There’s been a lot of recent chatter over “lifestyle brands” and how luxury consumers are now chasing after “experiences” rather than just physical goods, but first, just what is a lifestyle brand?

I can tell you one thing that a “lifestyle brand” is *not* — and that’s a frickin’ shoe company that decides it’s going to start offering bags and jewellery, too (a la Brian Atwood).

The fashion press is reporting that the Jones Group (an apparel conglomerate that controls and/or markets names like Rachel Roy, Stuart Weitzman, Easy Spirit, Nine West and a lot more) has just cut a financial deal to take upscale footwear designer Brian Atwood to the next level of consumer awareness and availability (read: increased mass-production and chain store retailing), with WWD bandying about the trendy “lifestyle” word: “Jones plans to help further build the Brian Atwood brand and expand it into new categories, which are likely to range from jewellery to apparel and help transform the designer into a global lifestyle label.”

*RELATED: You’d be forgiven for assuming that all you have to do is get snapped up by an investment company, expand into some new product areas and suddenly you’re a lifestyle brand. See: Alexis Bittar, Rebecca Minkhoff, Dylan’s Candy Bar, etc.

But Francois Henri Pinault, CEO and Chairman of luxury and fashion conglomerate PPR, offered a talk this past week in Marrakech that pricked this particular marketing-speak bubble with a reality-sized pin, stating that “a desirable brand is not necessarily a lifestyle brand (his examples included Boucheron and Girard Perregaux — both desirable but do not embody lifestyle); a lifestyle brand is not automatically capable of expanding its reach; lifestyle is not a market segment; and definitely lifestyle is not the apanage of luxury only.”

An obsession with shoes ≠ a lifestyle

I mean, buying Brian Atwood shoes will certainly fund *his* lifestyle, but c’mon . . .

Pinault went on to say that in order for a brand to be considered a lifestyle brand, there must be broader associations with history, culture and ideology.

For example, say, Hermes — a company that started off as a harness and bridle workshop in the 1800′s but has since branched into apparel, luggage, jewellery and watches, home furnishings, tablewear, perfumes and even bicycles, cars, yachts and helicopters.

*UPDATE: Let’s not forget the world’s first Hermes-decorated apartment in Singapore.

Is it beautiful because it’s the most expensive?

And the company sponsors equestrian events, supports continued artisan training and positions itself as a bastion against the creeping dilution of craft (see: Hermes rejects LVMH olive branch), so it’s got culture and ideology to spare.

But even with all the hype and awe at Hermes’ disposal, can a global luxury brand genuinely be anything more than just a pusher of retail products? Because what’s an Hermes (or a Gucci, or a Louis Vuitton, or a Burberry) lifestyle but one that revolves around the purchasing and subsequent public flaunting of expensive logo-centric goods?

The designer brand mania of the rich and the famous

That’s not a lifestyle so much as a personality tic.

As Vanessa Friedman writes in the Financial Times: “Does anyone else feel like suddenly everywhere they turn, another erstwhile satisfied luxury brand is re-christening themselves a ‘luxury lifestyle’ brand, talking about their ‘global universe’ and otherwise attempting to own every aspect of a consumer purse? It’s like The Birds: you see one example circling and think, ‘oh, that’s interesting,’ and the next thing you know the whole flock has obliterated the sky.”

Digital marketing and branding expert Macala Wright states that a lifestyle is an internal thing, not a product category or consumer segment, and that brands are kidding themselves if they think they’re somehow tapping into the morass of human contradictions simply because they sell a few baubles and bits.

*ASIDE: Okay, that was my heavily paraphrased take on Ms. Wright’s thoughts, and she certainly has plenty more to say where all that came from. Check out: Lifestyle As A Luxury Business Model — her main thrust appears to be that luxury brands are great at marketing aspiration and inspiration, which can then feed into and even influence a customer’s overall lifestyle.

But back to the debate over what a lifestyle brand could possibly be — let’s take Apple computers, for instance. They managed to liberate the world of computing from the stuffy, stale clutches of coding connoisseurs, opening the door for a much more free and easy relationship between personal computers and the general, uncomprehending public that uses them.

*Inevitable Countdown to Haters Hating: Why I (now) hate Apple

The introduction of the iPod was a serious (and seriously popular) entertainment product that’s since morphed into the iPhone — a tiny, mobile, easy to use and always connected personal computer in the hands of your average Joe and Jane.

I’ve won pop-culture arguments over drinks at a bar with a quick internet search on my iPhone, and if that isn’t a daily life game changer (or maybe just a huge misdirect of 21st century technology?), then I don’t know what is.

It’s certainly a much more integrated and lasting form of personal enhancement than a logo bag, stiletto heel, puffy ski jacket or lucite bangle could ever achieve.

*SPECIAL NOTE: Trust me, if you wish to be taken seriously as a Lifestyle anything, it’s probably best not to run ad campaigns like this one: Harvey Nichols spark outrage with ‘disgusting’ advertising campaign showing women wetting themselves

Uh . . . wha?

One perfectly delicious customer reaction? — “It makes me think of their sale goods as being soiled.”

Not really the luxury experience anyone’s rushing out to grab.

*Relevant Point: It takes more than a famous last name stamped across a bit of makeup and jewellery to launch a lifestyle: Aerin Lauder’s Lifestyle Brand to Launch in Late August

Remember the runaway success of actress Lauren Hutton’s foray into lifestyle branding? Yeah, me neither.

*Driving the point so cruelly home: But you know who has an actual lifestyle that’s better than 99% of the rest of us poor slobs?

Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, that’s who. The fluffy little cuddly monster.

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