Designing Christmas luxury

For many of us, Christmas has become a season of consumerism, a period associated with excess and indulgence - a time of both thoughtful selection and last minute panic purchases. For those of us working with premium and luxury brands it’s an interesting time, as both gift-giving and receiving brings into focus some of the trends we see in these two sectors throughout the course of the year. Luxury brands show an inherent focus on craft, personalisation, heritage and originality; at Christmas, all these traits are dialled up.

For a creative agency wedded to modern craft it’s perhaps not surprising that we’re interested in the evidence of craft amongst premium and luxury brands; true craft borne out of an appreciation of materials and techniques and the role of artisans and craftspeople.

Driving by the Hermès store in Central London you can see this brand’s elevation of the scarf, into an object of treasured beauty, celebrated in its Christmas windows. You can also see this fixation on craft embodied in Alexander McQueen’s Repitillia print silk scarfs, available from the V&A. Craft also lies at the heart of beautiful hand made products like David Linley’s Trafalgar Bar Box and LSA’s Whisky Connoisseurs Set. Both are objects designed for a specific purpose - enhancing the drinking of spirits - but created with a real appreciation of how the eye and the hand work together to create polysensorial enjoyment.

Personalisation in some form or other has become ubiquitous with gifting, but it started with premium brands. Today, brands like Burberry are creating high profile campaigns fronted by the likes of Cara Delevingne and Kate Moss, while drinks brands have embraced the trend, recognising the human instinct for something individual and unique.

We’ve witnessed two different approaches in recent years. The Glenfiddich Gallery offers rare hand-selected whiskies which you can not only select based on your own, or the recipient of your gift’s, taste preference but you can create your own gift pack, choosing colours, labelling and engraving options. People who select Glenfiddich’s Platinum offer are also invited to the distillery for an unforgettable stay.

In response to the growing demand for the truly luxurious, Diageo now offers members and guests at one of its Johnnie Walker Embassies in Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul the opportunity to select their own blend, under the guidance of Jim Beveridge, the brand’s master blender. The resulting Signature Blend is then presented in packaging designed exclusively to the client’s taste. Amongst the personalised features is a specially designed monogram, created in consultation with the client. This highly individual package of 20 bottles starts at £80,000.

Heritage is seen as extremely important amongst premium and luxury brand buyers, especially with millennials, for whom provenance is a key factor of brand loyalty – witness brands like Dunhill and Bentley, which reference their heritage while creating new products for this demographic. The new Bentley Bentayga SUV is a good example of this. While the gift of a new car isn’t on everyone’s list, some people will undoubtedly be the lucky recipient of one. Bentley’s new car, which would surely initially bemuse founder Walter Owen, is an innovative response to this sector of the market but one which still holds true to Owen’s dictum of building “a fast car, a good car, the best in its class”. Its engineering - all 12 cylinders of it - powers the car to a top speed of 187mph while its specifications offers extraordinary levels of hand crafting and attention to detail.

Bentley is also a good example of the growing trend in luxury for the truly original, the truly exclusive. As brands become more readily available and more consumers have the income to buy them, especially in growing markets like the Far East and India, luxury (and ultra luxury) consumers look for exclusivity as a value in its own right. The collaboration between Bentley and the luxury mobile phone manufacturer Vertu is a good example of a brand recognising the need to create products that communicate exclusivity through rarity and status.

True exclusivity lies in rarity and for those with deep pockets at Christmas there’s always the rarified world of connoisseur auctions. A bottle of Karuizawa 1960 52 Year Old whisky recently sold at Bonhams auction in Hong Kong for a world-record HKS750,000 (i.e. £63,011).

Luxury is inherent in the truly unique and the personal – something that isn’t seen worn by someone else, hanging over someone else’s arm, adorning someone else’s feet or passing by driven by someone else – and it’s the search for this that drives the high end, money-no-object market during such an emotionally loaded gifting time.

Giles Calver, planning director, Sedley Place

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