Six Things Design Brands Can Learn from Fashion


Luxury fashion and design have a lot in common.  An appreciation and celebration of exceptional craftsmanship, exclusivity, and the passion, obsession and vision of the makers behind the brands.  Also, both types of companies have been slower than other industries to move online, and both appreciate the connection with in-person transactions that involve customization and experiencing the product prior to purchase.

Fashion brands however, are known by a wider audience than high-end design brands.  What are some things high-end design brands can learn from their fashion counterparts?

1) Bet on your Brand

A strong brand stands for something beyond the product.  Knowing what you and your company stands for is invaluable.  High-end fashion brands spend a substantial amount of time and energy promoting their brand.  The audience for these products represents a small fraction of the audience they speak to. By putting their brands to the forefront of the conversation - whether it is online or on the runway - many fashion brands are household names.  Most of America knows the name Louis Vuitton. Much fewer are familiar with wonderful brands like Apparatus Studio or Fendi Casa.

Who does this well in fashion: Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton has the most valuable brand in luxury at $23.9 billion.  They understand what their brand stands for - the romance of travel - which is based on their heritage, a travel company with its 19th-century origins on Rue Neuve des Capucines in Paris.   

Louis Vuitton store front 

Louis Vuitton store front 

"It's crucial for luxury brands to be consistent and authentic," Vuitton once said. "They become cultural reference points as the world shifts. It's not that they don't take account of cultural forces, but they can't react. They have to be beacons of a certain point of view."  

In order to elevate the perception of your brand, start by knowing what your brand stands for and celebrate that truth.  If you run a company called “ABC” and create high-end, handmade chairs - understand what makes an ABC chair different (and better) than any other chair on the market.   Promote that truth and the ABC name to a wider audience until the ABC no longer represents chairs, it represents the truth of your brand.

2) Leverage the intangible elements of your brand

The intangible element means the ethereal singularities of your product like the time it takes to build, the heritage, and the craftsmanship.  Celebrate these intangibles and leverage them in your brand identity. It reinforces your position in the luxury space and gives a richness to your larger brand experience.  

Who does this well in fashion: Hermes
Hermes retail store in Europe

Hermes retail store in Europe

“I think Hermès objects are desirable because they reconnect people to their humanity… Our customer feels the presence of the person who crafted the object, while at the same time the object brings him back to his own sensitivity, because it gives him pleasure through his senses,” said Hermes Creative Director Pierre-Alexis Dumas.

All new Hermes employees go through a three-day in-house training session that traces the company’s origins back to its founders and the history and development of each of its product categories. This training is designed to make every Hermès employee feel close, involved in and identify with the company’s culture, philosophy and values.  There is a connection between the makers of the products to those that represent the brand on the frontline, the salespeople. That connection is forged with a brand that values and represents uniqueness and craftsmanship. As a luxury maker of high-end furnishings, accessories and items, those same principles can apply to you.

3) Be Brave.  Be Bold.

You are in the luxury space, not the mass marketing space.  You are creating something unique, different and special. It’s what sets you apart from the big box retailers and the vanilla brands.  

The famous Chanel perfume

The famous Chanel perfume

Who does this well in fashion: Chanel

When Chanel launched in the 1920’s it was in polar opposition to the fashion trends that had dominated in the 19th-century.  They sought to empower women by incorporating trousers and blazers and more “masculine colors” like grey and navy blue. “Luxury must be comfortable,” Coco Chanel once said, “otherwise it is not luxury.”

Chanel claimed that the traditional high-waist corseted fashion of the time was “not how women should dress, it is how men dress us.”  Her revolutionary ideas on style and fashion made her brand famous and made her one of the wealthiest women in France at that time. Understand what makes your brand stand out by celebrating those things in your messaging, marketing and company culture.

4) Create Experiences that Reinforce your Brand

A jogging club meeting outside Lululemon in Colorado

A jogging club meeting outside Lululemon in Colorado

By being luxury, your brand must transcend the products you sell and represent something more.  It is not enough to simply sell a quality piece of furniture, the name behind that piece should represent something more.  One way to reinforce this ideal is by creating experiences around your brand that reinforce your core values.

Who does this well in fashion: Lululemon

Lululemon hosts classes in many of their retail outlets.  By doing so, Lululemon is able to position itself as a hub for fitness and conversation, elevating its branding from another place that sells yoga pants to an organization that embodies the values of their customers and a community of like-minded people.  Lululemon is a brand that celebrates an active lifestyle. By cultivating those activities in their physical locations, it reinforces these core values in an inventive, memorable way.

"They’re selling a brand identity…the model that Lululemon is trying to build is, you’re pretty cool, we’ll be your partner in being your best possible self. And that kind of turns retail on its head,” said Christian Buss, a Wall Street analyst.

How could you celebrate your brand by creating interactive experiences?  

5) Use the Internet

The internet is a huge force in all things luxury, including the high-end design market.  We explored some of the ways luxury was influenced by technology in the Dering Hall May Webinar: Is Design Moving Online.  

“Two of the basic pillars of luxury brands, until now, have been selective distribution and managed scarcity. The online world has always threatened to challenge both these pillars. It’s not that these are impossible in the online world, but the challenge is clear and present,” said Helen Brocklebank, CEO of luxury retail group Walpole.

Luxury brands must be methodical in their use of digital, constantly questioning how their digital presence reinforces their brand’s core beliefs.   With the customization, lead time, and the experiential nature of high-end design products, selling products online for many high-end design brands isn’t always feasible.  Designers and consumers will often want to sit on the sofa you made or touch the fabric before purchasing. Showcasing your brand and products online, however, is not only recommended, it’s almost mandatory in today’s digital culture.  

Who does this well in fashion:  Prada
The homepage of the Prada website

The homepage of the Prada website

Since early 2017, Prada has moved more aggressively online, but for many years they famously resisted selling on the internet.   CEO Miuccia Prada has always voiced her distaste for selling luxury items online: “We don’t like it,” she once said. “My husband hates it and we think for luxury it’s not right.”

While there might be no stopping the momentum of e-commerce in high-end design, there is some resistance.  Unlike fashion, the design world has not reached the tipping point in this regard.

“Control of the brand environment is a luxury fundamental - this applies to all platforms,” said Brocklebank.

If you are positioning yourself as a true luxury brand, use caution with doing all of your selling online, especially through third-party vendors.  While some platforms like Steelyard and Dering Hall connect buyers and makers, others will actually complete the transaction for you. While that might be a viable option, it can also diminish the power and panache of your brand. Also, consider where you will be placed online and the association with your brand.  If your line is placed next to a mass-market brand like Pottery Barn, it will instantly diminish the power of your brand.

6) Communicate to those your are not targeting

The role of advertising is not always to sell.  Sometimes it’s to promote your image and build awareness of your brand and what you represent.

Who Does this Well in Fashion: Gucci

Gucci is the gold star luxury fashion brand for marrying their brand, digital presence, physical locations, and products.  They use everything from memes to image-driven content to integrate the in-store experience to their digital communication, creating an omnipresent consumer experience.  The nearly 15 million Instagram followers of Gucci are not necessarily their customers, but they are the Gucci audience.

Remember that when building your own brand voice.  Use that voice to speak to prospects, but also remember that your voice should be heard by many and that your message should resonate well beyond your target consumer.

Next time you are thinking about strengthening your brand, look to luxury fashion.  Your brand is what makes you different, special and unique and what could separate you from the competition.