Stella McCartney

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 was talking to Geraldo da Conceicao, Sonia Rykiel’s new creative director, about his plans for the brand, when he said something that surprised me. “I want us to be an accessible luxury brand,” he announced. Hmmm, I responded: “So you are dropping your price points?” He looked confused. “No, not at all. In fact, they are probably going up.” Now it was my turn to be puzzled.

 

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It doesn’t rain but it pours! Following Swatch’s purchase of Harry Winston, PPR has announced it has bought 51 per cent of hot young British brand Christopher Kane. That’s him, left, with stylist Caroline Seiber.

This marks the third British ready-to-wear brand owned by the French Group (it also has a joint venture with Stella McCartney and 51 per cent of Alexander McQueen), the first such young brand acquisition by a major luxury group since the recession, and the third in a series of PPR purchases: first Italian menswear brand Brioni, then Chinese jewellery brand Qeelin, and now Kane. It is up to something, no question. Where some see risk – buying a luxury brand at a time when consumer attitudes towards luxury itself are uncertain and China, aka the promised land, is experiencing a slowdown – they clearly see opportunity. 

I did a fairly long interview with Francois-Henri Pinault, ceo of PPR, that’s running in the paper next week, about the way he thinks of his luxury brands, but in the process of talking Mr Pinault dropped some titbits I wanted to pass on. Here are three juicy ones. 

Not only did Hermès report notably good Q2 revenues today – sales growth was 21.9%, certainly more positive than the gloom from Puma and Burberry – but yesterday I discovered something even more shocking: they’re outfitting an Olympic team too! Specifically, the French Equestrian team. Who knew? 

The question of “what will they do the next?” has been answered: after collaborations with Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli, and, most recently, Marni, H&M has unveiled what is perhaps its most counter-intuitive creative partner to date: the brand famed for its deconstructivist approach, Maison Martin Margiela. You could say it has mystique, but it’s a mystique of the conceptual, and this is, by definition niche. H&M is by definition not niche, so it seems to me we are faced with something of an oxymoron here. 

If there were an Olympic medal for retail (and why not, given the ever-burgeoning sponsorship opportunities?) Stella McCartney would win the first one by a mile.

British athletes, triple jumper Phillips Idowu (L) and heptathlete Jessica Ennis (R) pose with designer Stella McCartney (C) as they unveil the new British Olympic Team GB kit. Getty Images

British athletes, triple jumper Phillips Idowu (L) and heptathlete Jessica Ennis (R) pose with designer Stella McCartney (C) as they unveil the new British Olympic Team GB kit. Getty Images

While the rest of London is complaining about queues at the airport, queues for the tube, and queues for queues, the “Creative Director” of Team GB’s kit is leveraging her moment in the athletic sun far beyond her competitors. Indeed, I’d venture to say a new record has been set that will be a benchmark for years to come. 

What high-end brands do those unpredictable but desirable, virtually-enabled, live-life-on-Facebook twentysomethings like? This is a question that obsesses luxury — after all, some chunk of said twentysomethings will become the luxury purchasers of the future, and knowing what they respond to is one of the great mysteries of today and potential cash cows of tomorrow. The other day I had an experience that gave me some clues as to the possible answers. And it’s not what you (OK, I) might expect.
 

Today at their AGM PPR came out and did two things that I don’t think any other luxury brand has done so far: publicly put its money where its mouth is, officially committing to a group of specific environmental goals for the Group to reach by 2016 and announcing them for all to see (and measure, and wave critically in the air in the company fails to fulfill them), and financially committing to a carbon off-shoot company by buying a 5% stake in Wildlife Works Carbon and getting a seat on the management committee. It all sounds great, but what does it really mean?
 

There’s been a bit of a hoo-ha over the last few days in NYC over a video Stella McCartney made for People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals to convince fashionistas, in town for the ready-to-wear shows (which start tomorrow) that buying leather is bad: for them, the environment, and the cows.

Interestingly, the kerfuffle does not have to do, as one might assume, with the politics of the spot, or the graphic nature of the video (and how they may, or may not, kill the cows), but rather consumer access.