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THIS weekend, status bag junkies will get to gawk at 120 archival variations on a palm-sized box clutch. To fete the reopening of its Takashimaya store, Bottega Veneta is staging a retrospective of its most recognisable and beloved handbag design - The Knot. The round-edged leather minaudieres were catapulted to "It" hand-candy status when Tomas Maier took the reins as creative director in 2001. Then, Mr Maier created a new closure in the shape of a small leather knot and gave the bag its name. Since then, the Knot has been reinterpreted many times, always making an appearance in seasonal collections, and even inspiring a scent of the same name.
"Recognised and collected for its unique design, unrivalled quality and individual style, the Knot is a symbol of the company's past as well as its future," says Tomas Maier. "For me personally, it is a continuous opportunity for a special kind of creative exploration."
Fashion may be one of the most capricious industries to have existed. But beneath its pursuit of ephemeral trends lies a lucrative formula for creating "hero" products - often based upon the rehashing of a proven design for years, and even decades.
The simple silhouette of The Knot, for one, has been embellished and deconstructed into myriad variations: as the Vintage Jewel Knot, embroidered with antique crystals; the Memory Knot, of Nappa leather constructed with a metallic aluminium film that uniquely holds the shape to the touch; the Metal Lace Knot, made of two metal lace gussets encompassing a luxurious satin panel; and others of woven sterling silver, padded satin, soft crocodile and the undeniably most outre - a version woven in 18K gold and finished with diamonds at each end of its closure.
"From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense to rework the classics. The brands have what it takes to move the classics further and further along, and by mixing classic design with today's trends, they can come up with new designs quickly and can leverage very sizeable tried-and-true proprietary archives," says Nejla Matam-Finn, CEO and co-founder of vintage and pre-loved designer fashion online store The Fifth Collection.
"(As a consumer), when you shed a few thousand dollars on a bag at one of these luxury brands, you are looking to be reassured in some way, to have your emotional choice be somehow justified rationally. The brands that release "reissued classics" are reassuring their clients on their savoir faire, their heritage and they are sending the message that buying into this kind of piece is making a long-term investment in quality and style."
Obviously, the Italian leather goods fashion house isn't the only brand to bank on tested classics. Karl Lagerfeld, the kaiser of mining and remixing archival looks, has worked his cutaway-gloved touch on yet another Chanel icon - the two-toned, cap-toed slingback heel, for Fall/Winter 2015/2016 collection.
"It's become the most modern of shoes and makes beautiful legs," says Mr Lagerfeld, who describes the collection as being "very French".
Indeed, founder Coco Chanel designed the timeless footwear with a black toecap to make feet appear smaller, and a skin-toned body to create the illusion of elongated pins. Apart from releasing the shoe in updated proportions, Mr Lagerfeld has also given the little black dress a new spin as a swing dress, a trompe-l'œil two-piece, or an apron adorned with details.
And the coveted fashion pieces will arrive in stores just in time for the opening of Mademoiselle Prive, an exhibition on the history of Chanel that will see three floors of London's Saatchi Gallery showcasing the brand's haute couture pieces, historical inspirations and explore how Mr Lagerfeld has innovated the brand. In conjunction with this blockbuster will be a launch of re-editions of the brand founder's original and first high jewellery collection, Bijoux de Diamants, first created in 1932. The rereleased pieces were also donned by celebrities such as Vanessa Paradis, Kristen Stewart and Julianne Moore, demonstrating the timelessness of their appeal.
"The continued profit and sale decline of luxury brands over the past three years are a strong indication that luxury brands are losing their lustre due to over-exposure in the global marketplace and outsourcing of production to other countries," says Qing Wang, professor of marketing at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick. "The return to retro and classic products reminds the public of the golden bygone age when luxury brands were held in great respect."
Serving as shorthand for its heritage in design and craftsmanship that withstand the test of time, such products are emblematic of a brand's desirability and pedigree.
"The assertion that fashion is based on the latest trends is perfectly fitting for fast fashion, but for luxury brands, history, image and brand identity are values that must be preserved," says Patrizia Arienti, Deloitte Europe, Middle East and Africa, fashion and luxury leader.
"It is often the designer luxury brands that establish the trends that then set the direction for the larger fashion marketplace. However, in order to keep their unique character, these luxury houses rely on what are called 'house codes' or guiding design elements that form the look of that house, such as the Bar Jacket of Dior and the Intrecciato Napa of Bottega Veneta, that are reinterpreted by the current design teams to maintain the distinctive voice while creating a fresh look," says Ms Arienti.
At one point or another, for example, it seems like the Bottega Veneta knot clutch has come in every colour, material and embellishment imaginable, and yet somehow, the brand still finds ways to keep the design fresh without losing any of its classic appeal. Its designer needs to constantly tread the fine line between repetition and healthy reinvention.
"The need to position the luxury brands alongside the realm of the arts is to differentiate them from (fast) fashion brands such as Zara and H&M," adds Prof Wang. "Like the arts, the value of luxury brands should increase with time, thus justifying the price differential. This is the idea, anyway, so people collect classic designs as an investment."
But from a layman's point of view, wouldn't this constant re-hashing of oldies - much like milking a film's popularity through a series of infinite sequels - seem a blatant and lazy way of ensuring commercial success?
"The ones that solely focus on the remaking process are not seen as relevant or desirable anymore, and they start sliding down a slippery slope towards being a mass luxury brand," says Ms Matam-Finn, who studied marketing in Paris and once worked for luxury group Richemont.
"Lately, a few brands have been reported in the press to be facing an issue of stagnation, like Prada and Louis Vuitton to name a few. While Louis Vuitton seems to be making a huge effort to pull itself out of the rut, Prada seems to be stuck on a hamster wheel. This can be observed not only in the boutiques, but also in the secondhand market because these brands are not really 'liquid' with weaker resale value."
Even much younger brands such as Alexander Wang are riding on this lucrative wave of brand bestsellers. The designer, who is leaving Balenciaga as creative director, will be reissuing 10 looks from his eponymous label's archives for its 10th year anniversary. Fans are asked to vote online for their favourite runway pieces, and the winning looks will be sold as a capsule collection this September.
"From a branding perspective, it is simply a necessity to rework the classics," adds Ms Matam-Finn, who adds that Chanel, Hermes, Balenciaga and Celine are the best brands to buy for investment purposes.
"If your classic products remain desirable in the eyes of the consumer, then it means that your luxury brand is still relevant and relevance is what every brand is after in the fast-paced fashion world.
"By showcasing your expertise, your heritage and your identity when re-inventing timeless pieces and keeping them 'au gout du jour' (up-to-date), you are telling the world that you are the brand to trust, that your money will be wisely spent when you are ready to splurge on a luxury piece."