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Meta-Luxury: what do customers want from a luxury retail experience?

It seems there's a new kind of luxury in town. What's a girl to do except hit the shops?
London's Savile Row is a centre of craft and excellence

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We are entering a new era of ‘Meta-Luxury'

Last week I was asked to present an advert for a car company (watch out, Jeremy Clarkson, yes indeed), the premise of which was to show what you could do with £3.5k, the amount this car would save the customer over rival wheels. The customer in question could choose to splash the cash on whatever he wanted and he selected a bespoke suit, so we paid a little visit to 'tailor to the stars' Edward Sexton. 

While I wasn't the one actually buying the suit (although at this career-rocketing, car-presenting rate, it surely can't be long now), we were taken through every step of the process, from choosing the fabrics and details, to the multiple fittings, and finally slipping into the most perfectly tailored second skin of a beautiful suit at the end of it all, this was a world away from normal shopping, and it felt really good. 

When I think of a 'luxury shopping experience', I'm sure I'm not alone in picturing the gleaming flagships of mega brands on Bond Street or Fifth Avenue, with golden rails, crispy tissue paper and big satin ribbons. 

But what this visit to the tailors made me realise was that ultimately real luxury is so much more than this. Edward Sexton's place — for all that this is a man whose clients include some of the wealthiest people in the world — is accessed through a dingy stairwell. It's everything you'd expect from a London tailor, but it's not showy. This, like London's Savile Row, is a centre of craft and excellence. Its luxuriousness is in the attention that is paid to both you and every detail of the product you are buying. Because this is personal.

According to a recent report by the Future Laboratory, retail futures are indeed moving beyond the traditional luxury qualities and experiences. Innovative brands today are "putting aside the mere possession of beautiful things in favour of the creation of opportunities for contemplation and conviviality." We are entering, say commentators Rebecca Robbins and Manfredi Ricca from Interbrand, a new era. And they call it 'Meta-Luxury'.

Further reading reveals that what this means, in real words, is a return to village life. And I don't mean Bicester. Luxury consumers want convivial shopping spaces that deliver convenience and authenticity. They want surprise and delight around every corner. In London, Belgravia's Elizabeth Street is a good example. There are fashion shops here, but you can also buy coffee or a loaf of bread. There's a village-like sense of community and you have to wonder if that's the ultimate luxury here: that the local shopkeepers might actually know and mind about your business.  

If this is the new luxury retailing, and how we will see our high streets changing as e-commerce spreads its digital tentacles ever wider, then that is a wonderful thing. And Edward Sexton, who has possibly not changed much about the way he does his job in several decades, already has it absolutely spot on.

Henrietta Thompson is an editorial consultant and curator, and editor-at-large at Wallpaper* magazine.

Henrietta Thompson

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