Louis Vuitton’s no-longer secret weapon in the handbag wars

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To kick off the Paris shows, the final leg in the marathon that are the modern ready-to-wear collections, Louis Vuitton did something I can’t ever remember them doing before: they announced the name of their new accessories designer with all the hoo-ha and accolades that usually come with the unveiling of a new creative director. Step forth Darren Sapziani, a grad of Central St Martins and former LV employee (2004-2006). He will work on “the design and development for Louis Vuitton of new lines of very high-end leathergoods products which will be complementary to existing collections”, according to the announcement. In the luxury power structure, things they are a-changin’.

“He is one of the most talented designers of his generation…and he will bring his modern vision and great professionalism to Louis Vuitton’s creations” – so sayeth Delphine Arnault, LV deputy general manager.

Wait! Delphine Arnault? Not her father, Bernard Arnault, or her boss, Vuitton CEO Michael Burke? Nope. So what are we to make of these one-two punch novelties?

Here’s what I think:

1) In case anyone doubted it, accessories are key to profits. There has been a lot of talk at LVMH about the decision to take Vuitton further upmarket as Chinese consumers turn away from basic logo products (and as rivals Bottega Veneta and Hermes report zooming numbers), and this seems like a conscious step in that direction. It is a public statement that they will get the same attention and creative skill previously lavished on the clothes.

After all, every brand under the sun has specialised accessories designers – indeed, Frida Giannini, creative director of Gucci, was originally hired by the brand to do accessories; ditto Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino – just as they have womenswear directors. But I can’t think of any, other than Fendi, where bag maestro Silvia Fendi takes a bow on the runway alongside Karl Lagerfeld, that will actually reveal who they are.

They are supposed to toil away in the background under the leadership of the overall creative director, who is the public face of the brand. Not anymore, I guess. It’s telling that in the announcement about Mr Spaziani’s arrival, creative director Marc Jacobs WAS NOT MENTIONED AT ALL. Which makes me wonder…

Will it work to have a team of rivals at the creative top of a brand? It does for Fendi, where Mr Burke was formerly CEO, so perhaps this move should have been expected, but it didn’t for Gucci, where, after Tom Ford left, owner Kering (then PPR) appointed three creative directors – one for womenswear, one for menswear and one for accessories —a situation that lasted exactly two seasons until Ms Giannini got it all. A house divided cannot stand, and all that.

2) Michael Burke, who became CEO last December, is getting his team together, and that includes Ms Arnault, appointed in June, as well as her co-deputy (who for some reason gets no gossip time), Christophe Zanardi-Landi, and now Mr Spaziani. Which is sure to lead to further fueling of the rumours, rampant during the last few weeks, that the change of executives and upjigging of strategy may lead to a change in designer. Not least because Mr Spaziani previously worked at Balenciaga, with then-designer Nicolas Ghesquiere, currently the person most-rumoured to be the leading candidate for LV creative director if there was a change. Which we don’t know.

(Just FYI: yet again someone said to me the other day, “Marc Jacobs’ contract is up,” which is not true – he has a contract in perpetuity, which doesn’t mean it can’t end, but simply that there is no particular contractual reason it should end now, so can we please stop using that as an excuse/explanation?)

Meanwhile, Ms Arnault is clearly in charge of accessories/creatives, which is yet another reason to be believe it is being given renewed emphasis/energy. All those people who said handbags were over and shoes were the new IT object? Maybe not.

Anyway, will be interesting to see how this one plays out.