It seems that Luxury Brands are in slow decline in Japan. If you spend time in Tokyo you cannot help but marvel at the gigantic emporia of retail designed by the World’s leading architects. The Prada store in the Aoyama district designed by Herzog and de Meuron rises 6 storeys of glass crystal, the Tod’s Omotesando Building and the LV flagship in Roppongi Hills designed by Jun Aoki are all testament to the notion now known as “Luxutecture”. These brands have in their own unique way changed the face of luxury retailing in Japan since the 1990’s.
Figures suggest historically that 93% of women own a Louise Vuitton handbag, 92% a Gucci bag and 50% a Chanel handbag- these figures further reinforce and highlight the desire for branded luxury goods in Japan. Today however it seems that many of the luxury brands in Japan are suffering from a drastic downturn in retail sales which also goes hand in hand with a new type of retailing and a customer who wants something different. No longer is it a sure fire formula for sales just to logo slap a product and present it in a sleek designer retail outlet. It seems that the Japanese customer has become more brand savvy and price conscious something unheard of in the past. They want better value and reject the idea that a luxury branded product is an indication of status or wealth. The latest luxury brand in the media spotlight today is Bottega Veneta, who as a luxury brand with its non logo approach and stealth wealth aspiration may be in a position to redefine and entice the new consumer in Japan.
Latest reports suggest that if you walk around the myriad of luxury stores in the Ginza neighbourhood, that they appear deserted of shoppers at the best of times. However in a city like Tokyo with a population of 20 million people, it begs the questions “where are the shoppers going to buy fashion goods?” Many younger shoppers are now exploring different and emerging labels in Japan – including new Japanese designer, and who now seek a more original and cutting edge individuality. With emerging markets such as China and India moving into the sights of many luxury designer labels, it will be interesting to follow how they will grow their business in these new territories and what lessons have been learnt from their experiences in Japan.
David Watts is an International Business Consultant and Creative Director in the Luxury Sector. He currently lives in Paris, France.