Richemont

Just after Burberry’s nice third quarter results prompted a rash of headlines (including in this paper) about positive returns “easing [the industry’s] China slowdown fears,” especially when combined with similar happy stories from Swatch and Tiffany, today we came down to earth with a bump courtesy of Richemont. In their third quarter trading statement, things looked not so rosy in China. In fact, they looked pretty doldrum-like. 

Whoopee: the very fun holiday game of “Who’s Going to Buy Who Next Year?” has officially begun with a launch entry from Bernstein Research, an arm of AllianceBernstein. And what are they thinking? Watches. Watches and jewellery galore. 

The analysts are not happy. Chairman Yves-André Istel’s statement at the Richemont earnings report today that “No disposals are under consideration at this time or for the foreseeable future.” has been met with grim reaction in the city, which was hoping that Johan Rupert’s sabbatical, and the new leadership of co-CEOS Bernard Fornas and Richard Lepeuwould opt for a rationalisation of the Group, where the fashion brands – Chloe, Alfred Dunhill, Lancel, Shanghai Tang, Alaia – have always seemed an anomaly. Clearly, there’s something of a perception gap here between internal and external players. Why? 

The announcement that came along with Richemont’s 2012 annual results this morning that chairman Johan Rupert (left), is taking a year off from running the world’s second biggest luxury company starting this September is by far, to me at least, the most interesting part of the statement. For a man who has built the largest watch and jewellery Group to take a year off at age 62 – which, let’s face is not so old — at a time when the exponential growth trajectory of the luxury sector has started to slow is a little, well, surprising. And leads to all sorts of interesting speculation.

 

Ledbury Research is releasing its latest Luxury Market Insights report, which includes a CEO Outlook study tomorrow, and guess what? Those chief execs aren’t totally convinced the Chinese consumer demand for luxury, which has been slowing, will zoom back, despite what they often say.

 

Earlier today I wrote about the odd idea that came to me after reading Bain’s 11th Luxury Goods Market report, but now I’d like to simply list a few more notable — and surprising — conclusions from that exciting document, including facts on outlet shopping, Gen Z, and a new Chinese consumer segment. 

This has been a good week for Richemont’s fashion brands. Tonight a Chloe retrospective opens at the Palais de Tokyo, and last weekend Lady Gaga gave a shout-out in front of millions of fans at the Stade de France to the designer Azzedine Alaia, calling him a genius. You know what that means: sales! 

Take that, PPR! You’re not the only luxury player on the block that’s recognised the potential of “sports lifestyle” brands (though you may be the only one with an entire division, and strategy, dedicated to the sector). Compagnie Financiere Richemont, the Swiss luxury group that is normally known for its watch and jewellery expertise – they own Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Piaget, Jaeger LeCoutre, and so on – just announced it has acquired US-based high-end casual clothing/golf brand Peter Millar. The move raises so many interesting questions! 

Last May, Johan Rupert, Richemont’s chairman, issued what is still my favourite quote on the subject of China and luxury, the implication of which was: China is a volcano, and it’s gonna blow. But when? This is, numerous luxury brand H1 results now in, the question bedevilling analysts, investors, and the brands themselves. 

Here’s a tip: go poke through the applications for ICANN’s new top-level domain name program – you know, the one that will allow companies to have their own .whatever denomination, instead of just .com or .org or .fr. It makes for fascinating reading. You’d think this would get luxury and fashion all a-lather, given their obsession with brand control and intellectual property protection and all that, but it seems not.