Issue 12

Delineating the Consumption of Luxury Goods in a COVID-hit World

For its 100th  year celebration in 2021, GUCCI under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele, rolled out its ‘Beloved’ campaign, strategically designed to strengthen the sales of their bags. Initiated on 22nd April 2021, the campaign featured four of GUCCI’s globally beloved bags namely Dionysus, the GG Marmont, Jackie 1961 and the GUCCI Horsebit 1955. The campaign, designed in the form of a late night talk show, had a star-studded lineup which included James Cordon, Dakota Johnson, Harry Styles, Awkwafina, Serena Williams, Sienna Miller and Diane Keaton. The campaign creates a nostalgic talk-show feeling of the 90s where the stars of the show were GUCCI’s four all-time iconic bags themselves.

Luxury brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Cartier, IWC, GUCCI saw a staggering fall in their sales, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus first hit China, spreading to Italy and other European nations (home to many luxury labels). This resulted in a steep fall in the sales of luxury goods, due to Chinese customers accounting for a 35%  share in luxury purchases globally. With the pandemic hitting the luxury goods industry all around the world, the impact is expected to be long lasting.

The sales for GUCCI specifically were amongst the worst hit by the virus outbreak due to closure of stores, since China serves as a big market for the luxury brand. In the first quarter of the outbreak in 2020, the sales for the fashion label fell by 23.2%, which makes up for the major revenue for Kering, causing a total fall in its overall sales by 15.4%. However, with its strategic launch of the ‘Beloved’ campaign at the time of ‘unlock’ in Europe, the fashion label is looking to rebound its sales in 2021. 

The year 2021 was expected to bring many more opportunities for these luxury labels in terms of rebounding their sales and launching limited seasonal collections. However, the national lockdowns in the UK and other European nations like Germany, Italy and France during the Spring/Easter season, which brings in a plethora of customers for these luxury brands, continued to create anxiety around the sales of goods. Compared to 2020, these luxury brands were better braced to tackle the 2021 lockdown, due to sales and purchases moving to digital platforms. The lockdown also cut down tourist shoppers that contributed massively towards the sales revenue. Moreover, as per VOGUE Business, these international tourists are not expected to return before mid 2022, and the latest lockdowns do not show any improvements in these forecasts. 

Empty Via Montenapoleone (Milan’s largest luxury shopping street) in Italy
Image Courtesy: Bloomberg Quint

Since the outset of the pandemic last year, there have also been dramatic and accelerating changes in consumer behaviour and consumption in regards to luxury shopping. Simultaneously, as a result, fashion labels have had to customize products and campaigns to keep up with the market trends and consumer behavior catering to the needs of their loyal clientele.

More and more shoppers have been turning to online shopping in place of in-person visits to physical stores, given the perturbations of contracting the virus. Moreover, according to the Boston Consulting Group, the pandemic has made apparent the deep economic and social inequalities that exist within the society, making less people comfortable with the show of conspicuous affluence and resources, thereby altering their shopping patterns and habits.

Though the pandemic has affected the sales of all luxury brands, certain categories of goods have not seen any decline but rather a spike in their sales. The classic and signature timepieces from luxury labels have been continuing to sell out. This can also be attested by the fact that GUCCI decided to dedicate an entire star-studded campaign to advertise its four all-time classic handbags, that have contributed massively to the label’s revenue. 

The increased sales in signature and classic goods can also be credited to the surge in digital shopping which has made these goods accessible to people globally without having to travel. Moreover, these goods are also perceived as great profitable economic investments, with specific products like Hermes Birkin Bags having a 34% Return on Investment as of 2020. Consumers of luxury products are now buying them more with the purpose of investment than mere consumption. 

To ensure rebound in sales, luxury brands like Dior, GUCCI, Chanel, YSL have also launched makeup and skincare lines, especially for Spring 2021. This is because makeup and skincare are the two categories of products that have a consistent demand all throughout the year and are more than often remain uninfluenced by seasons and/or holidays.

Looking at the volatile nature of the market given the pandemic, luxury brands will have to globally revamp and strategise the products they plan to release. The few trends that companies will have to look into are sustainable and vegan products, subtle and simple designer wear with less emphasis on gaudy embellishments and logos, inculcating more culturally inclusive and diverse designs and designers in their products as well as in the workforce respectively. 

The pandemic, in many ways, has shook luxury brands from their comfort zones, breaking their bubble of consistent revenue and loyal clientele. It has not only challenged them economically but also culturally and socially to produce and create goods by keeping up with the trends in time. Although the pandemic in 2020 might have impacted these luxury brands negatively – especially their revenue and financial stability, it has also pushed them to create more and more culturally inclusive products. 

Image Courtesy: GUCCI

Muskaan Kanodia is a junior at Ashoka University, double majoring in English and Sociology. When she is not drowning in books, you can find her drawing and smiling at strangers on the ghats of Benaras.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 6

Back to the Future: “Seamlessly” transitioning to a ‘Post-Covid World’

“It’s just a small gathering.”

