China

According to a new report published today by the Digital Luxury Group, Chanel has ousted Louis Vuitton for the first time as the most-searched-for luxury brand in China (that’s their Beijing store, below). Rock our little velvet-lined world. Especially because why is one of the best arguments I’ve yet heard for why a brand needs to hit every luxury market segment.

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These days we all hold certain truths to be self-evident: 1) that the Chinese market, while slowing, is still expected to be the biggest fashion market in the world; 2) that the Chinese are attracted to the idea of European heritage and skills; 3) that there is an increasing drive in China to support home-grown design (or to create it); 4) that the Europeans are trying to figure out how to exploit all those two realities to their own profit. Hence, for example, Kering’s purchase last year of Qeelin, the Chinese jewellery brand, and hence Iceberg’s decision to partner with Chinese video artist Yi Zhou for a capsule collection of menswear, womenswear, and accessories, to be launched next Christmas. What’s interesting about both these choices is they are focused much more on East than West. Fair enough: you go where the money is. And with the Iceberg case we reach example number 2 of this approach, thus bringing us ever-closer to critical mass for a trend.
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Stuart McCullough, the CEO of Woolmark, wants to relaunch wool as a brand. A luxury brand. Woolmark, of course, is already a logo, and there are unquestionably luxury fibres (see cashmere, vicuna, silk), but to turn a fibre itself into a brand seems like – well, a challenge. Isn’t it a material? Can materials be brands? Is this the ultimate example of the contemporary belief that everything, but everything – people, dogs, washing machines – can be a brand? Maybe. But the does have two recent developments going for him. Read more

We’re used to hearing about how this luxury brand is suing that web site for false advertising, and that one is suing that third party enabler for allowing other to sell counterfeit products, and yet another is suing for a product that looks a little too much like their existing product (OK, can anyone say LVMHand Google or eBay? Gucci and Guess?), but this is largely because the big guys, who have the most money, make the most noise. In fact, talk to the legal set and one of the greatest problems facing young designers in a globalised world is “trade-mark squatting.” Thus far, it’s mostly caused a lot of breast-beating and wallet-opening, but now one young designer has come up with a solution of sorts.

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So Havas Media got back to me with the rankings of the Top 50 meaningful global brands (you may remember, no luxury brand made the top 25), and guess what? We finally see some luxury names. Even more interesting, however, is the geographic breakdown of where those luxury names appear – and the fact that all that ubiquity conventional wisdom has is bad for luxury may actually help make it meaningful to more.

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We all know menswear is seen as a Great Luxury Hope, what with the Chinese market being driven by male consumers with money. Hence the Kering acquisition of Brioni; LVMH focusing on Berluti and buying French made-to-measure tailor Arnys to make apparel; Hermes and Coach opening mensonly shops, and so on. Now, however, it seems the on-line folks are also thinking along these lines. Yesterday MenInvest, the slightly cringe-worthy-named Paris-based e-commerce group bought the even odder named upmarket UK site Oki-ni.com, which specialises in “cutting-edge” menswear, for an undisclosed sum.

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So the other day I was chatting with Safilo CEO Roberto Vedovotto, trying to get to the root of the explosion in optics – they’re fast catching up to handbags as the super-accessory of choice – when he threw out an interesting theory: it’s the baby boomers, stupid. Read more

Though much has been made of the fact that the luxury sector, which has been on a rocket to the moon, growth-wise, is finally slowing –Bain predicts 4-6% for the next two years – a new “UK Luxury Benchmark Study” from Walpole, the British luxury consortium, and Ledbury Research, begs to differ, at least when it comes to the UK. It’s full of surprises! Read more

Interesting news today that fursales are at “a record high”, especially in the Far East: Korea, China and so on. So does this mean the animal rights folks have lost? They certainly haven’t ceded the cause – they still pop up on occasion in front of a show (Prada, last season) or a store (Burberry), but I think it has proved more complicated than they ever anticipated. Because they aren’t just fighting a basic totem of luxury, and an industry that is increasingly getting out in front of the issue (see the Origin Assured initiative), but the whole problem of seasonality: the end of.

