Top 5: Accessible American Luxury Brands

August 10, 2009Sparxoo


By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

In our exploration of luxury brands, we have identified key trends and debated over industry paradigm shifts. Purveyors of luxury products and services are changing their brand image or re-tooling in another strategic way to adapt in this harsh economic environment. In our findings, accessible luxury is essential in a time when extravagance is taboo. In this week’s top five we will explore accessible luxury brands and how they are adapting and even thriving in this economic environment.

J Crew
To humbly express luxury without the guilt, the media has been aflutter about the Obama’s love for J Crew. Michelle, who has been compared to the fashion-savvy Jackie-O, has undoubtedly stated, J Crew is the luxury brand de jour in recessionary times. The brand is accessible, fashionable and most importantly classic 2.0. Each season brings not radical change, but subtle updates to a timeless look. The brand is positioned between the everyday American GAP and the high-brow fashion of Banana Republic. It’s a perfect place to be for those who want quality beyond the GAP but without the price of Banana Republic.

Looking good is feeling good. Uplifting personal confidence is what MAC cosmetics is all about. This accessible luxury cosmetics company takes personal expression and empowerment to a new level. The MAC brand has a high enough profile to be the choice of Ed Westwick  and Jessica Szohr of Gossip Girls while on the ground level with everyday Americans (by sponsoring the viral fashion of YouTube how-to-ers).

The MAC brand has an almost rebellious edge that sets it apart from other cosmetics companies. In the past MAC has, just as other cosmetics companies, sponsored fashion week in Bryant Park, NYC. Instead of trying to compete, woo and rub elbows with the hundreds of designers and look better than their competition, they’ve splintered from the pack—hosting their own event, called MAC at Milk (named after the studio in the meat packing district of NYC). MAC at Milk will offer exclusive passes for designers—an attempt to create an underground movement that flies in the face of “big-tent” fashion. Attending designers don’t have to worry about missing presentations or losing each other in the sea of people at Bryant Park. MAC at Milk represents a move to create an edgy, exclusive, yet accessible brand that influencers can buzz about.

Williams Sonoma
Known for their fresh food tastings, high-end gadgetry and quality kitchen basics, William Sonoma is a kitchen connoisseur’s paradise. They entice even non-cooks with a multi-sensorial experience that marries tastings with smart design. While their stores offer modern luxury for the affluent (an espresso machine can set you back $1,800), there are kitchen staples of equal high quality. With in-store tastings and wild gadgetry, William Sonoma stretches a cook’s ability to think of the endless possibilities, while educating aspiring chefs with knowledgeable staff and a mini-library.

The sleek, smart and savvy electronics and software developer, Apple, has wow-ed audiences with every evolution of products because they have delivered consistent innovative design and creative features. In fact, Apple’s gem, the iPhone jumped 626% in sales from the third quarter to the same period last quarter.

Known for their creative, relaxed right-brain brand image, they strike a clear contrast with their software competitor, Microsoft. Though Apple has a sleeker, sexier design than its competitors, Apple’s prices are a little higher (or even the same) than the competition. Microsoft’s Zune is the same price as Apple’s player of the same storage size, but it is the higher priced computers that make Apple an accessible luxury brand. Apple dominates the MP3 market because of their consistent innovations and appeal to right-brain thinkers. It is Apple’s incredible brand appeal that has fans clamoring for the next evolution in product development.


Synonymous with high-end quality and double-digit price tags, Coach has been the staple of luxury hand bags. In an effort to open their doors to a larger consumer-base, they’ve created the Poppy line. The first line to be defined as accessible luxury, Coach has lowered their prices without lowering their standards. The Poppy line symbolizes an adaptive pricing move by those in the luxury industry trying to stay afloat.  While some discredit discounting luxury products and services, Coach is trying to lower the monetary barrier that separates a mass audience clamoring for their products.

Photo by Luis Lopez from Stock.Xchng