Maslow, evolution and Luxury Fashion

Consultants like tables, diagrams and charts… Fashion is not a science (some might disagree…) but using this “figure” makes easier to understand and organize something so complex as “needs”. Maslow was an American psychologist and was best-known for creating in 1943 the hierarchy of needs, or Maslow’s pyramid. As I said, using a pyramid is an easy way to understand something such intangible as human needs, from basic needs to abstract hope.

The Pyramid of Maslow and Fashion brands segmentation_The Fashion Retailer blog

Does it mean that, if we are hungry and don’t find food, we won’t be able to dream? Not at all, but I suggest to understand the evolution of societies through this pyramid. From the invention of fire, Homo sapiens started to use heavy clothes made of animal skins and use efficient tools. From then, people, technologies and wars defined what we are today (Jared Diamond would say “Guns, Germs, and Steel”). I would simplify and mention Egypt, Rome, the Middle Ages, Religions, Migrations, Colonialism, the French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Capitalism… From mass-production to mass-consumption. From Louis XIV, “le Roi Soleil” to the American Way of Life. From Versailles to McDonald’s. Fashion is the consequence of refinement. Fashion retail is the business of it.


The late 19th century saw the birth of brands and retailers such as Levi’s, Lanvin, Chanel and Harrods. Of course, before that, we had markets and craftsmen selling their goods locally. Nowadays, we have a workforce ready to consume.

“I consume, therefore I am”.

And this is where brands create their galaxies. Just a few brands are surviving to the conglomerate era of LVMH, Kering, VF Corporation…But private, family owned brands still survive because of their history, their stories, their charme.

The pyramid of fashion links to Maslow’s needs. At the top of the pyramid, you will find the more intangible and exotic needs and therefore, supreme brand. This is a way to represent the hierarchy of brands according price and quality, but there is room for exceptions. In the internet era, some companies are offering high quality products at very good prices through selling directly to customers, without middlemen. These cost-effective fashion business models will be mentioned in the coming posts.

How did Luxury Fashion Houses reach the Olympus?

Retailers have historically measured growth in terms of the square footage of their store footprint. This means to grow through adding more points of sale: Direct owned stores, franchises, multibrand stores, store-within-store, department stores, wholesale, outlets…But coming back to the pyramid, we can see a clear segmentation of brands, from the “Gods” of the luxury industry (e.g. Hermés) to mass-market fashion retailers that are pushing to cover more than a basic need. This is what Zara is doing thanks to a fast-fashion business orientation, empowered with a best-in-class supply chain. The result is that Zara can react to trends or be “inspired” by the top fashion designer brands (e.g. Gucci and its famous designer Alessandro Michele). Zara can deliver these new products to their more than 2.200 stores in less than 2 weeks.

What are the most important variables that differentiate and rank brands in the pyramid?

Marketing: The most common tool and an important expense in the P&L of all luxury brands. (i.e. James Bond wears a suit from Tom Ford and the most famous celebrities are luxury fashion ambassadors).

Flagship Stores: Luxury fashion retailers bet for high street presence. Location is key.

Architecture/design: retailers are hiring well-known architects to create a special and unique atmosphere in their flagship stores (e.g. David Chipperfield, Renzo Piano, Zaha Hadid, Toyo Ito).

Temples: By temple I mean the new “museums” of Luxury houses, merging art and grandeur (e.g. La Fondation Louis Vuitton by Frank Gehry)

Customer Service: Best-in-class exclusive customer service and loyalty programs. (Some brands are doing exclusive sales in flats, just for a few customers. Others are coming to your place in order to provide a “made-to-measure dress or suit”). Read more about Fashion as a Service (FaaS).


Source: La Fondation Louis Vuitton

Experience: This concept has evolve because of the internet and brands are trying to offer an excellent customer experience in their stores, on the internet, thru their apps, in every single point of contact. This is why everyone is talking about the importance of Omnichannel. Brands are alive and storytelling it’s a must if they want to keep their special approach to their loyal customers.

Quality: It´s not all about marketing and experience. Quality is still a must in luxury fashion retailers. Customers are looking for handmade items and “Made in” is sacred (above all, Made in Italy and Made in France). This means that luxury retailers still produce most of their collections near shore. Off shore (e.g. China) is used to produce items for the aspirational customer, that is looking for an opening price level. In fact, Luxury retailers have evolved into vertical structured business in order to control the quality across the value chain. From fabric to retailing.

Exclusivity: Uniqueness is given because of scarcity. This applies to raw materials, (vicugna, the South American camelids that give some of the finest fibers in the world, at a diameter of 12 μm), skilled handmade labor or type (e.g. customization) and production quantity (e.g. Hermés Birkin bag waiting list).

Designers: Designers are the gods of the industry, with the permission of CEO that understand and make the business “possible”. A designer can destroy or honor a brand. See the case of Moschino revival with Jeremy Scott.



