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The Death of “Mass Luxury”?

June 2011

By Claire Brooks, President, ModelPeople Inc.

Before the economic downturn, according to a new study by Ad Age, “aspiring” consumers (defined as those with incomes of $100-199,000) considered themselves wealthy enough to purchase luxury design, creating a new “masstige” segment of offerings from established luxury brands. In 2011, according to Ad Age, these consumers no longer feel rich. In early 2008, we predicted a trend to more personal definition of luxury which reflected comfort, well-being and global consciousness, at least for the “middle class” around the world.

As the gap between rich and middle class continues to widen globally, our bloggers report that leading-edge design today has a new, more modest, yet imaginative face that is dictated by the new concerns and values of the middle class around the world. Some clear commonalities have emerged from our international City Reports:

Humble Materials: New York and San Francisco designers reject opulent materials in favor of wood. When locally sourced and handmade, wood is the new material of choice – turning furniture and jewelry into functional sculpture

Repurposed Industrial: From emerging to established, product designers are looking to industrial sites and crafting objects anew. NY design collective Rich Brilliant Willing revisits rockets and rooftop vents as design inspiration

Intensely Immersive Experiences: Berliners are using Mobile Augmented Reality eyewear, via Dutch app Layar, to take them to a new dimension: Berlin as it appeared before the Wall came down

Playful Graphic Personalization: In entertainment-driven LA, accessible art forms like graffiti and anime have inspired "self-cartoonizing" sites like zwinky, which let consumers customize photos as cartoon avatars for use in social media or gaming sites

Sustainable Design: Never compromising aesthetics, local production and material sourcing continues to enhance the value of a product, and most emerging product designers like RBW use recycled (or better yet upcyclable) materials

When even true luxury brands like Hermès use modest decorative elements like traditional Mongolian wooden yurts for their new St. Germain store, it seems that the best designers of the moment are innovatively, yet pragmatically, looking at the materials and locations at hand today and reimagining what they can look like tomorrow.


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