CRYPTIC TITLE, NO? Do you know why you buy a particular brand over another? I mean, do you really know – once you get past the ‘hygiene factors’ such as quality, good design and so on?
It was an interesting question that Alexandra posed to me recently, and I felt compelled to try and at least tease out some answers. I say try because it’s not an easy problem to solve: it’s a complex thing (as almost all things involving human nature and social interactions are). In fact, there are entire fields of study that exist solely to try and understand it. Google Social Semiotics. You’ll see.
I’d like to tell you that I have gone out and read numerous papers and treatises on social semiotics, I really would. I’d be lying, though. I haven’t.
I can tell you that I’m notoriously picky about brands, to the point where I will make a decision to avoid a brand based on nothing other than my perception. I would wager that many of you have too. So where do these perceptions come from? What influences us to buy one brand and avoid another?
Never more so than in recent years has the word of mouth been such a powerful ally or enemy for a brand trying to gain popularity. People said that air travel has made the world smaller, well, social media has shrunk the entire world down to a smartphone screen.
This means that the rate at which brands can gain (or lose) popularity has massively increased. Word of mouth was always limited by the rate at which people would actually talk to each other, and then on newspaper or magazine circulation and publication schedules. Now, a post of a celebrity wearing an outfit, or carrying a bag or wearing a pair of shoes on Instagram can be seen around the world instantly.
A rumour about poor quality can spread like wildfire. More pertinently, in recent times, is the brand’s ethics and social responsibility. Child labour, animal cruelty and more have all been exceptionally damaging for various brands. The modern consumer is become much more aware of a brand’s ethical successes and failures, and this alone can be enough to sway a buying decision.
Luxury brands used to focus entirely on heritage, on service; with images of watches being handed down through generations (Patek Phillippe), or of white-gloved butlers presenting items on silver platters. Essentially, it was all very old money. Brands used to pride themselves and their luxury credentials on royal seals and being established hundreds of years ago.
This is changing. Tesla are one of the most prominent luxury car brands at the moment, and they just didn’t exist ten-or-so years ago. They don’t (and indeed can’t) harp on about hundreds of years of innovation and technology.
So why is this important? Primarily because the luxury customer is now focussing increasingly on the future rather than the past. Gone is the nostalgia of yesteryear.
Equally, while customers want to feel special, the ‘us and them’ mentality is gradually being broken down too. I think this is in part due to social media, but also a growing social conscience, too. People are realising that whilst possession is great, a shared experience is better – and with social media, these experiences can be shared with so many more.
Perception > Reality
I’m not a girl, so I don’t shop at Michael Kors. If I could though, I probably wouldn’t. This is no damning indictment of their products, but merely my perception. I see an awful lot of gaudy and ostentatious MK watches worn by women, and like it or lump it, they have coloured my perception. I openly admit that I know not all (or even not even the majority) of MK products are like those watches, but I just can’t shake the illogical conclusion that I’ve made in the deepest part of my subconscious. For me MK=Ostentatious.
Alexandra Wood Bespoke
So how does this all translate to the lovely AW? Yes, she’s a fantastic tailor, and yes her clothes are of the highest quality (I say this with conviction – I own one of her made-to-measure shirts, and it’s truly brilliant).
For me, these things are hygiene factors. They’re positively essential, and I’d expect any bespoke tailor I visit to possess qualities such as these.
What makes Alexandra Wood different is Alexandra. For one, she’s not some grey-haired gentleman in a double-breasted suit. There’s something equally terrifying and disarming about this prospect. She’s lovely, but make no mistake, she will tell you what works and what doesn’t for you.
Its somehow so much more valid coming from a member of the opposite sex, but equally alarming having your fashion faux-pas laid out so clearly in front of you… by a member of the opposite sex.
Rather than being stuffy and uptight, the experience at AW is informal, welcoming and social. You’ll sit down, you’ll chat and drink coffee, while Alexandra gets to know you and understand what you’re looking for. This consultation is the best bit and arguably the most important part of bespoke. It’s what you pay for. It’s about you. It’s bigger than just whether the clothes fit your body – it’s whether the clothes fit your lifestyle.
It’s great to see her so active on social media too. Not long after I left, a photo of me appeared on Instagram (with my permission, of course!). It gave the whole experience a collaborative feel. That this great tailor was happy to put my ugly mug on her Instagram was validating in a way (and I’m not ashamed to admit it). I think this is the best part of Alexandra Wood. She makes you feel special. Not in a fawning and synthetic “Yes Sir, of course Sir” way, but in a genuine way.
Yes it’s informal: there’s no red carpet or sanctimonious rubbish; yes, you can have a laugh, a joke; but you still leave feeling like you were the most important person in the store that day.
Nathan Stowe owns and writes for Manporium.com, The Luxury Blog for Men.