Making their west coast debuts, New York-based luxury e-tailers Armarium and Flont joined forces last week to host a series of trunk shows and pop-ups in San Francisco. But what made these events particularly newsworthy was that each piece of designer clothing and fine jewelry being admired by the invitees was available to rent, rather than buy.
Armarium and Flont are part of a new generation of companies providing on-call luxury services. Both offer their members the ability to lease rather than purchase one-of-kind or coveted pieces, as and when needed, tapping into the rise of non-traditional retailing brought about by recent shifts in attitudes towards shopping and how we define luxury.
Today, ownership is no longer seen as a key driver, especially among millennials. Indeed, we now increasingly prefer to spend more of our disposable income on experienced-based purchases rather than on accumulating possessions, especially as, according to B. Joseph Pine II quoted in The Business of Fashion, “those purchases make us happier than when we buy things.”
The term luxury is also being redefined to reflect our changing habits and desires. Previously understood to be synonymous with great expense and rarity, it now encompasses a much wider set of values, which Armarium co-founder Trish Gregory believes today includes “convenience and service.”
With the fashion cycle running ever faster, and so-called ‘It’ items falling in and out of favor at an ever-increasing rate, the appeal of borrowing over buying seems obvious. Clothing also has a typically high value, low usage ratio, especially when considering event dressing, adding further appeal to the prospect of renting. And for many, whose every style move is captured on social media on a daily basis, luxury on loan makes the essential ever-expanding fashion repertoire infinitely more possible.
However, the appeal of both Armarium and Flont lies not only in how they are addressing these current consumer concerns, but also that they are catering to our continued quest for uniqueness. For example, Armarium’s roll call of expertly curated pieces includes those hot off the runway items that may not make it into wider production, and Flont’s exclusive partnerships enable the company to hand-select specially signed pieces by leading fine jewelry designers.
In this age of over-consumerism and over-production, the luxury rental sector is exerting a significant disruptive influence, offering a cost-effective and more sustainable alternative. It also taps into the prevailing trend for experience-based purchases, allowing consumers to perhaps experiment with different styles or try pieces by new designers without committing to the expense of a full purchase. How much 'rent now' will overtake 'shop now', time will tell.