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GREAT SCOTS: Scotland’s Slow Luxury Culture

A Story About Luxury by Fiona Fraser

We Scots we don’t tell stories or shout out about our excellence, our luxury. While our invention, creativity and influence is felt throughout the world, most are unaware that the story of the luxury products we associate with Paris, London or Milan, actually originate from this wild and poetic place I call home, Scotland.

chanel

Tilda Swinton for Chanel

From a Chanel dress to a rare whisky; from a cashmere blanket to a $5000 designer suit, more often than not, while a label bears a famous name, the material inspiration and invention originates in Scotland.  Besides luxury fabrics and materials, we’ve created other inventions that have influenced the world.  Many began as the luxuries of their time, now necessities of today, such as the refrigerator, tires, steam engine, penicillin, colour photography, Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes, golf, the telephone and television.

The-Balvenie-whisk_2201558b

The Balvenie

In Scotland, our ‘material culture’, the relationship between people, land and product inventions, is the story we have to tell. Aside from our great ‘social’ gifts to the world such as whisky, tartan and travel destinations, we have, however, failed to fully develop recognition for our other aspirational products, wholly owning our luxury brand identities that relate to Scotland’s materials, from pure sea salt to luxurious textiles.

Hebridean Sea Salt

Hebridean Sea Salt

Our heritage is based on hundreds of years of imaginative, ethical, sustainable production of material goods, (what we call Slow Luxury) and this is exactly what makes our products so desirable. Now is the time for these products, and their connection to people, land and time, to become the stories we tell globally. Now is the time for imaginative storytelling, for ‘imagination is the foundation of everything that is uniquely and distinctively human’ (The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything; Sir Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica) – and human interest, connection and relationships are what we know now drives the luxury desires of the contemporary consumer. The truth of the materials and production is the reward for the story.

Johnstons of Elgin2

Fabric from Johnstons of Elgin

 
Integral to this new idea of storytelling is Slow Luxury, not a fantasy nor a rigid and imposing ‘walk the talk,’ marketing “story”, rather an aspirational belief, an invitation for conversation, and an authentic way of blending lifestyle, community and commerce that has some greater depth of truth, transparency and meaning. 

For business, this framework must deliver returns but dare we anticipate that those returns might include benefits to the wider bottom line in addition to short term, hard cash?

For me, as the designer of a luxury collection, the benefits of this new adventure include becoming far more connected with my passions in life and questioning how I can contribute towards the sustainability of the economy, particularly in Scotland’s most fragile communities. I often ask this question of my clients and friends in luxury; ‘What might inviting dialogue and conversation focused on the stories around your brand actually realise for you personally and professionally; for your business, for your community, for your culture?’ ‘What is the market opportunity for us in using our vulnerability to ‘dare greatly’, to see the next adventure, given our knowledge of the thirst for connection with Scotland worldwide?’

We have lived through boom and bust times, particularly in terms of the manufacture of textiles.  We faced the near death of the industry and its negative impact on many communities, but we are re-inventing our offering as niche, as something of special, global value.  There is real vulnerability in this experience and we can use this to unlock our creativity.

Tweed Shop at Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland

Tweed Shop at Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland

What makes for this poor visibility or recognition for true Scottish luxury brands in the marketplace? Many of the best known Scottish (luxury) companies produce private label garments for other global brands such as Louis Vuitton and Burberry, sell through third party wholesalers, or in cases such as Pringle, our companies have been bought by international concerns who have expertly traded on ‘Scottishness’ and heritage, while moving much of the management and production out of the country.

Looking to the high street, Brooks Brothers and Paul Stewart shop windows in New York this very week are all ‘Highland’, featuring Scottish fabrics made by Scottish manufacturers, with little trace of a Scottish brand name to be seen.  In fact, Brooks Brothers has ‘Highland Heritage’ as its lead fashion trend for this season online, and the first edition of the Brooks Brothers magazine, published this week, features an extended editorial piece about Scotland with rich Scottish imagery and style sensibility.

