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.

 

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.

 

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.
 

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. 

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.  

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. 

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.
 

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.
 

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! 

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.