Whither haute couture?

After all, it’s an industry in which the number of hours spent on creating a singular gown is more important than the price tag. Or has it nattily billowed through chiffon cloud superfluities, transmogriphying from an arcane aristocratic order…alas, squashed?

Or, is couture perhaps ironically, triumphant in the digital age as an alluring marketing vehicle in an era of corporatized fashion—driving aspiration, brand affinity and mon dieu, even conversion, for a maison’s luxury collection?

What is the role of haute couture today? Is upscale luxury ready to wear diminishing the relevance of couture? Is couture being overtaken by luxury ready to wear?

Au contraire.

Democratization of luxury and couture in social media may erode the notion of exclusivity, but luxury brands, especially fashion, have an opportunity in social to build overall brand equity. And couture exposure creates brand allure and lift across luxury ready to wear.

A tribute to agility, resilience, innovation and great storytelling, Paris Haute Couture—controlled by the French ministry Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne—has defied predictions of divergence and doom.

The imminent demise of couture has been vastly overstated. In fact, as the NetBase designer crosstab shows below, haute couture is internationalizing.

paris couture designer xtab

This season, only 38% of the Spring Haute Couture designers were French.  While French ateliers Chanel and Dior captured top ranking for social buzz, 32% and 20% respectively, Lebanese designers ranked third and forth in terms of social mentions. With 12% Elie Saab ranked third and Zuhair Murad generated 9% of overall mentions during Paris Haute Couture Spring 2016.

Debuting in Paris was China’s Guo Pei (of Rihanna fame at last year’s Met Ball). Turkish atelier Dice Kayek also showed in Paris, along with Russian Ulyana Sergeenko and British couturiers Viktor & Rolf and Ralph & Russo.

Couture ateliers are in fact drivers of brand equity and affinity, especially for large design houses with multiple labels. As the couture front rows now reflect, couture has a different audience of not only ultra high wealth customers, but also skews younger, as revealed in the NetBase demographic by age chart below.  Gender breakdown is 66% female, 34% male.

Paris couture age demographics

Maybe not buyers per se—but couture and luxury’s strategic influencers bien sûre—the front row entertainers and artists who appreciate the daring extravagance and artistic inspiration couture offers—often riff in their tour wardrobes.  Couture marketing has shown its resiliency and social media acumen, filling front rows with influencer celebrities and entertainers.

Couture and luxury fashion awareness has also driven the growth of a secondary market—previously-owned luxury and couture vintage.  According to the newly released NetBase Brand Passion Report: Luxury Brands 2016, vintage—though not a brand—catapulted to 8th place from 22nd in the past year among 45 leading luxury brands, with a remarkable mentions lift of 543%.

Coming as they did on the coattails of last month’s European Men’s Collections, the Paris Couture themes evident in the shows last week were eerily reflective of a global mood—at once militaristic and angst-ridden, but escapist, too, longing for a romantic softer era.

My NetBase emoji emotions analysis was a dichotomy of frayed attitudes, from confidence, love and excitement to anger, fear, sadness and embarrassment.  The mood of the couture designs themselves was viscerally captured in emoji.

An important social media language for fashion intelligence, I found the NetBase emoji type analysis below emphasizing “romance” to be an intriguing yearning for an antidote to the horrendous terrorist attacks that Paris has recently endured.

Paris couture emoji type cloud

Who better than Karl Lagerfeld could find expression in haute couture to convey such idyllic sentiment for Chanel.  Emoji references to flowers and trees capture Lagerfeld’s Chanel eco-couture set trappings presumably meant to transport one to an idyllic, if not phasmagorical, lost place and time.

Whether pure escapism or sartorial indulgence, Chanel couture had top ranking in my NetBase Paris Couture Week analysis.  Coincidentally (or not), in the NetBase Luxury Brands 2016 report Chanel replaced Louis Vuitton in first place as the most loved luxury brand.  Remarkable yes, but predictable.

Lagerfeld and Chanel are preeminent content marketing strategists who understand the need to feed social media’s insatiable digital content funnel with superior relevant stories spun in seemingly home-grown and personalized manner—not that there is anything remotely humdrum about Chanel or luxury fashion.

Much has shifted in the past year for luxury.  Today, to remain competitive, fashion’s leading digital cognoscenti navigate very slippery runways, treading the fine line between brand awareness, loyalty and conversion.  The stage is now set for a content creation skirmish where omnichannel retail strategy, fresh mobile video content, captivating storytelling and conversion will play a central role.

Chanel is on track.  Chanel has a singular winning social and digital strategy—stylish content, marketing, storytelling. Women relate to “Coco-isms” and her stories behind the brand. Chanel does a terrific job of “popularizing” luxury in social by promoting Gaby Chanel’s storied life. Digital brand content strategy speaks to Millennial interest in knowing the stories and history behind heritage brands. Content includes history, design process and craft legacy history, e.g., detailed videos of watchmaking process. Importantly, their site is localized for Asia and Europe

Chanel’s digital strategy understands that luxury consumer who visits either a bricks and mortar store or an online site (whether it’s ecom-enabled or not), will spend 2.5 times more than the customer who hasn’t had both experiences.  And, Chanel’s move to harmonize pricing globally acts as a buffer against currency fluctuations.

Perhaps on a par with luxury’s imperative for content creation and omnichannel policy is influencer strategy.  About 70% of fashion brands, most luxury, either have in place or recognize the need for an influencer strategy, yet two-thirds of the brands haven’t allocated funds.

But for an influencer strategy to sustain, authenticity and credibility are key factors. This begs the issue of relatable content creation vs recycled ad material, as well as the wisdom of using celebrity influencers or non-celebs who happen to be creative and credible content producers with an audience.

This ratio is readily trackable in NetBase.  Influencer strategy can be informed by a drilling down into a NetBase domain analysis, say, of blogs, as seen in the Japanese blog, isolated during couture week.

Paris couture domain analysis-JP

Likely on the horizon we’ll see more luxury and couture investment in influencer strategy as brands increasing use social media analytics to measure organic reach, or paid vs earned impressions.  There will also be a big push for mobile video content. By 2019, it is forecast that videos will generate half of global internet traffic, according to Business Insider.

Luxury has come of age in social, and couture may be leading the catwalk strut to a new era of global digital fashion expansion.  This, despite rumors of its imminent demise.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

Image from theresaunfried

Previously appeared on Social Media Today

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