WHAT IS THE SUBCULTURE OF LUXURY?

In the last couple of blog posts I have been blabbering about Hedi Slimane and Saint Laurent, about Alessandro Michele and Gucci, about luxury, without really explaining what I had in mind when I introduced the notion of “subculture” within the realm of luxury. Is it a little bit confusing? Let’s clear things out, then.

As history has shown us, subcultures appear when a current culture becomes, for a group of people, dogmatic, too traditional, and out of touch with current events. The cultural group that develops within a larger culture causes a rupture, a shift within the culture, because its beliefs and interests are oftentimes at variance with those of the larger group. In the case of luxury culture, we have the traditional luxury houses, such as YSL and Gucci which have managed to build a solid and recognizable brand culture. Due to the massification of luxury, such brand cultures were no longer perceived as generators of desire. By using established notions of luxury, such brands were no longer appealing to the group of people seeking exclusiveness. Their old clients were looking for items that reminded them of the “old masters”, while their new clients weren’t able to identify themselves with what the brand was offering them. So they had to rethink their strategy.

And this is where Slimane and Michele enter the conversation, and through different means, they manage to introduce a new kind of luxury. What they did is they played with the concept of exclusiveness by connecting it with the concept of the outsider where the outsider is the group of alternative/indie kids (Saint Laurent), and the group of nostalgic geeks (Gucci).  But these kids brought with them a shift within the culture of luxury. While the Saint Laurent gang hangs out in music studios, in bars, clubs, concert halls, skate parks and deserted beaches, listening to music, and drawing occult signs on their impeccably made leather jackets, the Gucci gang hangs out in secluded mansions, or abandoned underground stations, deciphering Deleuze, discussing the influence of surrealism in cinema, and dancing to the noise made by their numerous embellishments, each one bearing an interesting story. What both groups have in common is their sexual ambiguity, their constant ennui, and their need for escapism. There is also a certain hedonism which defines both groups. Clothes are for them pieces of memory: “the dress I wore to the prom”, “the shoes in which I walked her home”, and this attachment to clothes gives them timelessness, thus revealing to those that wear them the importance of valuing quality, not quantity.

This new type of luxury, which I referred to as the subculture of luxury is composed of a group of people who differentiates itself from the old culture of luxury by accepting change. This subculture of luxury finds inspiration in the world outside luxury. Its members seek luxury for its ability to function as a form of escapism, as well as a platform for experimentation, and expression of authenticity.  The subculture of luxury is capable of resuscitating the world of luxury by introducing a new type of client who has the financial capital, as well as the aesthetic know-how able to re-imagine luxury.