Mineaki Saito

Fashion industry veteran Mineaki Saito thinks luxury needs an update, and he’s hoping Japan, with its embedded national philosophy of zen, can lead the way.

The founder of Scenery International, who spent years working at Hermès and to this day remains Paris-based, has observed that traditional luxury houses work on what can be argued is an outdated model.

“Luxury brands’ business models were built more than a century ago but is still effective because of these new markets appearing,” he said.

“There’s China, Russia and all these different emerging markets [that] are the main targets for luxury brands. After that, you still have Brazil, India, Africa, all these different [places] coming up,” he said. “I think it’s time to see a new luxury brand.…I’m talking about spiritual or emotional luxury.”

Japan, with its deep roots in Zen Buddhism, is well placed to offer up a kind of spiritual rather than material luxury, he believes. The key question Saito believes forward-thinking brands and consumers should ask themselves, he said, is “if you use that object in your life, does it give you peace of mind?”

This type of luxury would also prize inclusiveness over exclusivity.

“It’s not like you’re eating while others cannot eat. It’s not like you have something that nobody else can have. Maybe by using that product you’re contributing back to society. That’s the new definition of luxury….In Japan, we talk about zen, and zen gives you peace.”

Saito said the power of Made in Japan has lost momentum after several exceptional years in the Nineties.

“If you look at what’s happening now, if you look at Tokyo Fashion Week, it’s not very strong,” he commented, adding that Japanese designers are sometimes more heralded outside the country than in it.

He related that stunting of creative power has been tied to the changes in domestic manufacturing, a sector that has undergone even more dramatic shifts. Manufacturing represents just 2 percent of the Japanese economy, dropping from 50 percent in the Nineties.

While Japan has quality fashion craftsmanship, it tends to rest in very traditional products like the tatami and kimono, which even modern Japanese society has relegated to the past.

“If you want to take these products we used in the past to overseas, it would be very challenging,” Saito noted. However, he also pointed to bright spots.

“Made in Japan is very much appreciated because of good quality and good design and everybody knows that,” Saito said. “The Japanese cherish natural ingredients and materials and this is a very big feature of our traditional industry, and we should exploit that strength and reflect that in our new products.”

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