Emerging luxury brands are launching pared-down collections for customers tired of excess.
Has the luxury consumer had enough of “more”? Emerging brands in the fashion and design worlds seem to suggest so, as they offer consumers perennially stylish, high-quality clothing and design products designed to last well beyond a single season.
This idea of “less but better”—a phrase coined by the German industrial designer Dieter Rams—has been picking up steam in the wider retail world over the past year, and gained traction when Ikea’s chief sustainability officer Steve Howard argued during The Guardian’s Sustainable Business Debates in January that “in the West we have probably hit ‘peak stuff.’”
More broadly, the success of Marie Kondo’s Konmari method of decluttering, which exhorts followers to part with any possessions that don’t “spark joy,” and publications such as “slow lifestyle” magazine Kinfolk suggest that pared-down lifestyles are becoming aspirational for the well-off—especially when the sustainability implications of trend-led clothes and furniture that are out of fashion six months’ time come into play.
One new label whose philosophy chimes with this outlook is Permanent Collection, a capsule clothing line launched this fall by California-born, London-based curators Mariah Nielson and Fanny Singer. The duo bills the collection as offering “pieces defined by timeless value, whose currency as art and design will endure.”
Nielson and Singer highlight their collection’s sustainability credentials, emphasizing that pieces are designed to “survive for decades in the homes and wardrobes of collectors.” The collection is launching with three wool coats, a scarf, leather sandals, and a set of porcelain cups, cast from originals by the late artist J.B. Blunk, Nielson’s father. Alongside online sales, Nielson and Singer will soon offer their wares at a select number of stores in five global cities.
Taking the idea of simplifying a collection to an even greater extreme is London label Per/se, which launches a single coat design every two months. Created by twins Hardeep and Mandeep Kaur, the label launched in July with its Nebula coat, whose cocooning shape was rendered in a textured fabric by Danish company Kvadrat. In September, the Anthem coat followed, fashioned in light gray neoprene with a cork lining. Hardeep Kaur says that the label’s clients have embraced the new concept. “They value the purity of the product,” she notes. In particular, adds Kaur, the duo’s customers appreciate the concept of launching one piece at a time. “It’s about adding value to singular products, moments, and ideas—imbuing them with meaning,” she says.
Claire Miles, head of The Shop at Bluebird, a concept store on London’s King’s Road, agrees that her customers are less drawn to shopping in a strictly seasonal cycle. “They shop when they like and when it fits with their lifestyle, which is becoming [a] more important [concept],” she says, noting that brands such as M.i.h Jeans, Studio Nicholson, and Rick Owens exemplify this season-less approach.
Buying to last may be more important, but as to whether her customers are buying less, Miles says “not really.” “There is an appreciation for the pieces we sell, and the quality means you can keep them forever, but the desire [for these pieces] means our customers do buy a lot,” she adds.
Design has never been driven by quite the same cyclical dictates as fashion, but still, “less but better” is making its mark. One representative label is London-based Another Country, which cites “good design, longevity, sustainability, and quality at fair prices” as guiding values. Another Country launched its latest collection, Series Four, at the London Design Festival earlier this month, with pieces including the sturdy Dining Table Four, which combines elements of English and Dutch construction styles; the sleek, minimal Day Bed Four; and Stool Four, a wooden stacking stool.
As the label adds Series (which it does at a slow pace—its Series Three launched in 2013), existing products remain in its catalog, so none of the past designs are positioned as obsolete.
“From our perspective, there’s an innate responsibility to do things properly, and have a reason to be, rather than just filling up people’s air time with things, clamoring for attention, and trying to sell things on the cheap at high volume, or super-expensive to the very few,” says Paul de Zwart, founder and managing director of Another Country.
“One [way] is in design, and designing things that are relevant and contemporary, and appealing, but also designed to last aesthetically,” De Zwart continues. “It’s important to make well, even if you make less, because things thus last. Not just because they’re well made, but because they won’t tire you because they’re not very much of a season, of a moment.”
De Zwart notes that when he launched Another Country in 2010, he was pushing back against what he called the previous decade’s “crazy consumption,” culminating in the Lehman Brothers crash. “People were still living as if it was the 80’s, not taking any account of the world, or consumption, or the climate, and I felt turned off by it, I guess,” he says.
However, De Zwart said that whether this “less but better” idea filters through to more mass products is a more complex issue. “It takes a different mindset for people to consume differently—I don’t know what the tipping point is,” he adds. “But, if at the core of consumption and buying we can do a bit better—drive our cars for a bit longer, hold onto our furniture a bit longer, wear our clothes a bit longer—it does make a difference.”