Le Lux-à-porter: Luxury Today


by Angelo Maria Barducci, professor at ESLSCA's Luxury Brand Management MBA


Le Lux-à-porter: it's my personal definition of the Luxury system nowadays, which combines two meaningful keywords, Luxury and Prêt-à-porter.


Prêt-à-porter or Ready-to-Wear has been coined by the fashion critic Jean Claude Weill in 1949 to clearly identify and differentiate the "new Fashion", that was booming in U.K. and USA, respect to the well-established and aristocratic "Mode Parisienne". The aim of Weill was undoubtedly to give a new definition of the up-coming Fashion system, which was breaking the rules of the traditional European "Haute Couture", considered as the " Ancien Régime" in the rest of the world. The revolution of Prêt-à-porter was wide and impressive: no longer necessary endless sessions in the tailoring ateliers reserved exclusively to a rich clientele, no longer needed "unique piece" dresses/ incredible outfits conceived by talented designers just for their commissioners.


The revolution of Prêt-à-porter lays in just one word: size. What could have been more revolutionary and more innovative at that time rather than "sizes"? The availability of garments in fixed sizes for everyone brings to reality the concept of Democratization of Fashion, auspicated by the theories of the North American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, as well as of The German writer and cultural critic Walter Benjamin.


The research of fixed "sizes" or "measures" to build on products (e.g. fashion, accessories, industrial design, interior) that would fit and suit the needing of human beings is something that has always been crucial through the centuries for many intellectuals, philosophers and artists.


Leonardo da Vinci for example designed the renowned Vitruvian Man more than 500 years ago. The drawing, which is kept in Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, depicts a man in two superimposed positions with his arms and legs apart and inscribed in a circle and square. The aim of this drawing is not only to represent the ideal human body proportions according to the treatise De Architectura of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius, but to restablish Man, and not God, at the center of the entire Universe. Thanks to this drawing and to the philosophy of the Renaissance age, man becomes the unit of measure for everything: for architecture, for objects of everyday use, for dresses itself.


Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris), 400 years later than Leonardo, dedicated all his life to define a new "module" which would have been the new scale of measure for the contemporary living: in 1948, the architect released one of his most famous publications titled "Modular", followed by "Modular 2" in 1953. In these texts, celebrated this year by the wonderful exhibition "Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World" at Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, Le Corbusier introduces an anthropometric scale of proportions developed as a visual bridge between two incompatible scales, the imperial and the metric system. The Modulor is based on the classic "Golden ratio" as well as on a proud human figure who puts an arm up. Here again Le Corbusier as Leonardo has set  a universal proportioning scheme that places the human being at the center of everything.


All these reflections, apparently unlinked among them, must be taken instead into serious consideration in the critic situation we are facing today. We are dealing with a world-wide crisis which is not only Financial but, more worrying than this, Sociological and Moral. A crisis which is changing irremediably our lifestyle.


This historical moment, as well as all the great catastrophic events such as wars or pandemics during the history, represents a significant break point for our consumerist culture as well as for our traditional system of values.


The Luxury market, whose DNA lies into values like Uniqueness, Scarcity, Rarity, Unnecessary, is experiencing an epochal change and it is required to react with pragmatism and rapidity. In a society where the basic consumer goods (e.g. food, medicines) and services (e.g. hospital) are becoming more scarce and rare day by day, Luxury can't be seen anymore as something far from the people daily needing.  Masks, respirators, doctor's coat or latex gloves are surely considered  luxury goods today in many countries due to this emergency.


So, how are the luxury Maisons reacting to this situation? Which will be the new panorama for Luxury products?


The answer is: "Le Lux-à-porter". Luxury Maisons have always taken care of their precious clients, Brand Reliability and Awareness are basic values for any luxury business. The care of the clients is performed not only during the "boutique" experience. Luxury companies have been one of the first to invest great resources into the "after sales" service, which brings (porter) the Maison values directly into the clients' houses. In this moment, more than ever, is crucial for any Luxury brand to make their clients feeling close to them, reassured, cuddled.  


This role of guidance is deeply inherent with the definition itself of "Luxury", which etymologically comes from the latin world "Lux" - light/ brightness. So, Luxury Maisons today need to go back to their roots: they need to shine into this dark moment for humanity, they should represent lighthouses into this terrible storm. This concept seems to be well understood from many international Luxury and Fashion brands nowadays, such as Bulgari, Damiani, Montblanc, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Armani, Gucci, Valentino, Prada which have been protagonists in the last weeks of generous donation to hospitals in the most critic countries or of crowfinding campaigns for the COVID-19 emergency. Many of those well-known brands have also converted the company's production into the realization of extremely necessary medical supplies. These inevitable and expensive changement into the chain of production of those brands will certainly contribute to keep their prestigious image, heritage, awareness and to defend their positioning itself once this critical moment will be finished.


Indeed, if we get a look to the last financial analysis of Deloitte and of Bain & Company regarding the Luxury and Fashion Market, even though the impact of the Coronavirus has been relevant on the Global Market, the actual sales trend for Luxury and Fashion goods is slowed down (especially for the East/Chinese market) but it's still in a good ranking respect to other product categories. The luxury market in Europe indeed had been stable in the first two-and-a-half months of the year, although with substantial variation between countries. Luxury brand owners felt the first rumblings of the storm when Covid-19 spread through China, the country whose citizens accounted for 90% of global luxury market growth in 2019. When the virus reached Italy, where many brands are headquartered and have key suppliers, they faced the additional challenge of operating as and where possible amid a national lockdown. 


So Luxury today must be ready (prêt) to get close (à-porter) to the people needing, but always keeping strong its role of a unique "Manufacture" of Dreams, Desires and especially Beauty.


Aesthetics is the philosophical theory of Beauty. In ancient times two philosophers stand conspicuously at the beginning of aesthetics, Plato and Aristotle. Plato first explained the needing of men to aspire, to look for dreams and beauty in their life. Aristotle defined Beauty and Art as “Mimesis”, which in Greek means copying or imitation. For this reason, the primary meaning of Art was, for centuries, defined as the representation or replication of something that is beautiful or meaningful. During the famines or the sieges, the ancient Greeks used to nurse their bodies as well as their minds with Beauty and Art, contemplating the perfection of the metopes of Parthenon of the sculptor Phidias or reading the poems of Homer. We should learn from the ancients, we can use this time of Quarantine to nurture ourself of Beauty and Art, because, as the Roman poet Juvenale wrote "Mens sana in corpore sano" (a healthy mind in a healthy body). An healthy body, a rich soul and a chest of dreams is probably all we need in this moment, because, as Coco Chanel said, "Luxury and Elegance is when the inside is as beautiful as the outside".