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The Business of Fashion – Regulation, acquisition and the slowdown

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When the global financial meltdown struck in 2008, many of those with a vested interest in the luxury market watched nervously; high net worth individuals had surely seen many investments wiped out as the recession struck and would thus be more inclined to austerity. While there was a brief moment of humility and caution over indulgence in life’s finer things, it was brief. The luxury market proved surprisingly resilient. Global spend has increased since the recession by around a third, helped in no small part by the explosion of growth in developing regions, China in particular. Orson Welles once said “If you want a happy ending, that depends of course on where you end your story”. Our story, sadly, does not end here.

It was not a good omen when fashion curator and director of the Musée Galliera in Paris Olivier Saillard said during New York Fashion Week last month, “We are in a moment that’s very bizarre in fashion: there are too many clothes”. Business of Fashion lamented both a lack of quality and vision in contemporary collections,

“Fashion seems stuck between the need to surprise using a new array of communications tools and the urge to deliver novelty at the fastest possible pace. Slowing down might be a solution, but that would be a hard route, which will hardly find followers.”

And it is followers that fashion, and the luxury market as a whole, are in need of. Earlier this month the Financial Times reported on the global slowdown of luxury spending. Behind this slowdown lie two factors. On the one hand, there is what are hopefully short-term influences; geopolitical turmoil is rife. Hong Kong continues to see protests that refuse to simmer down, causing disruption to myriad businesses. The city accounts for perhaps 20% of global luxury spending. The Middle East, whose consumer origin or nationality according to Bain & Co. has the biggest average per capita spend, is similarly in chaos, with Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya all in various stages of unrest. Regions like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are caught between a rock and a hard place. In Russia, sanctions have hit oligarchs and their ilk hard. As a result, shares in luxury good companies have been hit hard. Prada has seen profits slide 20% in the first half of the year. Everyone’s darling of fashion innovation, Burberry, has warned of a “cautious outlook”. Mulberry has issued a string of profit warnings and recently ejected its CEO.

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McKinsey illustrate the drift of luxury growth from developed to emerging markets

So we can reason that these companies are seeing fewer customers. But they are also attracting new ones, albeit with very different expectations of the service they expect from the companies they have relationships with. This is the longer-term challenge. Millennials may have been treated as a distinct niche group with quirky demands from brands, but next year they will outnumber Gen Xers, according to McKinsey. These utterly digitally savvy citizens have embraced and contributed to a digital fragmentation in the consumer decision journey, the production process and the fundamental nature of buyer / seller value exchange.

“[A] confluence of digital, the rising power of street fashion and changing consumer attitudes… are radically altering the industry. [It is a] consumer-led shift away from ostentatious and mainstream mega-brands towards understated originality”

One of the most obvious ramifications of this has been the trend of ‘logo fatigue’. It is likely to hit those like Gucci particularly hard, while benefiting those like The Row, and little-known retailers like L’Art du Basic. For larger brands there are some examples for inspiration though. Yoox, whom we have profiled in detail before, have gone from strength to strength in embracing effective digital strategy. The fashion ecommerce site reportedly sees 42% of its global traffic coming from mobile devices, and has recently made a significant push into experimenting with instant messaging app WeChat. As elaborated by Fashion and Mash, the account allows users to “shop via an interactive look book, and to instant message customer service teams and personal stylists. Content also invites users to exclusive events and provides early access to specific products”. In the physical world, Ralph Lauren’s hosting of a cafe in its Fifth Avenue store in New York may be less immediately strategic but seeks to leverage the same burgeoning trends. Brands will need to do more of this, more often, if they are to find what works best for them in terms of engaging and converting future prospects.

Also this month, Zeitgeist found itself at an event at London’s Four Seasons hotel off Park Lane, hosted by law firm Baker & McKenzie. Threats, tech trends and M&A were the main subjects of discussion. Zeitgeist scribbled down some bons mots which were thought worth recounting here. Last month, McKinsey produced an insightful piece on the future of luxury growth, indicating growth would come for the most part from what they termed global megacities, a large proportion of which were located in emerging economies. But China is facing a slowdown; no doubt one of the reasons it was recommended in the conference that businesses start to think less of China as an independent market of growth and more of ASEAN as a region.

