm into it. But increasingly, we're seeing higher and higher end brands on Amazon - clothing I would even classify as luxury. When I first saw it I kind of laughed, because my first instinct was that I'd never buy a luxury item on Amazon. "It wouldn't be the same." And it makes me wonder about the relationship between luxury and accessibility. Is it the democratic access that makes it feel "less luxury"? Or is there something about the brand experience missing here - something essential?
I've gained a huge respect for luxury throughout my internship with a luxury designer. I think kind of grew up with it the way the lot of the industry sells it, as very label-driven - I'm apt to argue that it's not even really luxury, it's a brand cult. Labels aren't inherently a bad thing - it's essential to respect designers and creators by using the names they create under - but I think there is a certain difference between seeking a label because you respect its aesthetic and because you seek to own the It Bag. "No right way to consume," I know, yeah, I'm not saying it's a bad thing. But it just wasn't something that appealed to me in my younger days.
And so as a result, I kind of wrote off how fucking cool real luxury can be - spending everyday learning about the process of couture design and construction will do that to you. It's been fascinating to engage with idea of luxury not as a cult of a brand but rather as a type of clothing intended to be better. True luxury - in my humble opinion - is not about status. It's about perfection. To take the tiniest details - the smallest stitches and seams - and make them perfect. To create something that's really, truly pleasurable to own and wear - whether in its comfort or in its design or in, yes, its rarity.
I guess under that definition you'd be able to argue that luxury is luxury no matter where you buy it - what ultimately matters is the end product. Cashmere is cashmere, right? People go just as crazy over a vintage Chanel bag scored in a thrift store as they do a new one purchased in-store. Is an item "more luxury" if you buy it online or in store? Not really. And so to that end, I don't think that luxury and accessibility are mutually exclusive. If everyone can buy something perfect, I don't think it makes that thing less perfect.
But at the same time, I think so much of luxury is about the brand experience. I don't know. It feels better, cooler, to buy things from certain brands rather than others. Why? Super easy answer: because any time you have an aesthetic, you have a symbol. Any individual clothing item is a tool of social communication. Point. And so when you take a designer's collection and you sell it, you're selling those symbols. You're selling ideas. And people want to buy that shit.
The thing with a lot of luxury brands is that one of the embedded symbols is the symbol of exclusivity. You're buying into having something few others do. You're expressing wealth, power, access. That's why we often consider over-branding so gauche. Cause, dude, you shouldn't have to scream it. To be fair, for centuries, luxury was exclusive - literally regulated with sumptuary laws that restricted certain colors and fabrics to the wealthy classes as a form of visible distinction. It was also kept exclusive by its production - traditional luxury was created by hand in tiny ateliers with rare materials and techniques. The reputation of the brand was a function of the product, not the other way around.
I actually started writing my senior thesis looking to make an economic comparison of these small ateliers and mass produced, made in China luxury brands. As if I could find some sort of economic justification for what I now recognize as a prejudice about luxury - like, if it was mass produced, it wouldn't be luxury. Then I got a little side tracked. Should I just write up that fucking thesis here one day? Right, so, the concern about mass production ultimately ends up being less about accessibility in and of itself and more about the quality of the product - it's inarguable that something hand crafted will be "more perfect" - and in my eyes, more luxury - than something created by machine. In that way, there are certainly luxury brands that are luxury in price point but I think don't really reach that level of detail that makes luxury "worth it". And those brands might be the ones that rely really heavily on the brand experience rather than the product itself.
Getting back to the point here, I think it's largely impossible to separate the brand from the product in 2014. Marketing is fucking sophisticated, and I'm not saying that with like, a tin-foil hat on my head. Material as symbol is millenia old, see aforementioned sumptuary laws. Like I've said before and will say a million times again, the brand and the idea being sold have become synonymous. The products are just the tangible access point. I don't even think this applies entirely to luxury, and I also don't think this principle is too highly effected by price point. I'm way more likely to tell you about how I paid $5 for a Uniqlo tee than $10 for a tee from Forever 21. Why? Cause Uniqlo is fucking cooler!
So with luxury, then, I think it's sooo hard to not be buying the brand right along with the product. And that's where the brand experience comes in. The in-store luxury experience is carefully engineered to set itself apart from your day to day shopping experience. Part of this is the necessity of communicating the value of the product; part of it is also that search for perfection that defines luxury. Brands have had nearly 15 years of online shopping being huge, which means they've had 15 years to create websites that at least reflect the aesthetic of the brand. If you're not shopping from a chic store you at least feel like you're in the same universe.
And so no, to that extent, I don't think buying from a store like Amazon would be entirely the same in terms of brand experience. And again, so much of that experience is about exclusivity. There's something about buying on Amazon that juuuuuust doesn't communicate that.
But, of course, exclusivity is just a small part of the luxury brand experience. Maybe not that small. But there are a million other things being communicated - and a million other reasons to buy a luxury product - so I think it's ultimately dependent on the desires of the consumer. After all, there's a legion of websites dedicated to luxury resale, and not all of them are pretty - I'm thinking of eBay, land of poorly-lit product photos, and secret weapon of fashion people everywhere. And it's not just about prices, nor mutually exclusive with exclusivity for that matter - if you're seeking something rare, eBay is usually the place to look. Correlation isn't causation, but luxury brands and excellent design usually go hand in hand. So yo, my size is sold out of the store but available in Amazon? I'm fucking down.