In the most recent past, if you look at for example the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, luxury was defined primarily by a level of exclusivity that was driven by pricing. Luxury product was more heavily centered around logos, so these two elements together clearly conveyed a certain level of status. Now that we’ve transitioned towards “lifestyle” shopping, luxury has become much more multi-faceted. Luxury is now more about the value that the brand and its products add to the consumer’s lifestyle.
“The exclusives thing is getting overused and losing its effectiveness,” said Robert Burke, founder and chief executive at Robert Burke Associates. “It needs to be re-evaluated.”
According to industry watchers, part of the reason for this change in mind-set is the traditional model encourages sales executives to focus their attention on those that they think will spend the most money, which is now harder than ever to decipher. “Between Goldman Sachs announcing their dress casual to the Internet companies, it doesn’t behoove anyone to presume who the customer is or not,” Robert Burke, a retail consultant, said.
While the influence of the royal family has always had appeal, Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Robert Burke Associates, says Markle is even more popular than the Duchess of Cambridge because of her background. “Meghan represents a less-conforming [person] than the expected perception of a royal and I think she will connect with even more people. She’ll dress children pretty tastefully, but it won’t be as traditional and prim and proper; it will have more fun and whimsy,” he said.
Robert Burke, founder and CEO of retail and fashion consultancy Robert Burke Associates, backs FLANNELS’ strategy. “There’s a lot of validity in having stores in secondary markets,” he says. “For many people, that’s their only real source of luxury goods and [FLANNELS] has built a strong business that way.”
“The cargo pant trend has the life of a cockroach,” said Robert Burke, a luxury consultant and former senior vice president of fashion at Bergdorf Goodman. He puts the pants into the category of “ugly” pieces enjoying a new life, like “dad” sneakers and “mom” jeans. Cargo pants are also the rare style to hit every spending segment of the market, Burke added, without following the usual trickle-down pattern of a trend cycle.
Robert Burke, a retail and fashion consultant, says: "The jean industry in general had been heavily affected by how strong the athleisure and athletic market had become.
"Leggings, yoga pants, things like that had been chipping away and in many ways replaced the jean business as a category."
Galeries Lafayette has big ambitions for its new Champs-Elysées store, though it’s only a tenth of the size of the retailer’s Boulevard Haussmann flagship. “We’re seeing interest in smaller retail environments that are more intimate, where it’s easier to create a relationship with the customer and carefully select a mix of up-and-coming and big luxury brands. The idea that bigger is better is not the trend,” explained retail consultant Robert Burke.
Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Robert Burke Associates, who has been working with Farm Rio, said, “Farm Rio has been loved in Brazil for many years because of their vibrant and unique prints and how they encapsulate the Rio lifestyle. Fashion consumers today are looking for something unique, special and emotional. Farm Rio achieves that in the way it embodies everything Brazil represents.”
“We are in a new age, and designers can’t just rely on the quality of their product, it has to be marketed,” said Robert Burke, president and chief executive officer of consultants Robert Burke Associates. “The being the behind-the-scenes, behind-the-curtain designer is not the way things are moving. The whole feeling of anything manufactured or programmed to the consumer, especially the Millennial consumer, is a turn-off. They want to see something about the designer’s life that’s real,” he said, name-checking Virgil Abloh, Olivier Rousteing and Simon Porte Jacquemus as the new wave of designer digital marketers.
“For luxury brands, social media is the most immediate and effective way to market direct-to-consumer, especially since so many of them are pulling back from traditional advertising,” said Burke.
The drift toward relaxed workplaces began 1990s when companies started introducing “casual Fridays,” said Robert Burke, CEO of Robert Burke Associates, a retail and fashion consulting firm. It rapidly became entrenched with the rise of West Coast tech giants like Amazon and Facebook and their young moguls.
“Goldman was one of the last holdouts of a more formal dress code,” Burke said.
Robert Burke, founder and ceo of Robert Burke Associates, an industry consultancy, said, “It’s sad to hear because when one thinks of the Calvin Klein business and the Collection business and what it represented to American fashion and to the world, it’s sad to see it go away. It speaks to how delicate the fashion business is today.”
“And they certainly had the resources and the manpower to execute, but unfortunately it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s not just about the manpower and the financial strength. It’s really about product and talent,” added Burke.
“I think that fashion is aspirational and it has to have that element. I’m sure it gives pause for many of the big groups to question the importance of Collection,” he said. “Call me a romantic. I still think you need it. It has to make people dream and aspire to something. It’s really the launching point for everything,” he said.
Luxury consultant Robert Burke, chief executive of retail consultancy firm Robert Burke Associates, says many consumers who decide to spend $2,000 to $4,000 on a bag seek “longevity and recognition.” For trend-driven, Instagram-friendly styles, they have more options in the $400 to $600 range now than ever before.
For a millennial consumer, looking to make an investment, the Baguette and the Saddle “have a great deal of allure,” Burke said.
When I started my retail consulting business 12 years ago, department stores, specialty stores and retail developments were in a much different position than today. As the industry became fixated on e-commerce, many proclaimed retail to be dead. Retail isn’t dead, it’s just become really boring.
