On my recent trip to Paris I went to the Avenue Montaigne to visit the designer brand stores there. I din't really think much about it beforehand, but figured I could learn something.
I got there just as the stores were opening and quickly realized that this would be more awkward than anticipated. I had no business here - literally.
Designer luxury brands like Dolce & Gabanna, Prada, and Chanel have a very different approach to retail than consumer brands. For the numbers to work, they sell low volume of goods at high margins. To bolster the perceived value of what they sell they invest in the buying experience and brand marketing.
Coming from the Champs-Élysées, I walked passed the first couple stores. They were just opening the doors. A man pointed to his watch and said, "five more minutes".
I walked on.
I hadn't mustered the courage to actually go in yet.
From looking in, I could already tell the stores were far less dense than what I was used to. It's not about quantity here, but quality. One store only showcased four handbags in the entire shop window, each on its own shelf with it's own spotlight.
Then came Loewe. I'd heard the name somewhere, but didn't really know anything in particular. It was a smaller store. I walked in.
I was in the store a good 15 minutes before touching anything. I didn't dare at first.
It proved invaluable being upfront about my reason for being there. I was interested in their design and would soon be studying design myself. It also didn't hurt to drop some educated compliments on the design details of their products.
The young lady who assisted me was kind and explained the design and material choices that were made. She spoke highly of a blue leather jacket.
I asked if I could try it on. Then realised how odd that question must be and how it betrays my still feeling out of place.
"Of course," was the reply.
I tried it on. It was a size too small but still very comfortable. It cost 3,200 €.
As time passed I got more comfortable and confident in the luxury environment. The next store I went to, and would stay in for over an hour, was Loro Piana.
Again, I was greeted kindly and assisted very well. At first I felt bad accepting the complimentary water I was offered, but realised it'd worse refusing it. And besides, who am I kidding, they knew I wasn't buying a thing long before they offered me water.
Side note: the interior design and layout of Loro Piana was so spectacular I was walking around visibly stunned. I've seldom had such an involuntary response and felt a little overwhelmed. It was like falling into another world. I learnt later that the store had been completely redone and only reopened a week prior.
This time I wasn't so slow to start touching things. The feel of the cashmeres and other wools was amazing. Before long I was trying jackets and posing in front of the mirror. Not all that different from a normal shopping trip.
Except the location. And quality. And price.
Yup. One of the jackets I tried was really 16,000€.
Now if you google Loro Piana you'll find things that cost much more than that, but still. It was a lot of money to be carrying on my shoulders.
Before I left they showed me an assortment of their textiles and some of their own publications. They also made me aware of their many videos online. If you're are interested in this kind of stuff, especially the manufacturing, be sure to check them out, they're well done.
So what did I learn
First off, I very much felt the other-worldness of it all. It was different, but not in an uncomfortable kind of way. The people were kind and the things proved very interesting.
It also gave me a chance to see a shopping trip from a different perspective. The people who buy a 10,000€ jacket were I buy a 100€ jacket also have several more zeros in the bank.
Like Morgane Sézalory, the creator of France's first online fashion brand says:
We never explain the price - the consumer doesn't think about the price, it's about desire
What may seems crazy to us is completely normal to other people. They go through life without giving price tags a second thought.
Not being so price constrained in production costs, like 99% of the industry (or all industries for that matter), also frees these luxury brands to make some amazing stuff. Don't get me wrong, they still do aggressive pricing throughout the supply chain and make sure to hit their margins. However, they budget entirely differently for research and development. Their raw materials alone can cost 10x the finished product you'd get at an H&M.
The raw materials they use are incredible. The leathers and wools are nothing but the best of the best and carefully processed with special care each step of the way. One cashmere jacket I wore only weighed 300 grams. Not feeling it felt amazing.
In summary, it was a good worth while experience. I can recommend the stores, but would not suggest going in just for fun. Be honestly interested, even if you're not going to buy anything. It'll make it easier for everyone and only seams fair.