3D printing was a matter of much conjecture, but it was pleasing to see that the regulation of such materials was already being considered. One speaker offered the technology would be a greater problem for toy manufacturers than luxury, but cautioned that fast fashion and high customisation were a potent mix. Current UK regulation allows for printing any designs (of one’s own creation or not) at home for personal use for no gain. Such laws may have to be re-examined as 3D printing becomes more widespread. It is difficult to protect the IP of a fashion designer’s work, and difficult therefore to know where to draw the line between inspiration and infringement. The case of the red shoe, specifically between Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Louboutin, has illustrated such difficulty. In the case of 3D printing, one speaker suggested that printing could be limited via restriction similar to how publishers use paywalls, or a more sophisticated version of the DCMA. The importance of protecting the source code of 3D printing designs looks set to be important; Pirate Bay already has a section for such product. Social networking as a new source of IP was also discussed. David Yurman sought opinions on styles to be included on a Valentine’s campaign; users could drop hints to their partner. Bergdorf encouraged fans to design Fendi bags over social, too. But there have been slip ups; Cole Haan offered to pay fans $1,000 for taking pictures of their shoes, without making it clear it was part of contest where someone would win and that the company was sponsoring the activity. They got off with a warning from the regulator, but luxury brands must treat that as a cautionary tale as they continue to experiment. “The law is not keeping up with the technology”, as one speaker sagely confessed.

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David Yurman’s Facebook campaign suggests new IP possibilities for businesses in the future

The M&A chat was equally of interest. Speakers ruminated on the rise of vertical integration as LVMH et al seek to own the whole process. It’s a brave step for companies that traditionally haven’t involved themselves with supply chains or distribution, according to those speaking. Acquisitions were taking two forms: one was spotting missing gaps in the portfolio. For LVMH, the hole in their portfolio was jewellery, which lay behind their purchase of Bulgari in 2011. More recently Giorgio Armani – or as one speaker referred to the man himself, “King George” – reclaimed control of Armani Exchange as it attempts to leverage fast fashion trends. The other form was that of acquisitions in support of brand development – innovation, technology, CRM in Mandarin, social media, etc. More of these sorts of acquisitions were expected on the horizon.

How do these deals play out today? Private equity buyers have a lot of capital and access to cheap debt, but traditionally many of the targets of a buyout have been family-owned businesses who were not ready to relinquish control to a PE firm. These firms are much quicker and more aggressive at deals; they can quickly globalise a brand, can improve the supply chain and stretch the brand up and down from the original price point. Of course, adding new assets, like social media, makes due diligence – and knowing how to allocate risk to a mercurial medium – much harder. Owning supply chains carries risks of more exposure (see Apple and Foxconn). One of the most thorny issues that speakers envisioned was for a luxury good empire known for provenance and quality to be acquired by a a company in a jursidiction that is not known for such things. What if Alibaba bought Balenciaga from Kering, for example?

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Digital is expected to drive, on average, 40% of projected luxury sales growth from 2013 to 2020

Next year will see the return of John Galliano to the runway stage to the helm of a fashion house, this time at Martin Margiela. A recent article on the designer’s flameout while creating works of wonder for Christian Dior emphasised the way in which Galliano “had been cloistered off into a strange protective bubble. Sometimes, we isolate (and elevate) talented creatives so much in the fashion industry that they lose connection with reality”. It is arguably a similarly protective bubble that the fashion industry itself has often been accused of being in, and we would argue it is in now with regards to the need for greater digital sophistication and a more significant investment in digital strategy as it concerns customer insights and the law. It is plain to see that the luxury industry continues to face disruptive challenges, be they at the hands of digital, demographic or geopolitical trends. Some of these disruptions will hopefully, as mentioned earlier, be more temporary in nature. The more fundamental shifts in consumption, though challenging, also present myriad opportunities for businesses that are brave and agile enough to test what works best to capture and retain the customer of the future. Last month Exane BNP Paribas published a report illustrating just how important digital sophistication will be (see above chart), and naming those most likely to benefit from such changes. They could do worse than start by reading our previous post on the future of retail.

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Luxury still too good for a digital strategy

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Chanel is one of the key culprits when it comes to lack of digital innovation

A recent McKinsey report declared that, for businesses, “The age of experimentation with digital is over“. That may be for most B2B and B2C private sector companies, but not for the luxury goods industry. Bemoaning the woeful development and investment in strategic initiatives for luxury brands online is something this blog has done once or twice before. There are understandable reasons why the industry has been reticent to commit to online retail, based on customer insight (the assumption that HNWIs don’t like to shop for something without being able to see and touch it for themselves) and conflicting priorities (physical store expansion into China and more experiential events has been the name of the game in recent years). But with a China slowdown mooted, particularly in the area of luxury gifting, and no real concrete research to show that HNWIs aren’t just as digitally savvy as their less liquid counterparts, there becomes less and less justification for what are, across the industry, woeful examples of digital strategy and innovation.