This position is underpinned by the current Financial Times ‘How to Spend It’ edition, which speaks to technical innovation and the unrivalled quality of Scottish textiles, citing a who’s who of designers and luxury brands sourcing from Scotland, but with only passing reference to Scottish labels such as Begg & Co, who have invested in brand development in order to create visibility as a stand-alone proposition.  However, expert in the business of knowing how to ‘hook’ the audience, the FT article begins with a story; a story of Johnstons of Elgin, its film set-like archive and a royal connection.  Imagine if we were the ones telling this story?  Why encourage others to take ownership of our heritage, style, craftsmanship and luxury?

This invisibility, lack of individual brand identity and an inability to compete with large, international marketing budgets, goes some way to explain why Scotland’s luxury brands in fashion and interiors aren’t among the world’s best known names in luxury.  All the pride of manufacture and provenance, combined with our culture, inexperience, and less than bolshy approach to marketing, somehow precludes us from telling the world about our innovation and creativity, about our stories.  We collectively fail to envisage how our voice might be heard.  However, with social media and a plethora of online channels at our disposal, we do now have the opportunity to compete in a very cost effective way.

Style, Travel and Luxury on the Royal Scotsman

Style, Travel and Luxury on the Royal Scotsman

Marketing luxury is a game of desire and aspiration told through inventive stories. How do we get our Scottish selves into that mind-set? Appeal to our sense of adventure, sensitivity and imagination. Desire, and what is aspirational today is changing, as our world and environment necessitates. The fast, exploitative, rare, and controlled is thankfully now seen as excessive, wasteful and singularly offensive.  Luckily for Scots, pure slow provenance, balance and connection are our basic luxuries and what the world desires.

 B+W Slow luxury

Enter Slow Luxury. 2014 is a BIG year for Scotland on the world stage.  We will host the Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games, and the ‘Year of Homecoming’.  The world’s media will be trained on us, it has already started, and this is an unprecedented opportunity to share with the world our old/new essential paradigms…and in the process, raise our luxury profile.

There is much support for the development of Scottish luxury from within Government and industry bodies.  Only this week, James Sugden, Director at cashmere weaver Johnstons of Elgin, said the ‘tide has turned’ for the Scottish textiles industry and ‘the time is now’ for the Scottish Government to support investment in a textiles centre of excellence, as retailers are ‘re-shoring’ their orders from Far East suppliers to our own in Scotland. It is interesting however, that focus is predominantly aimed at innovation and production, with little evident discourse about connecting our brand identities and marketing development to that very innovation by developing new products with an ‘old soul’.   In any event, following closely behind must be development of capacity and capability within companies, to engage a workforce in cultural change and a refreshed common goal that is centred around developing identity, selling the story and delivering world-class service.

Ryder Cup 2014

Ryder Cup 2014

How does Scotland further develop its own brand of luxury culture?  This idea of Slow Luxury includes both accessing our vulnerability and ‘daring greatly’, a philosophy coined and described by US researcher and storyteller, Brene Brown that has achieved global recognition.  What is the vulnerable, the daring we all aspire to?  What are the strengths of our stories and connections with our past? The world today is loudly social, mobile and imminently promoting itself in a collaborative, connected way. Strength in messaging, in collaboration and its ultimate success will depend on the extent to which Scottish luxury companies can envisage their marketing activities solidly taking place in a new paradigm.  We can’t compete with the multi-million pound budgets of our global luxury brand cousins but there may be a better way to reflect our excellence.

How to create a compelling brand story today to expand profits tomorrow? Scotland is a perfect case study to illustrate how the concept of Slow Luxury can be a lens applied to brands and product offerings, to offer luxury consumers specific compelling reasons to purchase now.  In the presentation below, we  roadmap the steps smart brands can take to target more desire for their products and services through this proven new thought leadership, shaping the marketing of the best luxury brands today.

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