We’ve all heard it: branding and consumerism in the 21st Century is a global village, a place of hyper-specialization and fragmentation, right? Well, one very current trend that seems to be going against that tide lies in a new generation of “polymath creatives” that is discreetly but powerfully shaping luxury markets from automobile design to fashion.
Commonly referred to as Leonardo DaVinci types, a polymath creative is defined as a person whose expertise and experience hits across various subject areas, drawing from complex bodies of knowledge and proposing original solutions and viewpoints. Emergent avant-garde fashion labels like Loverboy and Rottingdean Bazaar — who both made a splash at London Fashion Week — are beginning to understand the blurring boundary between brand and art. They’re presently blending fashion design with eclectic art-school aesthetics in the orchestration of a new kind of bespoke brand that thrives on a “direct to consumer” approach.
Prodigies of Lulu Kennedy — a bohemian talent scout based in London’s East End — these art-school graduates make traditional lines of necklaces and bracelets, only to complement them with artwork. For example, they produce hand-painted leather jackets, alongside unique and affordable smaller items such as hand-made earrings. They are challenging what Lulu Kennedy calls “that really protectionist idea of the traditional designer” who slaves away repeatedly on single mass-produced items, with a proliferation of creativity off-set with the traditional inclination toward reproducibility.
But it isn’t just young creative polymaths currently flourishing: Luc Donkerwolke is the lead designer for Hyundai’s luxury brand Genesis Motors. Donkerwolke, educated in Belgium and Switzerland and owning residences in Peru and France, is also a budding abstract artist whose designs bear the brazen influence of this leakage behind high-end design and avant-garde aesthetics.
Similarly, Paul Schreyer — chief designer of Kia Motors and most famous for his contributions to the design of the Audi TT — is on record exclaiming: “I wanted to be an artist since I was 14. I wanted to be Dali!” Be it the overtones of Bauhaus in Donkerwolke’s beautiful Genesis prototypes in the luxury car industry or the art-student sentiment flourishing in emerging fashion trends, the success of creative polymaths in the luxury brand sector is undeniable.
But what is at the heart of this eruption of creativity, this inclination against specialization, this celebration of diversity, collaboration, and risk? The answer lies in the reinstatement of the importance of human connection in the creation of new products. In a fundamental re-drawing of the boundaries in which the conversations within the design process take place.
Luxury brands are currently realizing that the loss of control over the brand message, once deemed an untouchable, is no longer avoidable. The very client the luxury brand attracts and wants to harbor requires a free-flow of exchanges. It is imperative for luxury brands in 2017 to translate their value and their status through the collaborative, the bespoke, and the direct connection to consumers. This approach will create a truly blended product, and most importantly, brand experience.