News outlets globally reported a significant spike in Covid-19 cases in November 2020, owing to a festive season coinciding with lower temperatures and greater pollution levels. Following Diwali celebrations, daily Covid cases rose by nearly 50% in India, while the United States witnessed higher daily mortality post Thanksgiving, than in the beginning of the pandemic. Even as people rush to justify those one-two-three outings with a single sentence, we all wonder how long we will be forced to live like this. After months of speculation and great uncertainty, the concluding weeks of November brought good tidings, with two major pharma companies announcing the success of their vaccine trials. At once, the thick fog hanging over the “future” seemed to lift a little. With the UK being the first nation to approve imminent mass vaccination, a “post-Covid world” may soon become a reality.

So what is this ‘post-Covid world?’ 

In thinking about a ‘post-Covid world,’ we are participating in an act of imagination. That many of us have already begun actualising these imaginations, despite the very real threat of infection, leaves us with a crucial question: is a ‘post-covid world’ one where we live alongside the disease, or one where it is eradicated? Many reports suggest that the coronavirus is here to stay. If indeed, this turns out to be true, what might a transition – a seamless transition – into such a world look like?

Here, the word “seamless” is of consequence. What exactly is “seamless?” And for whom is such a transition “seamless?” One of the newest buzzwords, buzzphrases this year was “Work from Home.” White-collar employees readily embraced working from the comfort of their living rooms and balconies while wearing formal shirts with shorts underneath. Sometimes, a mischievous child or a rowdy pet made an appearance to break the monotony of Zoom meetings. Most encouragingly, persons with disabilities, who had previously been excluded from employment, were now assimilated into the workforce, owing to the many accommodations and adjustments companies introduced in order to ease working from home. 

But working from home was also not a universal reality. If the lockdown was an extended vacation for those sitting comfortably at the upper crust of society, it was also a period of extreme struggle – confronting the virus on a daily basis was a matter of putting food on the table for thousands. Delivery persons continued to visit houses, probably even more than usual. Doctors, nurses, and healthcare systems faced unimaginable amounts of pressure. Government support for these services in several countries was negligible, if any existed at all. 

Globally, the long months of the pandemic have also been accented by some of the largest protests tackling racism, abortion rights, and agricultural inequalities, all while unemployment and sickness rates were skyrocketing. The pandemic also brought to light numerous social fractures that were previously invisible, or cleverly concealed. Namely, identity-based discrimination was accentuated by the biased identification of specific social vectors of transmission; Muslims and the poor in India, immigrants in the USA, and East Asians globally all became ‘Covid bodies’. As an “ideology of transmission,” this is deeply controversial. Alongside this, increased domestic violence, stark social disparities in the access to education and technology, and the inherent violence of working in a system that is obsessed with productivity under any condition became immediately apparent.

‘Liminality,’ in anthropology, is defined as a transition between two relatively stable conditions, and is characterized by ambiguity and disorientation. One is tempted to think of these lockdowns as liminal, then, for with the vaccine on the horizon, surely we’re at the end of this period of uncertainty. It provides a convenient vacuum within which to locate the many social fractures that came to light, and allows us to think – rather naively, perhaps – that along with the disease, these undesirable “social symptoms” of increased classism and racism, too, will be eradicated. While jobs for healthcare professionals and delivery persons became even riskier during the pandemic, one is also compelled to think about whether accommodations in other forms of employment will be retained in a “post-covid” situation.

In fact, this ‘post-covid world’ that we are now venturing into bears eerie resemblance to the world before the coronavirus made an appearance. In other words, could we possibly be returning to an “old” normal, rather than a new one? It is clear that a transition into a “post-covid” world has already begun. However, it is also irrefutable that it is not “seamless,” and can never be. Even as we have these realisations about the eroded state of our social fabric, we are left with few answers on the nature and possibility of change. Where does this knowledge leave us? In the face of economic recession, messy politics, heightened surveillance, and deteriorating ecologies, a return to an innocent-sounding “normalcy” is probably the most harmful way forward. Perhaps now is the time to return to the drawing board instead, to investigate the live wires, loose screws, and rusted cogs in our systems that reduce us to categories and the statistics that mete out and endure violence. 
Looking back at the past, different pandemics have been remembered differently. While the black death was forever etched into the world’s collective memory, the Spanish Flu of 1918 is termed the ‘forgotten pandemic’. It was eclipsed by a backdrop of massive global political shifts, despite it infecting a third of the world’s population. Who is allowed to forget a pandemic, really? More importantly, when are we allowed to do so? In the same way that nations’ adaptation to a world with the coronavirus was deeply varied, and the transition to a “post-Covid world” appears far from seamless, the ending of the pandemic too, will certainly be staggered. Many feverishly hope that the end of 2020 brings with it the final days of the pandemic. Given the speed at which we are ploughing ahead, foregrounded by the socio-political unrest, ecological damage, and economic crises, will Covid-19 too, become a “forgotten pandemic?”

Picture Credit: Shutterstock

The writers, Reeva Dani, Tanvi Gupta, Teesta Rawal, Trisha Nagpal, and Vinay Chandnani, are students of the sociology course ‘The Plague Town: Politics of Pandemic’ at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).