Re-Branding and the luxury brand dilemma

Re-Branding and the luxury brand dilemma

In a world with a rapidly growing number of wealthy shoppers, luxury brands struggle to find a balance between increasing their consumer base and maintaining the exclusivity which is associated with luxury goods. Yves Saint Laurent’s recent renaming shows that a subtle re-branding could be a strategy to tackle this problem. 

Although less spectacular as in the past two years, the luxury good market is still booming. Early June the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a report predicting the luxury market to grow by another seven per cent this year. With the rise of incomes all over the world, especially in the upcoming BRIC markets, luxury is everywhere nowadays – and this is exactly where the problem starts.

Luxury brands exist by the grace of its exclusivity. When luxury products become too accessible, they lose their luxury status. Or, as stated by the well-known French brand expert Kapferer: “Luxury brands must be desired by all, consumed only by the happy few”*.

How to participate the luxury boom while staying exclusive?

This Luxury Brand Dilemma leaves luxury brands as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton and others with a difficult question: how to profit from the current luxury boom and stay exclusive at the same time?

Common used strategies as trading down, such as introducing more accessible brand extensions, or brand collaboration with other (luxury) brands are not always without risk. If the brand extension or collaboration does not fit with the core value of the brand involved or its luxury appeal, the brand image will ultimately be damaged. Pierre Cardin is a sad show case of a brand which focused too much on short time profits and therefore destroyed its luxury image.

In this perspective the recent, heavily criticized, re-branding of Yves Saint Laurent might not be such a bad idea after all. By renaming its ready-to-ware collection to Saint Laurent Paris – a wink to the first haute couture collection of Yves Saint Laurent in 1966 which was called Saint Laurent Rive Gauche  – the company is referring back to its roots and early days of glory. At the same time it sets a stage for the companies’ new designer Hedi Slimane, who may be able to give the luxury brand a new boost.

“The change celebrates our legacy and heritage, while boldly marking our ambition of the future” says the company in an internal memo.

On top of this – and most importantly in the light of the Luxury Brand Dilemma – it offers the haute couture label the possibility to take some distance from its side products: the popular cosmetics, fragrances and accessories lines. These which will remain branded as Yves Saint Laurent.

The rebranding in form of a name change is that subtle that it won’t confuse current consumers. On the other hand it is a clear signal that the company has different (read: higher) ambitions for its core line. In fact, by a subtle re-branding, the company is trading up its haute couture label.

Clever, subtle yet strong, controversial, and therefore fully in line with the brands core values. And on top of that creating a lot of free publicity…. Yves would have loved it.


*Kapferer, J. N. The Luxury Strategy: Break the Rules of Marketing to Build Luxury Brands. London: Kogan Page.