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I had a very illuminating chat yesterday with Jimmy Choo chief executive Pierre Denis. He’s been in the job not quite a year now (previously he was ceo of John Galliano, so you can understand the job change), and has started to articulate the brand’s story going forward. Put simply: it’s history, people. Read more

Ledbury Research is releasing its latest Luxury Market Insights report, which includes a CEO Outlook study tomorrow, and guess what? Those chief execs aren’t totally convinced the Chinese consumer demand for luxury, which has been slowing, will zoom back, despite what they often say.

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The rest of the luxury world may be quailing in the face of an Asian slowdown; Cassandras may crying doom! as the new Chinese political regime cracks down on bribery and obvious bling; Europe may be seeing flat or no growth, but you’d never know it to look at the Prada Group’s results. Today the Italian luxury Group, which includes Prada, Miu Miu, Car Shoe and Church’s, and is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, reported consolidated net revenues of Euro 3,297 million, a 29% increase (+23% at constant exchange rates) over 2011, making its earnings per share — up 41% in 2012 (from Euro 0.17 in 2011, to Euro 0.24) – the highest in luxury according to a recent report from HSBC.

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Yesterday Farfetch.com, the ecommerce site that acts like a portal between global consumers and global independent boutiques, both editing their offerings and connecting either side, announced $20m in new funding, largely from Condé Nast International. A few days before, Luxup, a UK-based ecommerce travel site that aimed to create a “club” of tourists eager for insider shopping experiences, ceased trading. When such things happen in parallel, it’s tempting to try to find lots of lessons in the news.

What are they? Read more

Much has been made in the US of Heart magazine’s new “ShopBazaar,” a web site linked to their high-fashion flagship title that allows you to effectively shop most of the pages of the book on-line. While such editorial-commercial links are not exactly new, however, what I hadn’t realised, because they’ve been keeping rather mum about it, is that is only ONE of Hearst’s “experiments” in the space – or so explained Duncan Edwards, President of Hearst International, when we were talking earlier this week. The company had a few different such “trials” going on around the world. Trials? Read more

Hong Kong’s sizeable British expat community is getting excited about next year’s opening of Topshop in the city’s central business district.

But they are not the only reason why Sir Philip Green has decided to open the British brand’s first permanent outlet in greater China.

The city is a favourite holiday destination for mainland China’s growing middle class, who flock to the tax-free special administrative region to shop, and also an international financial centre passed through by many visitors already familiar with the brand. Locals also have among the highest spending power in the region.

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PPR’s announcement last night that they had bought a majority stake in baby Chinese jewellery brand Qeelin – it was launched in 2004 by Dennis Chan and Guillaume Brochard– marks the third move on the part of French group with an Asian dimension. You know what that means: I smell a trend. Read more

Two interesting announcements this morning, both of which are worth examining: First Labelux announces instead of embracing (and chasing) hard luxury, it is exiting the segment to focus entirely on leathergoods; then Mulberry rejects the outlet model to take its bags and other products further up-market. The moves are complementary, in the context of general industry strategy. They both indicate that in the highly competitive world of leathergoods, current theory says it’s the most special, elaborate, highly worked pieces that sell.
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The news that LA-based private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners may take a 25% stake in Topshop and Topman has the high street all aflutter, largely because of the billion plus valuations it puts on the brands. However, it makes sense for a lot of reasons, and provides some fun fodder for sepculation. Let’s plunge in! Read more

For absolutely riveting reading, let me recommend the first ever World Handbag Report. It’s a collation of 120 million internet searches in 10 markets via four search engines (Google, Bing, Bai du, etc) by the Digital Luxury Group, and is it full of surprising facts – most notably, how incredibly imbalanced the handbag market is. The brands with big market share of search have BIG market share. The rest, well…have piddly squat. Read more

Check out the picture below of the incoming members of the Politburo Standing Committee. Those ties! Those suits! That hair parting. If, as my colleagues point out today, the reduction in membership of China’s ruling committee from nine to seven is “an effort to make collective decision-making less contentious and more efficient,” this gives new meaning to the idea of sartorial unity. Read more