Louis Vuitton and the Danger of Over-Exposure

There is a delicate balance between a company's ability to increase awareness of its brand and expand its reach, and thus, its profits, and its ability to maintain its identity as a brand. This is especially true and arguably most relevant for luxury brands (and those situated as highly-esteemed authorities, such as Vogue, for instance). This is because most of these brands have spent many, many decades - even a century in some instances - and hundreds of millions of dollars to position themselves as the brand they appear to be in the eyes of consumers today.

With this in mind, consider Louis Vuitton and its Toile Monogram print. The French design house's logo-covered bags, both authentic or counterfeit, began to saturated the market in significant volumes in the mid-2000's, in particular, and as a result, many repeat Louis Vuitton shoppers gravitated away from the modern-day uniform and towards virtually logo-free bags. This meant that to some extent, those shoppers, including Chinese consumers (who make up a third of Louis Vuitton's market) gravitated away from some Louis Vuitton styles, and in some cases, the Louis Vuitton brand altogether. The Paris-based design house, as many know, has since rebounded quite a bit, but only after years of intense revamping efforts. 

High fashion is based, at least in theory, on the notion of exclusivity, which takes the form of the models of unprecedented "beauty" that grace the pages of magazines, the finest quality garments (or maybe more realistically, the house with the greatest #Fashion reputation), and the handbags that the average woman cannot afford and even if she could, she would have to put her name on a waiting list to get. 

If we use Louis Vuitton as a measure, this notion could hardly be further from reality (in terms of the majority of its accessories, at least). While many design houses produce couture collections, even those are often overshadowed by brands' attempts to be more commercial and present ready-to-wear lines, so that they can actually profit. As a result, the question is: At what point does a brand's attempts to profit cost more than those profits are actually worth? 

One instance is when your trademark (and essentially, your brand as a whole) becomes too mainstream and results in over-exposure in the minds of consumers. Keeping with Louis Vuitton, the French design house was founded in 1854 by Louis Vuitton, himself. Since then, the house has branded itself on the notion of impeccable quality and craftsmanship, and the utmost in luxury. Louis Vuitton would likely not see the profits that it currently enjoys if it relied solely on the sale of its original luggage trunks. As such, the house created a collection of RTW purses (and under Marc Jacobs, RTW clothing), and has fared extremely well. For the past decade or so, Louis Vuitton has been the world's most valuable luxury brand. As of May 2016, its valuation was $27.3 billion.

It seems obvious that such growth and such demand is unsustainable, and it may be at this point, when such mass-distribution and mass-consumption (at least in relativity to other high fashion houses), which creates vast profits, may become more expensive than those profits themselves. In fashion, reputation matters, and overexposure plays a large role in this. It undermines a luxury brand's identity, which is often based on ideals of grandeur and exclusivity, and often leads the luxury consumer to look to another brand that still has its image of exclusivity, and thus, luxury, in check.

As you can imagine, it is quite difficult to measure a tangible figure (a brand's net worth and annual earnings) with an intangible measure, such as the value of a brand's identity, which must be considered in conjunction with the time it took to build that brand. However, it seems contradictory to spend years and years planning and building a brand based on luxury and then allow anyone with $500 to buy your bag and tote your logo around town with five hundred-thousand others, who are doing the same thing. I don't know about you but that makes me want something else.

This mindset is definitely part of the movement towards labels, such as Celine, the Row, even Proenza Schouler, for relief from the mass-market logo-friendly retailer that LV has largely become. I am using Louis Vuitton as an example but really, a handful of other brands could be used interchangeably: Gucci, Fendi, and Coach, the latter which arguably hit rock bottom several years ago, the point when mass-consumption of a brand's products creates over-exposure in the mind of consumers. This is the point when selling so many bags costs the company more than the profit from their sale is worth; when the luxury-minded consumers as a whole move on from your brand and don't look back.