It can’t be easy for profitable businesses like LVMH, with an eye on quarterly earnings, to make drastic investments in the online space. Luxury’s brand equity often comes from provenance and tradition; a company’s roots are in its founding stores, the connotations of Milan, Florence, Paris, etc. They also worry about their neighbours; a flash-sale site or, worse, one full of counterfeit knock-offs, is always just a click away. From a logistical point of view, there is also the issue of back-end infrastructure to contend with. For several years, PPR (now Kering) ran much of its e-commerce business through Yoox, as we’ve talked about before. It would be wrong to single out those in luxury. L2 Thinktank recently tweeted with much excitement about Bacardi’s “cocktail discovery site” that worked seamlessly across web, mobile and tablet. Well, forgive us if we don’t leap for joy in an ecstasy of delirium, but this is 2014, that should be the minimum deliverable. Still, luxury is a sector in blatant need of redirection.

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eConsultancy eviscerated many luxury brands’ online presences in a recent article

Burberry is lauded by many as an outlier in this world of luxury goods, a company that has truly embraced digital. For all the talk of such innovation though, the website itself is utterly dominated by a rote e-commerce site, as are its social networks such as Google+. It is the physical stores where technological innovation has been injected. And this is supposedly the company pushing the rest of its peers forward. It comes as little surprise then that eConsultancy published a superb piece at the end of April excoriating the sector, leaving no brand unscathed. Headlines included, “painfully slow load times“, “awful UX” and “not making much effort“. But the worst and most perplexing atrocity had to be the above screengrab on the purposeful hiding away of an e-commerce platform, one that was presumably quite expensive to source and implement in the first place. We can’t overestimate the necessity of having a clear user journey through to purchase, just as it would be difficult to overestimate the amount of luxury good companies that are guilty of this sin for which Dolce & Gabbana have been singled out for here.

On this note, Gucci’s recently relaunched mobile site – replacing among other things a tablet site that had been left to wither since 2010 – was welcome news to us, as it seemed to be also (logically) to those wishing to actually part with their money on Gucci wares. L2 in May reported the news, saying that the new site now accounts for 27% of all traffic, a 150% YoY increase. Sounds good, except that means traffic through the mobile site in 2013 was a miniscule 0.18%, right? Terrible.

There are signs of hope. Gucci’s move to invest in a new mobile site, though monumentally belated, is a welcome one. As more brands cotton on to the importance of online, the Financial Times recently reported on the moves many are making to secure ‘.luxury’ suffixes, in the wake of IPv6, if only to avoid the complications of cybersquatting. And Michael Kors, which seems only to be going from strength to strength every quarter, has praised its own social media presence for “driving international sales”. We’ve almost entirely focused on fashion brands here, but other companies within the luxury sector are getting the message loud and clear. Take the auction house Christie’s, a legacy company if ever there was one, having been founded in 1766. Not only have they dedicated time and energy to investing in major online auctions, they have also recently created a new sector vertical of ‘luxury’ within the house itself. New thinking might well take new talent, it will also take C-suite buy-in, as well an acceptance that digital commerce is an integral part of business now, no matter how exclusive your product is.

Selling Luxury in 2013 – Does brand education lead to monetisation?

LVMH Particulieres

At Cannes Lions tomorrow, Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey will ask “What if ads didn’t have to look or feel like ads?”. In a guest post, Chloé Hajnal-Corob writes about how luxury goods companies are seeking new and diverging paths in order to engage with their customers. Chloé spent time working at a fashion startup earlier in the year, assisting with the launch of a fashion hub for Vine videos, among other things. She is currently placed at Editd, a fashion data insight company.

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This spring, the House of Dior descended upon Harrods in London, one of the world’s premier department stores, for their “So Dior” exhibition and café. Last month, for one week only, Hermès had their “Festival des Métiers”, at London’s Saatchi Gallery. These two events represent a recent trend for providing luxury experiences, and though they are markedly different in some ways, they share a common goal: to drive revenues via brand education.

