Word choice in the luxury industry: the challenges of cross-border communication

Translation is the art of transferring meaning from one language to another in such a way as to create natural-sounding copy that is faithful to the original. And while style and register are important for any translation, this is all the more true in the luxury industry.


Finding the right word or turn of phrase

Luxury is a unique industry that stands out for the key concepts that define it. Excellence, tradition and know-how are just a few of the cornerstones of luxury brands, so when it comes to professional translation and copywriting, the importance of these concepts needs to be reflected in the language used across its various communication platforms. The whole identity of the House is at stake. The high-end nature of the products or services offered by these brands should be evident from the very first sentence, while avoiding pompous language or an excessively lofty tone.

This requires not only an expressive and eloquent writing style, but also the ability to choose the right words. There is some basic terminology to be familiar with, a sort of lexicon of luxury terms, which may vary from brand to brand, but which includes words that tend to be used across the industry as whole. For example, luxury brands tend to refer to themselves as a “house” or “maison” rather than “company”, and some of them will make “timepieces” instead of “watches”. Adjectives such as “exclusive”, “exceptional”, “emblematic” and “timeless” are also preferred. These words convey all the prestige associated with luxury.

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Translating for the luxury sector: evoking emotion

While the nature of a marketing text is of course to make consumers want to buy a brand’s product, subtlety is essential in the luxury sector. Evoking emotion through words is what makes a person want to become the lucky owner of an exceptional piece. The work of a translator must therefore go beyond simply transposing a text from one language to another. This is why it is often referred to as adaptation, or even “transcreation”. The text must recreate the brand’s image and have the same impact, faithfully reproducing its values and identity while being perfectly adapted to the culture of the target audience.

This is where the challenge lies. When adapting a text, you want to convey the same message from one country to another without sounding unnatural. It is also important to understand that notions of what constitutes luxury may vary from country to country, even region to region. What is ostentatious for some may be refined and discreet for others. Luxury takes many different forms. In China, for example, where the luxury industry is increasingly present, a high-end product is seen as a kind of social marker that indicates a person’s success. It is a symbol of a particular social status and must be clearly visible. In Western Europe, and particularly in France, luxury is becoming less and less associated with extravagance. While it remains synonymous with prestige, it is the exceptional technical expertise and know-how behind its manufacture that appeals to buyers.

In order to ensure a luxury house’s appeal to an international audience, it is vital to choose the right words for all its communication in every language.

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