It would surely be unthinkable for a book on the management of luxury
brands to be nothing more than a set of rules and an assortment of formulas.
Luxury is a culture, which means you have to understand it to be able to
practice it with flair and spontaneity. The reason why marketing – the child
of the industrial society and the father of consumer power – doesn’t seem to
work with luxury goods the same way it does with everyday consumer goods,
even top-of-the-range consumer goods, is because the two are fundamentally
If we want to be able to market luxury, we need first to understand what
luxury is all about. Before continuing, therefore, we need to make a brief
historical detour. There is no denying that these days luxury has its own
special peculiarities and its new business models, but for all that it still lays
claim to be called ‘luxury’. In order to be able to deduce from them the paradigm of luxury with all its coherent internal rules, you first have to understand
its inner dynamics.
A brief history of luxury
The fact is that the history of luxury goes back to the dawn of humanity. To the
time when our species parted company with its ape ancestors? Perhaps… who
knows? But it is not our intention to get into that old debate – still less to
discuss the legitimacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution! Having said that, this
question is paradoxically the reason behind this book: wanting to manage a
firm specializing in a luxury line efficiently, and finding that tried and tested
conventional marketing methods that worked well with standard consumer
goods were somehow ineffective – positively harmful even – when applied to
luxury products, we needed to find the underlying principle or principles of
the mechanics of luxury. Now, as you delve deeper into the subject it soon
becomes apparent that the appeal of luxury is so deeply rooted in human
nature that you have to look for its origins a long way back in our history –
indulge in a little bit of anthropology, in fact.
The origins of luxury
It seems legitimate to start from the fact that we bury our dead – proof that we
are aware of our own mortality – is what truly sets us apart from animals. In
other words, humanity is as old as the period since we started to bury our
dead. And what, apart from skeletons, do we find in these graves? We find
objects that with the passage of time are more and more refined, until eventually we start coming across long-lost tombs whose occupants had been buried
together with their most precious jewellery and symbols of their power – such
as weapons, horses and even ships.
Very soon (on a prehistoric timescale) it appeared that everyone was
desperate not just to bury their loved ones but also to bury along with them
the food they would need to survive in the other world, as well as objects that
were so much a part of them that they had to accompany them after death.
Since the dawn of humanity, then, there have been organized societies,
leading groups and, of course, objects, symbols and lifestyles specific to these
leading groups. It is in the appearance of these leading groups and of the
symbols and objects specific to them that we need to look for the origins of
luxury. If we accept this analysis, luxury is part and parcel of humanity and of
life in society.
Closer to home, as regards the ancient civilizations about which we know
quite a lot thanks to the invention of writing, whether we’re talking about the
Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Chinese or Amerindians, the situation is very clear
and we are well beyond the theorizing stage: we know their social dynamics and
their beliefs, which confirm this close link between socialization and luxury.