As luxury brands evolve into global powerhouses and lifestyle empires, consumers have started to question the true meaning of luxury. With this in mind the industry has welcomed a host of niche brands intent on recapturing the fading ideals of what luxury should represent: artisanal craftsmanship, high quality materials and the creation of specialised products.
"The word luxury has been overused and misused in the past decade," says fashion industry PR veteran Mesh Chhibber. "Just because something is expensive does not mean it is luxurious. In many ways we are returning to the European tradition of making things with detail and care, with artisans and small ateliers," says Chhibber.
Frustrated by badly made and poorly designed products, Chhibber teamed up with artist and handbag designer Sofie C. Guerrero to launch Peau de Chagrin earlier this year (the label's name is taken from a novel by 19th century French author Honoré de Balzac). Specialising in functional objets d'art made by the finest European artisans, each piece is designed to be handed down from one generation to the next.
"Many expensive leather accessories are not made as well as they used to be and there is an educated audience that wants an object that looks beautiful and is well made.
"We have been travelling around Europe searching for individual craftsmen who use traditional leather-making techniques. The process of making things properly is slow but we want to work with artisans who maintain the tradition and knowledge of European craftsmanship. The difficulty of finding craftsmen with knowledge and skill means we only intend to release two or three leather objects/accessories a year," says Chhibber.
Peau de Chagrin's first collection consists of one product - a structured leather day bag, which is made by one master craftsman in the Swiss Jura who does everything from the cutting of the leather to stitching the bag. Luxe details include burnished edges, a time-consuming technique than ensures the bag will last for decades. Due to the laborious process involved in creating each bag, only 100 pieces are available via peaudechagrin.com at a price of €3,500 (HK$31,000).
Also appealing to the more sophisticated luxury connoisseur is eyewear label Blyszak, founded by former PR executive Andrew Blyszak.
"The word luxury is a dated concept in that the word itself means very little nowadays. Ultimately, luxury is defined by quality and not simply labelling," he says.
Launched in 2014, Blyszak features a single product - in this case eyewear - which comes in seven variations for both men and women. The signature style is derived from what Blyszak calls a "specific oval shape" and is made from palladium powder-coated grade-A steel, ethically sourced water buffalo and Nigerian oxen horn. Blyszak has enlisted the talents of real-horn manufacturer and pioneer Edward Gurcewicz to bring the product to life. Each pair is handmade in Britain.
The collection is available at blyszak.com and there are plans for other products to be released later this year.
Interestingly both labels are also shedding some light on 21st century concerns that many other brands continue to ignore, including sustainability and environmental impact. Peau de Chagrin, for example, only uses chrome-free vegetable-tanned leather sourced from a single tannery in Belgium. Meanwhile, Blyszak uses buffalo and ox horn that is 100 per cent certified by-product.
"Every luxury brand should ask itself does its actions contribute to the polluting of the water and the air and if so they should take responsibility even if it means a lower profit," says Chhibber.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as:
Niche brands redefine luxe