survival of the fittest

Bargains Are the New Bling — Except in Italy

There is a new kind of luxury consumer! Well, not really. They’re the same top-tier luxury consumers as always (the superrich people for whom the recession was just a good excuse to hold benefit dinners), but they’re behaving differently than they used to, and luxury brands are furiously trying to understand their strange new buying habits. WWD reports that the evolved luxury shopper now feels the need to justify his or her purchases with the good ol’ “but it was on sale, and I’ll wear it forever!” rationalization. We kind of already knew this, but there’s new research to back it up, says Pam Danziger, president of marketing-research firm Unity Marketing.

Even affluent men now brag about bargains they scored in Danziger’s focus groups, a first. “That’s the next level of shopping: Being the smarter shopper, finding the better deal and bragging about it,” she said.

Consumers will always get a kick out of owning brand-name goods, but recession-era spenders’ guilt has inspired them to buy more discreet, “classic” designs. Logos are long gone, says François-Henri Pinault, the president and CEO of PPR (which owns Gucci Group), adding that the brand is “adjusting to this new perception of luxury, which is more subtle, more sophisticated.”

Meanwhile, the “aspirational” consumer — those who could just barely afford a designer item, and even then only bought one after getting a holiday bonus and having one-too-many holiday drinks — has all but disappeared. “There are consumers that overreached, and during the recession they had to go back to a more appropriate spending habit,” said Michael Burke, the CEO of Fendi. And yet there’s one mysterious exception to the trend …

Burke noted that Italy remains the one market in the world where the aspirational business has not diminished, thanks to wealthy parents who continue to indulge their adult children with high-end leather goods and fashions, even through the 2009 downturn. “We’re taking market share in Italy,” he noted.

We’re not quite sure how the Italians manage to sustain that kind of spending, but perhaps it’s related to their magical ability to eat pasta at every meal and still button up their tiny designer pants.

Defining the New Luxury [WWD]

Bargains Are the New Bling — Except in Italy