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The ways people perceive luxury are changing

The ways people perceive luxury are changing

Hi, my name is U, and I’m an art director.

When I was a high school student, my school course focused on science and engineering subjects. At the same time, I also attended a fashion school. From that point I became very conscious of art, and embarked on studying design at university. After graduating and beginning my career, I attended a design and programming school.

Recently, I have been mainly involved in fashion- and technology-related work. Projects have included general art direction for luxury fashion houses, concept creation for artist works, fashion item design, spatial presentation, development of visual identity and corporate identity from “inner beauty”-related business models, and visualization utilizing corporate technology.

The ways people perceive luxury are dramatically changing

DECODED FASHION (DF) is a global event that originated in the United States in 2011, bringing together technology and fashion. DF events have been held in 12 countries worldwide, including such cities as New York, London and Milan. Recently, in the United States in March 2015, at the South by Southwest® (SXSW®) conference and festivals, I played a leadership role in the creation of a fashion section, which attracted considerable attention.

At the SXSW Japan Nite at TOKYO DESIGN WEEK in 2016, the theme will be “The Future of the Luxury Experience.” Through technology, it is now possible to be connected 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Driven by this, I believe that the ways in which people perceive luxury are changing dramatically. This has led me to think about the factors at work in these changes.

The ways people perceive luxury are changing


Generation Z and Social Media

These days, it is a natural part of daily life to present oneself and one’s image on social media. My reading of social media is to see it as a “second Saha world (a Buddhist term meaning “worldly realm of existence”)” (the voice of our consciousness). The etymology of the word Saha is from Sanskrit, meaning “endurance.” In Buddhist terminology, it refers to a world without freedom. Now, it’s not that I want to suddenly start dissing social media. Although social media appears—at first glance—to be a world of freedom, I think that behavior on social media has some potential to also affect the real world. I wonder, how do members of Generation Z perceive the boundary between these two worlds?

In the “second Saha world” (social media) we separate out and show off a small portion of the huge amount of time we spend in the real world. Generation Z is very adept at this separation—which may also be thought of as a kind of editing or curation. The act of living in itself becomes a kind of self-branding. Seemingly, this branding is instilled naturally.

The informatization of fashion

Although we have seen the popularization of such fashion trends as normcore and ethical, more recently fashion with strong impact is hot. On the street, we see people wearing clothes featuring prints of cats, stars or faces (sometimes referred to as “ochamemori,” which has the connotation of “playful” in Japanese); extreme silhouettes; and people sporting pink or blue colored hair. It is a normal part of people’s behavior to take and share photos. I wonder if the value of “likes” on social media—when one appears in a photo or when one makes an announcement—is rising.

When a collection is shown for a highly regarded fashion brand, the hall is laid out so that every member of the audience will be seated in the front row. One of the reasons is, of course, so that the detail of the collection outfits worn by the runway models will be seen at close range. But another apparent reason for using this kind of layout is to make sure that all audience members get a good angle from which to take photos, which may then be shared on social media.

In the present era, when we are constantly wrapped in information, I think that we are seeing the emergence of a wide variety of focal points applied as criteria when valuing fashion. As well as such factors as design, performance, quality, price, philosophy, trends, and sustainability, one of the criteria now being applied is the power to spread information. Since it seems unlikely that value can be measured by a single-criterion unit—the price tag on a clothing article—it makes one wish there was some new, alternative unit that could provide instant understanding of value based on multiple factors. Although I also think that we need to use our brain and out sensory perceptions.

“Democluxury” through technology

When I travel overseas, I love to look at the boutiques of local fashion designers and other artists. The living environment, cityscape, weather, cuisine and people are different in each country. I think this reveals itself in a myriad of ways—design, the use of color, materials, the atmosphere in a store, and other aspects.

Recently, there is a smartphone app called “FARFETCH” that I look at a lot. This enables me to shop online at local boutiques from around the world, which carry items from a selection of the most interesting designers from each area. While sitting at home in Japan, it gives me the feeling of being able to peek into shops in the back streets of London. It’s a fashion experience that’s like having a “fashion passport.” Technology is democratizing. Anyone can experience luxury anywhere, at any time. Let’s call this “democluxury.”

Buying experiences rather than physical items is becoming the new luxury

The transparency of information has become the natural state of things. One is able to examine—in high resolution—things that one considers luxurious. It seems to me that luxury is not simply a matter of spending a lot of money.

Last year, I stayed at an Airbnb place in Boston. The place where I stayed was a large house in which I was the only guest. It had very tasteful interior décor and fine art pieces displayed throughout the house. The elderly woman who lived there told me about the best restaurants and shops in the area, and invited me to visit again sometime. I felt very happy, as it was like I had discovered a new distant relative. It was a heartwarming, unique experience. Let’s call it “emoluxury.”

In the place where “democluxury” (through technology) and “emoluxury” (through personal experiences) intersect, the feelings evoked permeate deeply into one’s life, body and memories, giving one a very deep experience. I think that this type of experience will become the luxury of the future.

“Disorder is the true luxury” by Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel liberated women. She freed women from the restricting corset and used comfortable jersey fabric. She made clothing for women that had similarities to men’s clothes. She invented the lipstick that we take for granted today.

Fashion is not just the physical item, but comprises the relationships present in the society in which it was created. It is only when all of these relationships come together that fashion comes to life. Coco Chanel was a designer that emerged in the context of the era in which she lived. She was also a businesswoman and an innovator. If she had lived in today’s world, I wonder what she would be.

If one takes things for granted, creativity comes to a dead end, in my opinion. What kind of things will take place from now on? What lies beyond the lifestyles we take for granted today? Let’s try upsetting the order. Maybe there is a hint in there somewhere to give us a clue where luxury will be found.

DECODED FASHION 2016 is due to get under way very soon. Nowadays, when we are flooded with technology, I think we will see discussions that get down to some essential truths. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of disruption is in store.

Note: DECODED FASHION 2016 was held in Tokyo on Oct 10–11, 2016

The ways people perceive luxury are changing

Takahashi U

Art Director
Creative Planning Division 3
Digital Creative Department 3
Dentsu Inc.



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