By  on May 8, 2006

NEW YORK — The luxury industry may have to adapt to a new moral compass point, industry executives said.

The mood at a conference on "New Directions for Luxury" last week at the Four Seasons here took an unexpected turn as some participants lamented the excess in the luxury market. They also implored their colleagues to increase the social responsibility of the industry and focus their efforts on returning to simple, high-quality products.

Speakers at the conference, sponsored by Vanity Fair magazine and Luxury briefing, pointed to artificial ski slopes in the deserts of Dubai, a glut of celebrity endorsements, dental bling and aspirational lifestyles run amok as evidence of a world that has lost sight of the meaning of luxury. Consumers are weary of excess, they said, noting that a turning point could be approaching.

"For every cash-happy Muscovite luxury enlists to its ranks, there are five others about to go AWOL," said Jeffrey Miller, creative consultant and columnist for Luxury Briefing. The feeling of never having enough for consumers is pervasive and, in the face of terrorism, global conflicts, toxins and other social forces, consumers are growing tired of the message, he warned.

"Embellish your brand with goodness and restore luxury to its lofty heights," Miller said.

Everyone has to find the point that is comfortable for their business, said Jim Gold, president and chief executive officer of Bergdorf Goodman. It's up to an individual company to operate responsibly and run successfully.

"The whole thing starts with how consumer-centric you are and where your customer is ... If you're in a multicultural and multinational world, luxury is relative," Gold said. A return to a quieter, understated luxury may follow over-commercialization, he said.

Consumer awareness has already prompted some shifts in the fashion industry. Fair trade-certified fabrics have found their way into major European retailers in response to the ethical concerns of customers. The luxury industry at large can continue to find a way to balance the wants and needs of its customers with global awareness.

"We just have to care," said Gordon Campbell Gray, chief executive officer of London's One Aldwych hotel and the Carlisle Bay resort in Antigua. "We have to care about every product in our stores."Luxury purveyors in all industries need to start caring about where and how products are made as well as the quality of the items themselves, he said. "As we move forward, we must care and get it right."

"You can't separate the product from geo-political reality," said Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter. "For luxury brands for a new generation of kids, if a company is not green, they will lose. With environmental issues right now, if a brand wants to be considered modern, it has to address this. To ignore it is to be old-fashioned and left in the last century."

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