Book of British Luxury | 2019 Deliveries by Daniel Franklin

What to expect in 2019.

One thing you can safely predict for 2019 is that it will be noisy. America will start season two of The Trump Show, in which the volume will rise as a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives squares up against the tweeter-in-chief. In Britain, we will hear the roar of recriminations as Brexit turns out not to deliver its fanciful promises.

Illustration by Jo Bird.

Around the world there will be a hubbub of politics as countries with more than a third of the global population vote in nationwide elections. Places holding such elections include the whole of the European Union (minus Britain, of course); the world’s biggest Muslim-majority democracy, Indonesia; and the most populous democracy of all, India. Vote after vote will be loud contests between nationalists and globalists.

Beyond the cacophony, however, trends shaping the future will carry quietly on. If you block your ears, what do you notice?

Economists might focus on the rise of protectionism or on worrying levels of debt, whether in the corporate world, or in big economies such as China or Italy. Culture-watchers might spot a trend towards jumbo arts spaces, best exemplified by The Shed, a giant arts space opening at Hudson Yards in New York, and by the Humboldt Forum, a controversy-courting museum complex in Berlin, which will have a grand launch in September. And those in the luxury industry might see tell-tale signs of the times. Here are six of the best.

First, leaders of luxury brands will, more than ever, need astute political and social antennae. This is because their customers will be watching to see how they stand on anything from environmental sustainability to cultural sensitivity – and social media will swiftly amplify any false steps in an age of ‘woke capitalism’. Dolce & Gabbana recently had to apologise (in Mandarin) after a backlash against an advertisement that many Chinese found offensive, an example of how mindful brands must be.

Second, the Chinese are making themselves seen as well as heard. That the Chinese are coming is a well-known trend, but 2019 will bring striking developments. One, towards the end of the year, will be the opening of a giant new airport in Beijing, helping to satisfy a soaring Chinese demand for travel that will see China overtake America by 2022 as the world’s biggest aviation market. Another is the corresponding spread around the globe of Chinese smartphone-based payments methods, especially Aliped and WeChat Pay, based on QR (Quick Response) codes. Luxury brands wooing Chinese customers and wanting to make transactions as friction-free as possible will need to adopt them.

If you like numbers, a third trend to concentrate the mind is that 2019 will be when millennials (those born between 1981 and 1986 [1996?]) at last overtake baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) to become the largest generational cohort in America. The rise of the millennials has long been seen as a big shift, for example driving demand for brands with ‘purpose’. This will bring the trend into sharper focus.

Fourth, artificial intelligence will increasingly penetrate everything, including luxury. Take fashion. Firms will be using the technology in everything from stock control to virtual fittings – so that beauty will truly be in the AI of the beholder.

Fifth, disruption will be the new normal in sector after sector. Cars provide a good illustration of how this plays out. Tesla has already disrupted the luxury end of the car industry with its electric vehicles. In 2019 that space will become more crowded. Competition will come in the sleek shape of the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi’s e-tron, the Mercedes-Benz EQ and Porsche Taycan.

Last, and most mind-bending, watch out for early steps towards the ultimate in luxury personalisation: designer babies. Biotechnology firms will soon begin to offer couples undertaking in vitro fertilisation a screening of embryos involving a test not just for a specific genetic disorder (something that has long been possible) but a risk assessment of the embryo’s whole genome. Couples who can afford such services will be able to give their children a better chance of a long life. This is one example of how businesses will find themselves grappling with complex ethical issues.

The range of these trends and the speed of change that brands must adapt to might appear daunting. But luxury businesses also have a special opportunity in 2019. In a noisy year, harmony will be at a premium. Offerings that manage to be cutting edge in their use of technology but convey a sense of calm for the customer will seem the height of luxury.

Daniel Franklin is the executive and diplomatic editor of The Economist, and editor of The World in 2019

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