It was a firm belief of Karl Lagerfeld, former Chanel Creative Director, that a better future can be made by developing elements from the past. Inspired by the words of the German writer Goethe, Lagerfeld always referenced elements of the past in his fashion collections.
Archives are the secret weapon of luxury brands. By helping them balance past and present, they can also project heritage brands into the future. Harnessing the power of a brand legacy while also projecting toward the future is a delicate balance. Without innovation, a luxury brands risks becoming a sleeping beauty. On the other hand, the soul would be lost if the past is completely dismissed.
Let’s explore the role of archives in building a legacy, preserving identity, and how they can help revive a dormant brand.
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Archives as a tool to preserve the brand identity
The weight of history is not too heavy for modern living. By adding a touch of modernity to a long-selling product, you can surprise and delight your clients.
In my professional experience in the luxury industry, elements from the past, a.k.a. archives, represent the secret weapon of luxury brands. When in doubt, taking a stroll in the stock room or an attentive look at the old drawings done a century before can do wonders.
I will never forget when a renowned international designer developed one of the most successful crystal lights for the company. He visited the manufacturer in France, and he flipped upside down the iconic glass commissioned for the King of France a couple of centuries earlier. He only added a small light inside and a smokey finish to the clear crystal light — and voilà: Another best-seller was born.
Respecting the codes of a brand is necessary to build a legacy and preserve its identity. Codes are guidelines that link past with future collections, and they can be aesthetic elements, symbolic meanings, quality of the overall brand experience, etc.
How to prevent a luxury brand from becoming a sleepy beauty
Having a museum, organizing an exhibit, or creating lots of collections is not enough to build a legacy. Know-how handed down over generations must back up the heritage. Having a mix of established designers and young people in a company team can balance craftsmanship, tradition and innovation.
In 1983, Lagerfeld managed to revive Chanel by modernizing and expanding the brand while staying true to what the company stands for. Lagerfeld constantly reinterpreted classics, such as the iconic tweed jacket and the jersey dress. He understood the role of logos as a universal language and the preservation of the brand identity.
To prevent becoming a sleepy beauty, a luxury brand should always look for intercepting new tendencies. Respecting the codes and reinterpreting them will ensure resilience, even during a recession.
Innovation should take place within the framework of existing codes and embody the new post-pandemic code of conduct for luxury brands as well. Sustaining the practice of responsible living, valuing clients’ time, and building the brand experience around micro-engagement moments are new codes that emerged as a direct consequence of the health crisis in 2020.
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The codes of a brand can change over time but not its soul
In the end, heritage is a system of physical artifacts and intangible attributes that connect a brand with its past. You can break down the brand into codes and trace guidelines for the organization. These references preserve the past to build on a brand’s future.
Heritage should permeate all products, not with a spirit of nostalgia, but with a perception of consistency and quality. Archives used to be treasured only by a few. Recently, they have been in high demand on social media and resale apps, and even streetwear and activewear brands are collecting their works.
So, remember: Archives are now the secret weapon, and rebooting past collections can bring your luxury brand back to life.