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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.