Luxury and authenticity: a look at Hermès and Louis Vuitton

At the core of a luxury brand lies both its authenticity and aspirational accessibility. If everyone in the world could afford the same handbag it could, nor should, be classified as luxury. Coco Chanel once said “luxury begins where necessity ends,” an apt description of what true luxury means.

Forbes this week published an article titled: "Louis Vuitton Or Hermès: Which Is The More Authentic Luxury Brand?” Its author Pamela N. Danziger states Louis Vuitton is heavy on marketing, but light on authenticity, whereas Hermès is the opposite. Hermès is seen as more authentic, but perhaps not for the reasons we might have suspected.

In a study by Cohn & Wolfe examining the role of authenticity in business, the attributes associated with an authentic brand and the impact of authenticity on consumer, investor and employee attitudes and behaviours, Cartier takes the lead spot of luxury brands coming in at number 42. Louis Vuitton ranks 65 and Hermès didn’t make it on the list. Interestingly Cohn & Wolfe rank Amazon as the world’s number one authentic brand.

The greater the advertising spend, the less authentic the brand?

But back to authentic luxury, Forbes’ list of world’s most valuable brands show Louis Vuitton invests 42.9 percent of its 12.9 billion dollars sales on marketing and advertising activities. That is nearly half its turnover spent on marketing. Hermès spends a reported 5 percent of sales (298m dollars of 6bn dollars in revenues) on advertising. Neither does Hermès endorse celebrities. The takeaway, according to Danziger, is that authentic luxury whispers, not shouts.

No-one could accuse Louis Vuitton of being a subtle luxury brand. It’s logos, however steeped in history, are instantly recognisable and what drive sales, from its monogram canvas to its Damier check and its many collaborations. While Louis Vuitton is arguably aspirational, its products are not so rare that they are difficult to come by. In London alone there are at least 6 stores and shop-in-shops, nearly double that of Hermès. Louis Vuitton is also an avid endorser of celebrities, from Angelina Jolie to Michelle Williams, Uma Thurman, Scarlett Johansson, Madonna, the list goes on.

Danziger also notes the more consumers look into a brand’s authenticity, the more they may discover not everything is as it appears. Case in point, earlier this year Business Korea published an article stating Louis Vuitton produces some of its footwear in East Europe - Romania to be exact. Only the "soles are attached in Italy along with Made in Italy tags. This is because the country of origin according to the EU’s rules of origin is where the final production process is carried out,” stated the article.

Luxury is omnipresent today. Many companies, brands, products and services declare themselves as “luxury”, “premium”, “exquisite”, etc, but authentically aren’t so. This leads to confusion, skepticism from luxury consumers, and dilution. According to Springer’s research "The Strategic Role of Authenticity in the Luxury Business” authenticity is the number one challenge for the luxury segment of our time. Except for Hermès perhaps.

Photo: Hermes facebook/louis vuitton facebook


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