The World: Insider's View - Sweden

Luxury brands are suffering from a lack of exclusivity, which is why companies such as H&M, with its 'nicheclusivity' strategy, are doing surprisingly well, Bjorn Larsson says.

Luxury, once equal to exclusivity, has lost its brilliance, the "lux" (Latin for light) that once defined it. But etymology aside, in the real world luxury also stands for something unattainable and limited - something exclusive.

But this vital bond between luxury and exclusivity, the connection that brought social prestige to the beholder of the luxury brand, now seems to be broken.

Because, what is exclusive about a Gucci handbag or a kitchen from Boffi when the rest of town carries the same handbag or has seen the same kitchen in newspaper ads for an endless number of refurbished one-bedroom flats?

The Champagne-drinking in the soaps has made Moet feel cheaper than a pair of socks, and the embarrassing "plastics" in the Big Brother house, who wear nothing but luxury brands, are certainly taking the edge off what once was known as luxury.

The exclusivity of luxury has finally drowned in a clutter of Paris Hilton-looking wannabe celebs with Yves Saint-Laurent handbags and Dior sunglasses on the front page of the tabloids.

Nevertheless, the search for the exclusive that brings prestige and individuality continues. And this is why art seems to be more appealing than ever before in our history of consumption. Because art generates the exclusiveness fashion brands once represented.

Art stands for the appealing, the attractive and the unattainable.

The Biennials are the new travel spots for Kuoni Travel. Basel, Kiev and Miami are the places to be.

In Sweden, there is a clear correlation between the increased supply of luxury brands and the increased price for young painters' early work.

Owning a work of art gives people the same experience as owning an engagement ring by the Canadian designer Tobias Wong. In a Wong ring, the diamond is hidden on the inside; it's for only you and me to know and share. Could that be more exclusive?

But we see strained efforts from luxury brands to capitalise on the art phenomenon; from Louis Vuitton's flagship store showing Vanessa Beecroft photographs, to Stella McCartney's jewellery of the Jeff Koon Rabbit.

But who said luxury is meant to appeal to everyone? So, instead of flirting with the iGeneration through a "massclusivity" approach, I suggest the reversed strategy to anyone aiming for a clear prestigious brand position;

I believe the future of luxury marketing rather should take the form of nicheclusivity, with support in "the long tail" phenomenon, characterised by several small and distinct micro markets aggregating into a big mass market.

Take H&M for example; with its "fashion-to-the-people strategy", it capitalises on those consumers running away from the massclusivity approach. But at the same time, it gets people queueing for hours to pick up a piece of the limited edition collection "Lagerfeld from H&M".

And with Stella McCartney as the follow-up, H&M - this mass-market giant - seems to have established the "nicheclusivity" strategy that gives the brand a clear exclusivity point. And potentially an authentic luxury position.

Who will glitter next?

- Bjorn Larsson is the Nordic chairman for Lowe and chief executive of Lighthouse Lowe Brindfors in Stockholm.

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