'Uberluxe' stands out against ubiquitous labels

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am


Asian markets dip as investors worry that a sluggish US economy will set off another global financial slump. What personal austerity measures have you been adopting?

International purveyors of luxury fashion, meanwhile, are bucking the trend. It was this sector that recovered quickly after the global recession of 2008-09, with many luxury conglomerates reporting double-digit sales growth this year.

However, for those who can afford it, a new type of luxury has found its footing - an uberluxury that captures the desire for personalised, rare and premium-quality luxury goods, albeit at an inflated price.

'Uberluxury', or 'hyperluxury' as it's also been dubbed, lies in the middle ground between ready-to-wear fashion and haute couture, contrasting with the pervasiveness that mainstream luxury has acquired. It has emerged as a backlash against the democratisation of mass-produced luxury.

Since the 1990s, well-funded conglomerates such as LVMH, Richemont or the Gucci Group have been rapidly buying up smaller brands and turning them into big international names with stores all over the world. Expensive malls in cities around the globe are becoming increasingly homogenised. And the proliferation of the internet and fashion media have also made luxury feel more ubiquitous.

Fashion's increasing democratisation is welcome news to most in the industry, but the wealthiest and most discerning customers have begun to yearn for goods not only high in quality and branded but also very rare. They don't want to be wearing the same thing as the next-door neighbour or starlets in trashy gossip magazines, even if it does have a label on it.

Made-to-order is encroaching on the extravagance of couture. Rarity, exclusiveness and craftsmanship are the new buzzwords of the industry. While luxury fashion companies look to diversify into childrenswear, perfumes and homewear to boost profits, there are also those looking to specialise. Brands such as Prada and Loewe have hit it big with their made-to-order services for top-tier clients, as well as broadening their appeal to the mass market.

Many customers are willing to pay top dollar for often handmade and personalised fashion and accessories. They are even willing to wait months for delivery.

Loewe's made-to-order service has proved popular in Hong Kong, with socialites and celebrities flocking to the brand's specialised order events each season. It has an annual fashion collection that is available only by appointment and not on the sales floor. When you order customised Loewe fashion pieces at the events, a tailor measures and fits you. Last season's Loewe Amazona bag, available in exotic skins and leathers, was launched at its made-to-order event.

Prada's 20 limited-edition crocodile handbags are sent to selected shops all over the world so that there is only ever one in each of those stores. One was apparently selling in a Milan store for nearly Euro30,000 (HK$337,000), which, even by luxury industry standards, is shamelessly high.

Fendi also offers customised services for its bags, sometimes hitting similar prices. One particularly special made-to-order bag at Fendi comes with a handwritten note from Silvia Venturini Fendi herself.

These items can serve as heirlooms and point to a growing trend against fast, disposable fashion and mass-produced luxury. Top-tier customers are willing to pay (and pay well) for rare items in expensive, quality materials and original styles. For some, plain old luxury has lost the element of fantasy. This might well be why Tom Ford's own-label womenswear debut was held in a private setting for a select number of VIPs. By limiting the exposure of his much awaited New York show, Ford managed to get the world salivating.

These strategies are both snobby and smart. The overwhelming majority of us will never know what it feels like to have a handbag that costs more than a car. I suppose that is exactly the point.