Labelux

Anya Hindmarch is going to be late. I know this because her office emailed me twice on the day of our dinner to alert me to the probability; she is coming from a meeting with Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street and we are eating downtown and, well … traffic.

The other day I discovered The LiP, aka Luxury in Progress, aka Labelux’s on-line luxury site (launched wholly under the radar), and was struck by how much it resembled Nowness, LVMH’s on-line video site, in the way it separated company values from object. Luxury marketing without product pushing! What an idea. It works, theoretically at least, on four levels.

 

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.
 

Labelux, the German conglomerate founded in 2007 by Joh A. Benckiser SA, the holding company of the reclusive Reimann family, to “be a significant new global player in the luxury goods market; one which could benefit from the underlying trends which support the long-term growth of the luxury industry” (this according to their web site), has never really gotten out of the outfield — to borrow some metaphors from the Romney campaign. Though they snapped up some big names, including Jimmy Choo, Bally, Derek Lam, Belstaff, Zagliani and Solange Azagury-Partridge, their point of difference was never clear, nor their vision for the Group as a whole, never mind the individual parts. Yesterday, however, things started to change. 

Yesterday LNK Partners, a White Plains, NY-based P.E. firm, announced they had closed a second $400 million fund (oversubscribed, natch), specifically aimed at investing in “the consumer/retail sector.” Yes, yet more proof that all of us who thought when Permira sold Valentino to the Qatari royal family, it marked the end of PE’s brief flirtation with the unpredictable world of fashion were wrong. There’s life in that there investment relationship yet. 

For anyone wondering why a few days ago there was another post on this blog about Jimmy Choo’s new bridal collection — and then there wasn’t: mea culpa.

There’s an industry truism which holds that fashion brands should focus, publicly at least, on their “fashion” lines — the ones that change every season, demonstrate their “vision” and drive consumers into stores — as opposed to their more commercial endeavours (e.g. bridal). 

Not so long ago I spoke to Tamara Mellon about Labelux, the German luxury group that is privately owned by the reclusive Reimann family, and the fact they had bought her company, Jimmy Choo, from TowerBrook private equity. She was thrilled. And yet, here we are, a mere half year later, and Ms Mellon and her CEO, Josh Schulman, have both resigned. What happened?

 

Labelux has splurged on yet another brand, though “splurge” might be an exaggeration – they wouldn’t disclose how much it cost. But just two weeks after snapping up Jimmy Choo from TowerBrook, Labelux, the private, Vienna-based luxury group owned by Joh A. Benckhiser SE, a holding company owned in turn by the reclusive Reimann family, has bought Belstaff, of biker leather chic fame.  

Sometimes in fashion it’s hard to see the trees for the forest. The dramas at Dior and Balmain have taken up so many column inches they have pretty much overshadowed everything else, including designer Vanessa Seward leaving Azzaro and now creative director Mauro Orietti (along with his father, production director Mario Orietti) leaving Zagliani, the Italian handbag company that achieved outsize notoriety for Mr Orietti’s patented use of Botox to make reptile skins particularly malleable. Except the latter is not going gently into that good night, and in his story lies a particularly contemporary moral.

 

Oh, the tangled web these luxury moguls weave. We all know about Bernard Arnault and Francois-Henri Pinault, but how about those Reimanns? Granted, the name doesn’t rhyme as well with their rivals, but the German billionaires are creeping down the luxury acquisition warpath led by executive Peter Harf.