Louis Vuitton

This will be my last post for 2012, barring an extraordinary luxury industry news event. However, before I don my skidoo suit, I wanted to leave you with two thoughts: one has to do with the new luxury buzzword, and the other with a new kind of luxury group.

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The annoucement today that Michael Burke, one of LVMH’s longest-serving executives, would become chief executive of Louis Vuitton, LVMH’s biggest brand, was an interesting one. Not because it reflects any Machiavellian planning on the part of the Group — Mr Burke’s predessecor, Jordi Constans, who had joined Vuitton from Danone, was forced to step down for health reasons — but because it’s a very safe decision on the part of LVMH.

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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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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

And so Mulberry joins that club no brand wants to be in: “luxury” brands that are experiencing surprising drops in demands and sales. Today they sent out a profit warning noting that due to a drop in wholesale revenues they “expect full year profits to be below last year.” Coming on the heels of Burberry’s profit warning last September, this is sure to send more luxury Chicken Littles scurrying through the streets crying that the sky is falling. This is wrong. It does not signal the end of luxury. It signals, rather, the end of the idea that consumers are suckers who will accept that anything is “luxury” that says it is so, and the rationalisation of the market.  Read more

For anyone still chortling over the end of the It bag – the laugh’s on you, if the folks at LVMH (who know their accessories), are to be believed. On the Q3 results conference call today both spokesperson Chris Hollis and CFO Jean-Jacques Guinoy specifically referred to handbags as engines of growth for not one but three—count ‘em! – of their brands. Read more

Today Bain released its 11th annual Luxury Goods worldwide Market Study, projecting that the luxury market growth will slow to about 10% a year, and then perhaps 4-6% for the next two years, and that all the slack won’t be picked up by China, which is also slowing. When Burberry first noted this trend, the reaction was largely “shock, horror!”, and their stock dropped 20%. However, I wonder if long-term this slowdown might not actually be a useful thing.
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Recently I was talking to James Carsellis, the entrepreneur behind web start-up Luxup, and he mentioned the theory that Europe was becoming a luxury goods Disneyland for emerging market consumers. You know: a place where the entertainment value/point lies in shopping for expensive stuff. I don’t think the comparison is that far-fetched.
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The branded jewellery game, long viewed as an area with the least players and the biggest potential pay-off, has a new entrant: Versace, which just announced it will introduce its first high jewellery line (one-off creations with emeralds, diamonds, etc) this Sunday during its couture show at the Paris Ritz. I’ll see your collection and raise you! Read more

After Nicole Kidman, after Audrey Tatou, after Carol Bouquet, comes…Brad Pitt? Chanel has just announced the latter will be the new, and first male, face of their cash cow product, aka the perfume Chanel No 5, aka the one of the best-selling perfumes in the world — since it debuted 1921. Now, that’s a surprise. Mr Pitt’s appointment, not the success of the scent.

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When the iPad 3 went on-sale at midnight last friday night it provoked the usual frenzy — miles of lines, ecstatic buyers — as well as one very interesting blog that somehow seems to have fallen through the cracks over the weekend. It takes a good, analytic look at the general perception that Apple is a luxury brand and points out that it does tick all the luxury boxes save one: exclusivity. But here’s what I wonder: is exclusivity really a luxury value these days?

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Q: When is a hand bag not just a handbag ?

A: When it is also a piece of high jewellery and a sculptural object.

The crocodile skin and diamond Hermès bag (photo by Dan Tobin Smith)

Such is the case, anyway, with Hermès’s second foray into haute bijouterie (as opposed to haute joaillerie — the former starts with outrageous designs, the latter with mega stones). Their jeweller and shoe maestro Pierre Hardy created four different mini-handbags, in part inspired by the brand’s iconic handbags, using gold and a LOT of precious stones. They are each functionally a “bracelet” and they actually work as (very small) handbags.In theory, anyway.

It seems to me the idea of anyone actually carrying a handbag worth €1.5m and made of intertwining chains covered in 11,000 diamonds, or a rose gold version of the Kelly bag with crocodile scales and 1,160 diamonds is a little nuts, and I mentioned this to Patrick Thomas, the CEO of the brand. He laughed. Read more

In the battle about counterfeits and control of the web that has pitted Google, Facebook and their techneprenuer kin against content producers from Hollywood and the music industry, with congress apparently caught in the middle, little mention has been made of fashion — which is odd, because fashion, especially the luxury end, has been actively policing on-line piracy, and insisting on third party responsibility (eBay, Google) for years.

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Today ex-P&G marketing guru Jim Stengel lists his top 50 brands of the last decade (out of 50,000) as judged by performance, consumer loyalty, and growth. These included the expected names like Apple, Starbucks and Amazon, as well as some less expected: the only fashion/luxury brands that make the list are — wait for it — Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, and Louis Vuitton. Surprised? How about now: Mr Stengel attributes their success largely to four factors, one of which is CEOs who are “artist-businessmen.” Read more

I had a very interesting conversation with a Calvin Kleiner this morning as we were waiting for the company’s pre-collection show to start. He had just come back from their latest store opening — at a mall in Toronto.

“Toronto?” quoth I, dubiously. “Is that a big market for Calvin Klein?” Read more

Who is fashion week for? The fact that this is a pressing question has suddenly become as clear as the plaid on a kilt thanks to British Vogue’s web site, which today launched a new initiative: “On-line Fashion Week,” which points up a growing schism in the fashion world.
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Art and fashion have had a notoriously long affair, with the former attracted to the glamour and glitz of the latter, and the latter attracted to the former for the creative legitimacy it can bestow on an essentially commercial endeavor, but rarely has one actually crossed over into the territory of the other. As of this Christmas season, however, Marc Quinn — he of Saatchi Young British Artists, “blood head”, and Traflager Square plinth/disabled marble bust fame – is breaking the rules.

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Dior handbag

Dior handbag. Image by Vanessa Friedman.

Forget the sense of nostalgia and farewell that pervaded Marc Jacobs’ sugar-sweet Louis Vuitton show, the clothes full of couture constructions as if an audition for a couture house; something happened yesterday at Christian Dior that had a very MJ-feel.

To be specific: the brand unveiled a new collaboration with the German artist Anselm Reyle that will be in-store for a limited time from  January until March, and involved pop art-like neon camouflage and metallics on the famous Miss Dior bag, as well as little flats and wedges, some bangles, and even a makeup line. Read more

What is with these French fashion houses? Do they not get enough attention?

New York fashion? What’s that? Read more

Recently I was at the unveiling of the new line of UGG Australia boots – you know, those squishy sheepskin booties that looks like slippers and became hugely trendy after movie stars like Kate Hudson started wearing them with shorts to get their Starbucks. Anyway, these UGGs were not those UGGs. These UGGs were all Made in Italy, mostly sporting very high heels or wedges, and priced not an average of $150, but an average of $1095. Yes, UGG, one of the defining styles of modern mass market cool, wants in on luxury. But does luxury want in on UGG?
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