Hermes

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. 

Sometimes I think over-protecting a brand may not, actually,be the best thing for the brand. Consider the news, making waves at fashion week, that Saint Laurent has decided to pull all its business from Colette, the Paris super-boutique so dear to the industry, because they are mad about it selling a brand-mocking T-shirt. The big, global company slaps down the little, independent boutique. So who looks like the bully here? It makes me wonder if they really weighed the public image consequences of their action. 

I’m amazed that fashion, which loves to complain about fashion weeks (which start this week!), has thus far said almost nothing about changes to the New York and Paris schedules. Maybe everyone is simply in end-of-summer re-entry shock and hasn’t had time to focus? Whatever the case, and despite the constant rumblings about the need to condense the season, truth is this time around New York and Paris have pulled a fast one that should extend their “weeks” by another day. Which may not seem like a big deal, until you start adding up the costs. 

The other day I was at a dinner arranged by the World Gold Council that featured the usual suspects – David Lamb, MD jewellery; jewellers Pamela Love and Janis Savitt – as well as one thing that was not like the others: Olivia Bolles, aka Olivia Bee, aka an 18-year-old photographic “protégé.” She had just started shooting the new “Love Gold” campaign, aimed at cooling-up the image of the yellow metal, which apparently suffers from a grandmother-complex among Gen Z. Which raises the question, is she a one-off, or the harbinger of change to come? 

So instead of buying Tiffany or Burberry, as long rumoured, LVMH has snapped up Italian brand Loro Piana, known for their baby cashmere and vicuna, which take soft to a whole other level. It’s a strategic move, on many levels that go far beyond quantifiable profit, even in a world obsessed with putting a number on that amorphous thing known as “brand equity.” There are a lot of reasons why, but if I had to pick the most important, I’d settle on the following: family.  

After Dolce & Gabbana, after LVMH & Hermes, now we have…Kering and Nicolas Ghesquière! Yup, the French Group is suing their former designer for saying bad things about them. Is it a smart move? I wonder. And who will really come out of it the winner? Depends how you define caring, I guess. 

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.

 

Interesting move on the part of incoming Hermès CEO/family member Axel Dumas to start off his leadership with an aggressive anti-LVMH statement. Presumably the idea was to do two things in one fell swoop: herald a new sheriff in town and demonstrate his toughness (despite his relative youth, at almost-43). I wonder, though, if it’s also doing a third, perhaps less intentional – or at least, less obvious: giving Hermès , aka the ultimate in classic luxury, some street-fighter edge. And if so, is it actually good for the company’s image, or a mistake? 

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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Two interesting developments today: Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy has announced that Bulgari, less a chief executive since Michael Burke was moved to Louis Vuitton last December, finally has a new leader: Jean-Christophe Babin, who for the past 13 years has been CEO of LVMH’s watch brand Tag Heuer.

And Hermès, which has publicly battled LVMH over the latter’s purchase of Hermès shares, has released news that 2012 sales (annual results are officially due out next month) were so good – up 22.6 per cent – that they predict “for the full year, given the excellent performance in the fourth quarter, the operating margin is expected to be slightly above the all-time high achieved in 2011″.