The “So Dior” exhibition, café and pop-up boutique took over a large designated area of Harrods alongside their usual concessions. Their presence was felt throughout, and Harrods have described the takeover as “a luxury-charged adventure combining French Savoir Faire and British charm”, the premise of which is to showcase the brand’s relationship with the store, and Christian Dior’s personal affiliation with the capital. Zeitgeist and I paid a visit, after seeing the social media hype from opening night. The event did not disappoint. On arrival, we were offered a private tour of the exhibition. What followed was a complete education into the history, heritage and identity of the brand and designers (Christian Dior, as well as Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano and now, Raf Simons). The assiduousness and attention to detail demonstrated in the event were striking, and the quality of the experience was exceptional. It stands in particular favour given it was a free event, especially when compared with similar exhibitions such as the recent Valentino show at Somerset House, for which entrance was £12.50. We wondered if Dior and Harrods would set a precedent for luxury experiences where no fee is charged. Enter Hermès’s Festival des Metiers, which has been touring the world in a travelling circus of craftsmen, demonstrating their skills, and charging nothing for the privilege of seeing them. This harks back to how customers at high-end boutiques are treated, but without obvious intent to purchase. We are rewarded for our passion for the brand, not simply our contribution to sales.

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Dior’s exhibition excelled at presenting a linear history grounded in contextual relevancy

What is the ROI for these free events then, when the cost of execution is so high? Both exhibitions come after a lengthy stream of brand “experiences” (as noted in a previous Zeitgeist article) that represent the latest luxury market strategy for driving revenue and footfall to retail spaces, in attempt to allay fears of a mass exodus of shoppers from the street to the website. However, Dior’s CEO, Christian Toledano reportedly told vogue.co.uk at the launch party of the event: “This isn’t a marketing tool… It’s a transmission of Couture”. But these are not mutually exclusive concepts; rather they are means to the same end, and arguably an education into the brand is simply the chosen method of marketing. Indeed, Hermès openly acknowledges the lucrative repercussions these luxury experiences have. An article in the FT cites that the event, in each city, draws around 30,000 visitors, which in turn increases footfall to brick and mortar stores. A twenty percent increase, to be precise, in the week following the festival in Seattle, Washington. In a far more low-key event than Dior, these are impressive figures, particularly given that no attempt at sales was made on the exhibition site. A bespoke, or even generic, selection of products on sale at the event would likely have been very popular.

Both events encouraged significant online chatter, though neither seems to have been particularly driven by the host brands. Dior at Harrods was littered with high impact branded totems, ripe for the social media picking, and as usual, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were filled with images and comments from the event, and now Vine, twitter’s 6-second video app, provided the ideal way to document the experiential nature of the event. It is interesting that Dior made no attempt at harnessing or leveraging the veritable mass of attention the event garnered. On investigation, I found only a limited amount of content around the event on Dior’s twitter feed and Facebook timeline. There was no official hashtag for the event and no evidence (that I could find) of any engagement with consumers who were talking about it. Hermès, though a far more low-key affair, “discreet to the point of invisible branding”, were no less well-represented in the social media space, but were almost equally poor at engineering and engaging with their online audience. The hashtag #festivaldesmetiers seems to have been widely adopted but it is completely unclear whether this was brand-driven, and Facebook interaction was limited to a single status update announcing the event. For brands that exert meticulous control over themselves in the physical space (something that was made patent in the exhibitions), it is strange that they are not attempting to implement this in the digital space, where barriers are borderless and the opportunity for damage is massive. This is a bold (perhaps naïve) move in the current climate, albeit that both events seem to have been highly successful.

It is somewhat ironic that Dior’s exhibition was held at Harrods – an obviously commercial venue, where special Dior products were available to buy – choosing to assert their mission as education rather than marketing. By contrast, Hermès chose an established art space to host their Festival des Metiers, albeit one that is often known for its consumer links, and have clearly acknowledged the potential of education as a means of marketing. Neither space is less appropriate then the other, but both are indicative of the kind of events hosted. Harrods, with its lavish window displays, reputation for luxury and labyrinthine layout, was apt for Dior’s fantastical and grandiose display, not to mention that it was intended to draw on the relationship between brand and department store. The Saatchi gallery’s minimal open space provided a neat backdrop for hosting “a rendez-vous with the Hermès craftspeople”, and apparently, sought to appeal to a younger demographic than perhaps the Hermès customer would ordinarily be. It is appropriate too, to present what can only be described as a fine art and craft, in an artistic space. It’s a notion that rival (and owner of Dior), LVMH, clearly thought worth cashing in on, since they have subsequently launched a similar initiative: the Journées Particulières, which this year will see it open 40 of its ateliers to the public for a weekend.

