Luxury goods

Louis Vuitton is unveiling a new group of celebrity “ambassadors’ today via their web site, and it’s not who you might expect: instead of actress Michelle Williams, who currently fronts their women’s bag campaign, or Angelina Jolie, who has plugged the heritage line, we have a star-studded line-up of… Atiq Rahimi, a French-Afghan author and movie director whose book, “the Patience Stone” won the Prix Goncourt; Tom Reiss, whose biography, “The Black Count:” about the “real” Count of Monte Cristo just won the Pulitzer; political consultant Felix Marquardt (who has advised the Presidents of Colombia, Georgia and Panama) and Dr. Gino Yu of Hong Kong Polytechnic university and Lourenço Bustani, CEO of Mandalah, who is spearheading the cultural planning of Brazil’s 2016 Olympics — all photographed at the most recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland. So here’s the question: is this a super-clever new way of thinking about marketing, or a velvet rope that will prove too much of a barrier to entry even for the insiders? Read more

Maud Lescroart, the CMO of Sophie Hallett, the family-run French lace maker that seems to supply – well, pretty much everyone in fashion – is in New York this week for Wedding Week, and stopped by the office the other day to discuss her company’s life since the royal wedding (Hallett supplied the lace that covered the bodice of Kate Middleton’s Sarah Burton Alexander McQueen gown). Between four key factors: 1) the spotlight cast by the palace fairy tale; 2) the focus on the hand-made and heritage as key to luxury’s appeal; 3) the growing attention to CSR and the desire to control all parts of the supply chain; and 4) and the imperative in the luxury industry to ensure a reliable source of key materials, which has seen big groups buying up skins houses (LVMH and Heng Long; Hermes and Tanneries d’Annonay) and cashmere specialists (LVMH’s purchase of Loro Piana in 2013; Chanel’s purchase of Barrie knitwear in 2012), they have gone from behind-the-scenes player to suddenly very hot property. Read more

What happens when you are a Russian designer who shows in Paris and imports all your materials (except hand-made lace) from abroad, and suddenly your currency falls 30% thanks to an international crisis, and your country’s image gets a little..shall we say…darkened in the eyes of the luxury consumer world? This is the situation currently facing Ulyana Sergeenko (left), the Moscow-based socialite-turned-designer who shows on the Paris couture schedule and who has made something of a mission of preserving and promoting traditional Russian dress and craft and selling it as high-fashion. She was in NYC the other day and stopped by the FT with her brand manager Frol Burimskiy to discuss it. For her, the potential damage is not just about expenses, but identity. Read more

The news that PVH has bought an undisclosed minority stake in Karl Lagerfeld’s namesake brand (otherwise owned by Apax), thus allowing them first dibs on the brand’s entry in North America, has got all my something-is-happening sensors twitching. Seems to me they are sneaking up on dominance of a market segment. Read more

The subject of feminism and fashion, with all its complicated associations, has been percolating along for a season now – ever since Rick Owens’ step dancer show for spring/summer — and for anyone who though it was just a trendy thing, a group of occurrences this week ought to put that idea to rest. If anything, the commitment is being upped. Read more

ack from Prada’s investor day, analysts are musing over the future of the multi-billion euro Italian brand. To recap, after three years of scintillating growth, Prada (which is run by Patrizio Bertelli, center left, and his wife, Miuccia Prada, near left — both pictured with Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani) last year succumbed to the malaise that’s hit the luxury goods industry at large. Net income was flat last year compared with a 45 per cent growth in 2012, and declined in the fourth quarter. So what’s the suddenly-beleaguered brand to do? According to the Prada people: let them eat cake! No, that’s not a joke. Prada plans to help shrug off its slowdown by tapping a new trend in luxury and expanding its recently acquired Milanese coffee house Marchesi. Read more

Recently a new ranking – you know I can’t resist a ranking! – was release by the Ethisphere Institute, a US-based think tank that encourages good corporate practice, entitled “The World’s Most Ethical Companies”. And guess what? In all the 144 companies and 41 industries included, the only luxury companies on it were Shiseido and L’Oreal. Yup: no luxury clothing brands. No jewellers. Nada. Given how much lip service and is increasingly paid, and investment made, by luxury in the realm of ethics, this struck me as — well, striking. What, I wondered, was going on? Had we all been green-washed? Or was Ethisphere missing something? Read more

All the kvelling and anticipation, all the oh-my-god-wait-for-it-game-changer rumours that have had both the tech and fashion worlds on the edges of their respective metaphoric seats since last summer, when Apple started poaching luxury executives supposedly with an eye toward developing an iWatch – well, it turns out that has all been something of a sleight of hand: while we were staring in one direction, and competitors were rushing THEIR smartwatch to market, the folks in the super-secretive headquarters on the West Coast had other things up their sleeves. In fact, forget the iWatch entirely. Think iWear. Read more

After two weeks in the mountains of Wyoming, come home and what do I find? Not only is Mulberry without a CEO (and still without a designer), but all that conventional wisdom about the super-duper high-speed growth of the Chinese luxury market (shock! Trauma!) slowing down may have been wrong. Or not wrong, exactly, but slightly misguided. Read more

L’Wren Scott, the celebrated American fashion designer, has been found dead in New York after committing suicide, police sources confirmed on Monday.

