You know fashion has taken an unexpected turn when Vetements’ slogan hoodies and Gucci’s fur-lined slippers are selling like hot cakes and there’s no sign of slowdown for the couture streetwear which has successfully built a cult-like following among the millennial generation.

Fashion aside, other luxury maisons are also tapping millennial consumers through digital integrations, product diversity and creative ways of storytelling.

“It’s a growing segment and the big spenders of tomorrow,” says Lisa Aiken, Net-a-Porter’s fashion retail director.

“If we are not talking to them now, we are not going to get their attention down the line.”

A similar sentiment is shared by Diego Della Valle, Tod’s CEO and chairman. “The new generation can become very strong. We need to be more prudent.”

It’s widely accepted that the millennial generation refers to those who were born between 1990s and 2000. They have grown up together in the rapidly changing digital realm and saw the rise of smartphones and social media.

The generation is quickly entering its prime in terms of spending power. The scale of the world’s wealthiest is also tipping towards a younger demographic, says Bulgari CEO Christophe Babin.

“The average age of millionaires and billionaires has decreased throughout the world,” Babin adds. “It’s part of the culture which [leads] them to make [significant] purchases [of things] such as high jewellery.”

Luxury brands focus on innovation and design to target millennials

Social media, which is often associated with millennial consumers, has been an important source for luxury brands – not only for understanding the spending pattern of consumers in their 20s but also for communicating with the group. Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s director of image, style and heritage, says that the brand is interested in knowing more about their younger clients. “We are in a period when people have different ways of approaching the maison, from getting to know our products, browsing the shops, or the way they shop,” he says, adding that Cartier is taking this into account with regards to its digital presence.

Digital consultant Rachel Arthur says: “There’s no such thing [as just being] on social media. There’s an inherent need for both quality and relevance in what is posted, in order to get through to the right consumers at the right time. As a result, authenticity is paramount.”

Omni-channels have unlocked new ways of storytelling for luxury brands and, at the same time, encourage instant feedback from their audiences.

“[There] used to be one way of communicating such as a campaign or a window display, but now when we put something out on social media, immediately we can gauge what people like and what they don’t,” says Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer and CEO. The rich data gathered by the brand also allows Bailey and his team to understand how products are received by clients and what resonates with them.

Feedback from social media has also influenced brands’ product offerings.

Bailey explains that filtering the information is crucial, and the brand can then use these findings, along with past experiences and current inspiration, to create a forward-thinking collection.

Della Valle agrees and says: “Everything is moving more quickly than before. We need to move the products in the stores every two months because after [that time frame], things get a little too boring.”

E-commerce sites too have launched contemporary labels to nurture aspirational buys. “Contemporary accessories, like the Mansur Gavriel bag, really went everywhere. We feel like we captured a lot of people with that,” Aiken says.

Apart from product offerings, setting the right tone to communicate with the young generation is also at the top of luxury brands’ agenda.

Tod’s fine-tunes its communication strategies every season to tap not only the millennial generation but also digital-savvy customers. “Now a product is not just a product, it also needs a strong narrative behind,” says Della Valle, citing a recent Instagram campaign which showed a panoramic view of the Colosseum – an iconic Roman attraction in which Tod’s invested 25 million (HK$214 million) to restore. This is effective storytelling to appeal to the younger generation of customers.

Why Tod's renovated the Colosseum, and why Bulgari repaired the Spanish steps, while Fendi threw millions into a fountain

Burberry has also invested heftily in its digital media campaigns. Its latest holiday microfilm, The Tale of Thomas Burberry, for example, enlisted Oscar-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia and screenwriter Matt Charman, as well as such stars as Lily James, Domhnall Gleeson and Sienna Miller.

Cartier has released several rom-com short films to plug its bridal and engagement collections and more recently produced an online virtual tour of its newly renovated Fifth Avenue Mansion in New York.

Because you cannot just look too serious, pompous and distant. You have to be close, to be fun and to not take yourself too seriously
Pietro Beccari, Fendi’s CEO

Authenticity is the key to capturing the attention of the millennial generation, Rainero says. He adds that it’s important for the brand to adhere to its core identity; the world may be changing, but Cartier will invent its own way to be aligned with it.

The tone of addressing the millennial generation is different from the traditional clientele which many luxury brands still hold as the bread-and-butter of their core business. “Authenticity and fun, these are the two types of language we speak to these young people,” says Pietro Beccari, Fendi’s CEO. “You have to be real because now the internet is stripping you naked. You cannot hide.”

Fendi’s Fendirumi campaign which follows two blown-up mascots of its iconic furry bag bugs has garnered huge success on social media and digital platforms. The two mascots made their marks in landmark cities from London to Singapore and recently made their way to Hong Kong as well.

“You also have to have some fun aspect of it,” Beccari adds. “Because you cannot just look too serious, pompous and distant. You have to be close, to be fun and to not take yourself too seriously.”

A survey conducted by Outnet.com this July shows that on social media, personal growth, [sense of] belonging and experiences are the key drivers of joy.

Luxury maisons are branching out into different products with their signature styles

Enlisting key opinion leaders (otherwise known as KOLs) is perhaps the most efficient channel for broadcasting to consumers in their 20s, yet the credibility, integrity of the influencers are sometimes scrutinised by both the brands and the audiences. “Today’s influencers are very business-savvy because they have built a brand for themselves and some of them are extending their celebrity into brands,” Aiken says. “We won’t [work] with them for the sake of having a quick moment with a hot influencer – it’s about whether or not the product has integrity and a good design that we believe in.”

Net-a-Porter recently worked with Instagram sensations on exclusive capsule collections – Leandra Medine of Man Repeller’s MR shoe collection, and Giorgia Tordini and Gilda Ambrosio’s fashion collection Attico. “I think there’s no one science, the biggest thing is authenticity,” Aiken says. She points out that it’s immediately obviously if someone has been paid to wear something as an advert, or if they’re dressed entirely in one brand from head to toe.

Dynamic design duo: Attico’s Giorgia Tordini and Gilda Ambrosio shoot to fame

Harnessing the celebrity power works differently in today’s digital world compared to a decade ago. Burberry’s Bailey also concurs that the key to working with celebrities is by “creating authentic relationships”. “It doesn’t work the same way,” Bailey adds. “It’s not that you could just put something on somebody and the whole world goes and buys it because consumers are much more clever now. We work, of course, with a lot of celebrities but we’ve always built proper relationships.”

Chinese heartthrob Kris Wu, for example, has been a brand ambassador who has worked at length with Burberry. The singer-turned-actor was the first Chinese celebrity to walk the runway of the Burberry show in January this year and recently launched a special collaboration with the brand called Kris Wu’s edit.

See now, buy now: Burberry’s September collection available for purchase immediately after the show

“The reason why these influencers are so successful is because it’s about putting something together that’s so original and being a little bit more daring,” Aiken says. “From a tangible point of view, we know if someone wears something or carries something that there’s a sales impact. We do see the correlation.”

If you think the efforts in cultivating the millennial generation won’t be paid off in years, you might want to think again. There are already signs showing the growing impact of millennial generation on aspiration sales at Net-a-Porter, Aiken says.

“The growth of Vetements is insane,” she says. “Commercially, it’s right alongside our top brands like Gucci and Prada. We are seeing this insatiable appetite for it. I do think a lot of that comes down to the millennial [generation].”

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