DNA: The fashion industry has something special compared to the rest of industries and this is DNA, roots and the history of their founders. Most of them are centenary, and they keep giving the essence of their founders. All have evolved and adapt to changes, as Darwin would suggest, but all are respectful with their values.

Top Luxury Fashion retailers from the pyramid – Update Pyramid (December 2020)

Is this pyramid immutable?

No. Brands evolve and consumers also. A wrong distribution strategy can have a negative effect on brand perception. This is the case of Ralph Lauren or Michael Kors, two premium brands that are struggling to compete in the luxury market because they are betting to every channel (wholesale, outlets, online…) and they are losing pricing control. When you are selling the same item in different channels, and price is different, customers will react. And Luxury is about uniqueness and if everyone has the same bag, it no longer becomes special. Brand positioning is flexible and to connect to new generations, to have a consistent distribution strategy and to deliver a unique and authentic experience are some of the key elements in order to succeed in the long term.

25 responses to “Maslow, evolution and Luxury Fashion”

  1. […] online. On the one hand, some platforms betting for a wide luxury offer (the ones on the top of the pyramid) like Yoox – Net a porter. By the way, we will see how the merge of Yoox and Net a Porter is […]

  2. […] I mentioned in a previous article about the luxury fashion pyramid , Michael Kors is located in the aspirational luxury segment. But after their uncontrolled growth […]

  3. […] Fondation Louis Vuitton. This is one of the key factors to position a brand in the luxury fashion pyramid. It´s a new Mecca for Louis Vuitton fans but also for general tourists that wants to visit an […]

  4. […] of leisure lead to the possibility to cover other needs apart from the physiological ones (see Maslow´s Pyramid in relation to fashion retail). Workers could spend their time doing sport or watching sports as […]

  5. […] retailers, because experience and story telling is something expected in any segment of the fashion pyramid. If you want to buy a basic product, you will use the internet and avoid a bad offline experience […]

  6. […] example of fast-rotation or low value-added category. It´s a fisiological need, at the bottom of Maslow´s pyramid. And this, it´s not […]

  7. […] customer is looking for a “product” here. It´s a physiological need, at the bottom of Maslow´s pyramid. Amazon will be a valuable shopping destination in this […]

  8. […] customer is looking for a “product” here. It´s a physiological need, at the bottom of Maslow´s pyramid. Amazon will be a valuable shopping destination in this […]

  9. […] and phylosophical animals and many have the chance to satisfy other needs than physiological ones. Maslow defined different levels of needs but the main idea is that humans are capable to be motivated by […]

  10. […] store should cover experiential and emotional needs while Online covers basic needs, the bottom of Maslow´s Pyramid. Therefore, bricks shouldn´t play the game of selling fashion as commodities or basics. […]

  11. […] also interesting to note that brand´s positioning in Maslow´s pyramid is not a decision of the company. I´ve heard many colleagues from the business industry explaining […]

  12. […] Cultures & the way we do architecture may have changed, because of advances in science & technology, but our needs – from physiological to spiritual – have not. We live, eat, sleep & procreate in the same way. However, today our largest buildings are shopping malls, as fewer people are motivated by organized religion. We worship the material, so these large structures express our concept of our greatest need: to consume as much as we can. (re. buildings) //  (re. Fashion needs) […]

  13. […] utilitarian asset, because fashion is not only about covering physiological needs, as described in Maslow´s Pyramid. Some categories are more seasonal than others, and fashionability also impacts on usage patterns. […]

  14. […] Purchases will be prioritized according the purchasers answers. Again, Bansky is playing with psychological factors as paying is not enough to ensure owning the piece of […]

  15. […] business is a digital business. Technology, big data and analytics are the enablers of the current hyper-segmentation that the business of fashion is living: segmented design, segmented manufacturing, segmented […]

  16. […] less intermediaries to control the authentic brand experience. In fact, and taking Maslow´s pyramidof needs as example,  Nike doesn´t sell shoes (phisiological need) but a way of life […]

  17. […] some leading companies are already segmenting their customers not by group but individually. How? Experts call it Curated Merchandise […]

  18. This is such good knowledge. Thank you!!!

  19. […] Retail Paradigm, I commented on how brand-consumer relationship is changing depending to the Pyramid of Fashion.  In the lower segment of the pyramid, low-cost mass-market brands are struggling to compete […]

  20. […] has proven to be efficient when it comes to cover “functional needs” according to Maslow´s hierarchy. For some product categories, and shopping missions, visiting a store is not worth. […]

  21. […] cold or hot conditions) to self-actualization needs (i.e. lifestyle, status), as described on the Fashion Pyramid. Depending on the need, renewing your “old” clothes will be more or less […]

  22. […] is like the pyramid of Maslow (physiological to self-actualization needs). In this case, you save money purchasing essential […]

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