The 49-year old launched her haute namesake brand – renowned for its understated, womanly elegance – in 2006, after earlier forays into the industry first as a teenage model then later as a highly sought after Hollywood stylist. Her glamorous, alpha woman designs had most recently found a home on the London Fashion Week calendar, orbited by her make-up, fragrance and accessories partnerships with some of the biggest names in fashion. Read more

During the penultimate day of the Paris ready-to-wear collections, just before the Alexander McQueen show, was an event that, given the circumstances, might strike many as odd.

There’s an interesting report in the FT today about declining sales of China’s local-brand cars, and it’s got me thinking about the benefits and problems of “national” brands – which is to say, not state-owned brands, but rather the perceptions surrounding the name of a country, ie its own brand, when attached to product, and the way this can work for and against manufacturers. Blame it on the Made in Italy and Made in France strategy the luxury industry so cannily implemented back in the day (a recent BCG/Altagamma/Sanford Bernstein Global Consumer Insight study found a whopping 80% of consumers think “Made in is key”) but seems to me, when it comes to consumers, products don’t just have to be good, they have to somehow come to grips with national stereotype, and either neuter it or exploit it. But what they can’t do is ignore it. Read more

This Sunday is the Oscars, which as we all know is the be-all and end-all of red carpet dressing, and may explain the notable lack of Hollywood celebrities at Paris Fashion Week thus far: they’re all back in Hollywood, juicing in order to get their stomachs flat. Or, in fact – and here’s what I am thinking – there may be something else going on. Something that has to do with changing markets, and marketing. Read more

Today the FT is reporting that Blackstone is the clear leader in the race for the Versace minority stake – which is surprising on the surface, given that the private equity firm has never made any forays into high fashion, and private equity as a sector has had mixed results in the sector, sic Permira and Valentino, and TPG and Bally. So why the mutual attraction? I was speculating with a colleague recently, and she mentioned what is probably the magic word: hotels. Aka the Next Big Brand extension of luxury. Read more

Today is travel day, as the fashion flock leaves Milan and heads to Paris, the last leg of the four-week marathon that is the womenswear collections, and often the week one that produces the most highs and lows and sheer spectacle. So what are we looking forward to? Four major debuts are taking place this week – more new names at old houses than in any other city. Here are the big ones to watch: Read more

LVMH has confirmed it has taken a minority stake in Young Italian Designer (we will not acronym that for obvious reasons) Marco de Vincenzo, making him the second such up-and-comer to receive such investment from the luxury behemoth, and underscoring the increasing competition among the established groups to identify, and potentially own, new talent. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but there’s no question, it’s putting its money where its mouth is. At least some money. Read more

It yet another indication that high end fashion brands see growth opportunity in charging ever-further upmarket, today Ralph Lauren (that’s their most recent show, left) named Valerie Hermann, latterly CEO of Reed Krakoff, as President of a newly created Luxury Division. This follows announcements by Louis Vuitton and Gucci that they see their future on the tippy-top of the luxury pyramid. At the same time, the move puts the Ralph Lauren strategy at odds with that of his fellow American “premium brand,” Michael Kors, whose phenomenal growth has been driven in large part by exploiting the price-point opening left when peers deserted the high end for the highest end. It suggest Mr Lauren is going after European competitors, as opposed to Mr Kors. Read more

OK, giant luxury conglomerates: time to think even more broadly about brand extensions. According to a new report from Boston Consulting Group, the luxury experiences market is now worth a whopping $980 billion (luxury experiences being defined as cars, art, home, tech, dining, hotels, travel, spas, yachting, etc.). Aka almost $1 trillion. By comparison, the personal luxury goods market is a piddling $390b. Now, where would YOU put your investment? Read more

All that stuff we’ve been hearing about the Chinese market moving toward the exclusive, the subtle, and the non-logo? It’s happening in beauty too. The other day I was chatting to Christophe Robin, the Paris hair colourist, and he mentioned that his line of products had really taken off in China. They’re called “Christophe Robin.” Heard of them? No? Well, that’s the point. “Last year sales were up 53%, and this year we think it will be 70%,” he said. Given that Bain reported luxury market growth of about 2.5% in China last year, that’s saying something. Read more

Bet corridors were buzzing over at Hermès yesterday when LVMH announced Francesco Trapani, the executive who engineered the sale of Bulgari to the French Group and was then elevated to head of LVMH’s Watch & Jewellery division, the better to ease the family firm’s incorporation into the LVMH fold, was stepping aside. He is to become a “senior advisor” to LVMH Chairman Bernard Arnault, and keep his seat on the board. LVMH didn’t say much about the move, other than to suggest the decision had been Mr Trapani’s, and that it was prompted by Bulgari’s successful integration – ie, his operational job was done. In the press release, though there was a quote from M Arnault about Mr Trapani’s contribution, Mr Trapani himself did not say anything at all, which was a little weird. Read more