The marketing and digital strategy needs a refresh, argued retail consultant Robert Burke. “I’ve found the marketing is a little old, the styling is speaking to an older customer and it’s still in this in between area (between big designer brands like Balenciaga, and the new cheaper Instagram-friendly competition),” said Burke. “They should consider lowering their prices, upping their social media presence and converting to a more fashion-led brand.”
“I’m not sure it has so much to do with the designers themselves as much as the industry as a whole taking a lot of very sharp turns,” said Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of Robert Burke Associates.
While there has long been a contemporary price point in department stores, these products generally did not offer enough of a fashion quotient to compete with the looks served by big designer brands. But retail consultant Robert Burke summarized the strengths of the new midprice category of brands, noting: “These bags are very distinctive, very Instagrammable, and for many of the consumers satisfy a need for an updated fashion bag.”
While most of America’s high-end department stores are not immediately threatened by bankruptcy, they are all pushing up against fundamental changes in consumer behaviour that have forced them to rethink their models. “The whole concept of the department store is outdated,” said Robert Burke, a retail consultant.
"There was a time when you had a designer customer, a contemporary customer, a sale customer — people stayed within these boundaries," Burke added. "Today, there are no rules. The customer wants and demands to cross-shop all of these areas."
“The department-store customer has changed enormously, but the department store itself, not so much,” says Robert Burke, a former Bergdorf Goodman executive who runs his own retail consultancy. “There’s always a risk the investment doesn’t pay off, but you have to do new stuff.”
“I think for a company the size of Calvin to give over complete creative control is a huge leap of faith, especially without guardrails. There was also so much anticipation and the expectation level was so high. When we look at certain brands that have had a major turnaround such as Gucci, it kind of happened organically. This was a major manufactured turnaround or change. People were raving the first season, but it quickly started to lose its shine and seemed to be kind of troubled from the very beginning,” Burke said.
“Turning around a company the size of Calvin takes a certain type of creative person, a significant amount of time, and an enormous amount of money. Calvin wasn’t built in a day or 18 months,” said Robert Burke, of the luxury consultancy, Robert Burke Associates. “Having an impact on a brand the size of Calvin is a very delicate and complex challenge. It seems that this task was more than either party expected. ”
“There are major strains in our political relationship with the Chinese government,” said Robert Burke, a luxury consultant in New York. “It doesn’t put them in the mood to come to the U.S. to spend their hard earned dollars. They do have the option to buy in mainland China.” Burke estimates that as much 30 percent of luxury goods sales globally are made to tourists from China.
Fashion industry consultant Robert Burke summarized the movement: “It wasn’t that long ago, people used to discuss what’s appropriate for day and night. All of that is obviously out the window now.”
Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive officer of consultanty Robert Burke Associates, sees the benefit to the concession model to a brand like Chanel. “Over the past several years, we’ve seen more of the brands go to concession models. Chanel is probably one of the most coveted brands by the consumers as well as the retailers and department stores. As a result, Chanel knows the value they add to the overall brand lineup in a department store, and I’m sure that they’ll negotiate accordingly.”
“End isn’t eclectic just to be eclectic. Its credibility as a first-mover allows for strong relationships with e-commerce eschewing streetwear brands, which provides it with a competitive advantage against other retailers when it comes to product,” explains Robert Burke, founder and chief executive of retail consultancy firm Robert Burke Associates. “[Meanwhile] luxury brands look to End as a platform to elevate their own brand through sharing a stocklist with cult streetwear brands.”
“One of the challenges with a large format store like Selfridges is keeping it intimate, keeping it highly curated and not just a series of shops-in-shop for major brands — they’ve done both,” added retail consultant Robert Burke. “They’ve really nailed the importance of having a variety of brands: new brands and young brands, and fantastic pop-ups,” he continued. “They have not created a luxury ghetto, meaning that it is not just one big luxury brand after another.”
“Gone are the days when stores told the customers what they were going to buy,” said Robert Burke, chairman and chief executive of Robert Burke Associates, a fashion consulting firm with clients like Chloé and Vera Wang. “The customer is now highly educated about the brands. The customer drives the experience and that experience is not entirely transactional.”
“The fashion industry’s always concerned with the millennial consumer and the next wave of consumers and I think they’re pretty firmly planted ‘anti-fur,’ ” said Robert Burke of the luxury fashion consulting firm of the same name. “The last thing fashion likes is feeling dated or old.”
“Versace has struggled with its accessories business, and Michael Kors could help them with that,” said Robert Burke, a former Bergdorf Goodman executive, who is now a consultant.
“The consumer has changed enormously and then retail has changed. I think designers are doing exactly what they did 10 or 15 years ago. That could be one of the issues — that the consumer has changed at a much faster rate than the designer has. The consumer today is so educated and so demanding for newness. Prior to [now] it was all in a very nice, little food chain that went from fashion shows to magazines and editors…and fed down to the consumer. Magazines would say, ‘These are the 10 handbags you have to have, and the five designer outfits you have to have.’ All of that got wiped away basically because of the Internet, and because the consumer started calling the shots, not the industry. Today, in many ways, it doesn’t matter what the fashion industry says or speaks to each other about. It’s really ultimately the consumer’s decision. That’s relatively new.” — Robert Burke, founder, Robert Burke Associates