W magazine brought together editors and fashion executives this morning to discuss new research about the recessionary spending habits of luxury consumers. W publisher Nina Lawrence said the luxury-goods industry has been hit harder than the retail market, which has never happened before. And truly rich people — not aspirational consumers, but those wealthy enough to be unaffected by the economy — are excited by this. "They enjoy the idea that luxury will return to being not for everybody. It won't be as accessible," Lawrence explained. "Luxury is becoming luxury again and we're actually entering a luxury renaissance. And the aspirational consumer won't be invited in." Well, then!
The luxury market peaked in 2007 at $27 billion, Lawrence said. But last month, the luxury market was down 23 percent, while total U.S. sales were only down 11 percent. Now, a quarter of all consumers — "fashion-passionate or not" — say they "don't think they'll return to previous habits." But Lawrence was skeptical of a spending cutback by truly rich consumers. "If you're on a starvation diet, at some point in time you have to eat," she said. While 57 percent polled said they feel guilty about purchasing luxury goods, that hasn't stopped them from doing so. "They must be going shopping and then going for a little confession at mass or something. Their shopping habits aren't seeing a huge difference," Lawrence added. Less money is being spent, however, due to sales. (Thank you, Saks Fifth Avenue.)
Karl Lagerfeld may have said bling is out. But in a bold defiance, Lawrence says it most certainly is not. Consumers may feel like they should spend practically. "But what's selling in stores right now? Crazy-high platform shoes; giant, big fashion statements. Not classic things," Lawrence said. Of poll respondents, 88 percent said they want their purchases to make them feel not modest, but "glamorous and strong." If they sound befuddled, that's because they are. "Luxury consumers continue to confuse want with need — and this is a good thing!" Lawrence said. Well, good for magazines like W, which, you may have heard, doesn't focus on necessities. "If you were to take the celebration and beauty of fashion ... you're just trying to sell an $800 shoe or a $1,600 handbag without the celebration!" But of course — you're not just buying an item, you're paying for a party. And with that, we went for a second serving at the spectacular breakfast buffet — guilt-free!