Robb Reader: Studio Black Tomato’s Adam Larter On The Shifting Topography Of Luxury

From its emotional nuances to the language we use to describe it.

Is the HNWI an ever-evolving entity? For example, is a Gen-Z yacht owner a totally different creature to the jet-set era icon?
The HNWI has never really been one point of view or lifestyle, but instead an idiosyncratic and varied group of people who are all in the same income bracket. The difference now is that marketeers have greater transparency over what the opinions and actions of these people are. The outspoken nature of Harry and Meghan – while only two people – represents how much closer we are to the zeitgeist of the HNWI. We can read their opinions, we can follow them on Instagram: brands can have a dialogue and not have to make big assumptions.

What kind of forces have driven HNW consumers towards kindness and empathy?
It has been said a lot, but it’s true. There is a changing sense of what luxury means. For many, luxury was previously about status and material possessions but the new luxury is about experience; it’s about being able to reflect your personality and your beliefs and this cannot be communicated in the same way. To communicate nuanced ideas you cannot shout, you cannot boast, and you can’t make assumptions – kindness and empathy come from the same position, which is one of listening.


Are luxury brands putting an increasing emphasis on ethical approaches merely in response to this – or are they, too, caught up in the same cultural tide towards decency and compassion? 
It’s very easy to be cynical and assume that luxury brands are only moving toward ethical approaches to reach new consumers. That alone isn’t a bad reason to do something good. But I like to think there is a greater longer-term investment from brands. Knowing the industry which we are in, we are constantly met with individuals who really care about these issues whether that is sustainability, equality diversity and inclusion or employee wellbeing.

Has Covid hastened this trend?
It has forced extremities. Some brands have seemingly found clarity in the pandemic – the ability to focus on a vision and a purpose with a fresh start. Others have had to focus on immediate barriers. Overall, though there is the feeling – just like after the financial crash in 2009 – that brands are benefitting from long-term thinking over more tactical, sales focused thoughts. As a creative agency this year we’ve noticed more brands coming to us saying that they’re using this year to revisit their brand.

How has all this changed the vocabulary of luxury?
Language is a facet of your brand’s personality – like your design, like the photography you use. What we see now is brands having to develop their personality and the language they use is in turn changing as a result of that. When a brand uses a word like “exclusive” – they might think they’re doing this to imply to their consumer that this is a better product, but some would interpret it as a less confident brand who needs to over-sell. Using language that has less adjectives, that is clearer and less superfluous says “Confidence”. Luxury language has previously seen these superfluous tautologies – – “private and exclusive” for example – but the new language of luxury wants to add depth.

Your recent Language of Luxury research, carried out alongside Walpole, also hints at a “show, don’t tell” approach to luxury language: are HNW consumers simply tiring of words and phrases like “premium”, “world-class” and so on?
The way that brands communicate has changed – there are now greater opportunities and more touchpoints, so there is the ability to get into the whys and wherefores instead. Previously, stating that a necklace is “luxurious” might have been fine but today we can share an Instagram post of this necklace being made. We’ve also noticed that this type of language is a result of people not having anything to say: there’s no research, no experience behind the statement. When we write about a hotel – it might sound incredibly obvious – but we make sure we visit that hotel. When you’ve lived the experience, when you have met the people and tasted the food, you no longer need to fall back on these clichéd terms because you have real, first-hand opinions to share.

Click here to check out the full Language Of Luxury report, created by Studio Black Tomato in partnership with leading UK luxury body Walpole

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