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Hermès attracted large crowds with its silk screen printing demonstrations

Both Dior and Hermès certainly made good attempts at getting people to engage physically (as well as virtually). The “So Dior” exhibition, and of course the café, were multi-sensorial. Beyond visual aesthetics, short films with headphones were provided, touch-sensitive technology was exploited and food inspired by Dior’s cookbook made for a wholly engrossing experience. Perfume was a key focus of the exhibition, explored from many different angles; not content with simply handing out the usual sticks of paper to smell, Dior and Harrods provided a telephone box (grey and white, in-keeping with brand décor, naturally) emitting one of Dior’s signature scents. Hermès was less immersive but more intimate; the possibility of viewing and interacting with those who create the product (and by extension the legacy), and even partaking in the sewing of scarves or ties, successfully created a feeling of exclusivity and privilege that the event no doubt strove for.

Toledano stated of the “So Dior” exhibition, “We need to explain why and how we do what we do. I want people to understand the passion, the innovation and our commitment to excellence.” In a similar vein, Guillaume de Seynes, great grandson of Emile Hermès explained: “We want to demonstrate that for us, craftsmanship is something that happens everyday.” Both brands sought to educate the consumer about themselves – Dior by making comment on the ideas and inspiration that produce the end product, and Hermès by demonstrating their commitment to the heritage of the brand by maintaining the quality of garments through skill of craftsmanship. Were they successful in their mission? Certainly; both provided real insight and inspiration. In doing so, Dior and Harrods, and Hermès’s Festival des Metiers, created an opportunity to become part of a legacy, and with this, the aspiration to turn something memorable into something wearable.

Luxury pushes beyond the store

September 2, 2012 1 comment

Luxury brands have found it hard to come to terms with the shift in consumer shopping habits from retail to online. For several years they have dipped their toes in the water of digital, but with little commitment and much hesitation (until recently). This is understandable. Often for luxury products, the justification for higher prices is only evident upon seeing the item in real life, or it can sometimes be intangible. These assets are hard to replicate when seen on a computer screen. A store’s retail environment allows the company to control every aspect of the brand experience. Someone checking out the Louis Vuitton website could be using a slow computer in an old browser; the experience will suffer, and there is nothing the brand can do about it. Much more sensible then to invest in concept stores, such as the recent one in Selfridges. But there needs to be a focus still about managing the brand and courting attention beyond the four walls of the shop.

So it should be of little surprise to see that recently luxury has been looking to broaden its horizons in the physical space, aiming to brand experiences that seamlessly fit into the lifestyle that they think is associated with their brand. This was evident in no small part when Zeitgeist took a trip recently to St. Tropez. Before even entering the town, visitors were greeted with the sight of mega-yachts and enormous Gin Palaces, and – on one of the days Zeitgeist visited – evidence of the relatively recent collaboration between Gucci and Riva (see above picture). Such a partnership probably helps the former more than the latter. It certainly helps validate the clothing company’s brand, which sometimes fails to leverage its relatively strong heritage. Walking away the port – past the recycling collections strewn with empty bottles that had once contained vintage wine and champagne – toward the famous Place des Lices brings you face-to-face with the hotel White 1921. This is one of LVMH’s newest incarnations, an eight-room hotel.

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It was a beautiful hotel to behold, and had just opened the week Zeitgeist was visiting. Though much in need of a lunchtime glass of champagne – the brand here makes the most of its ownership of several champagne labels – the dining area was sadly not open until the evening. White 1921 is not alone as a recent example of hospitality being managed by a luxury brand. LVMH’s first such hotel was back in 2010 in Courchevel, named Cheval Blanc. More recently, Bulgari have launched their own hotel in London’s Knightsbridge area, close to the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The St. Regis hotel in New York now has a small collection of fashion-related suites, including the Dior Suite. All this is about embracing a certain idea, a crystallising of what it means to be living a particular lifestyle. The question for LVMH begins to arise as to whether, strategically speaking, having one arm of your company (Dior in this case) having a room owned by St. Regis creates any significant competition between the hotels you are opening elsewhere in the world. The more they open, and the more branded suites appear under competitor’s names, the stickier this situation could get.

Releasing products that compete for the same consumer type is never a good idea, and is a mistake General Motors made. A very good essay on this is available in Richard Rumelt’s ‘Good Strategy / Bad Strategy’. The market is becoming crowded. Hermès has side-stepped this by designing luxury apartments in Singapore. Some companies have thought at a more granular, perhaps relevant, level. Trunk-maker Moynat have teamed up with the famous Le Meurice hotel in Paris by providing French chef Yannick Alléno with a roll-in trunk so he could cook breakfast for guests in the comfort of their own room. It’s an inspired idea that retains the original idea of what makes the brand special and heightens it by creating a unique experience for the consumer. The New York Times reports,

The chef’s breakfast trunk is genuinely designed to travel, its porcelain plates held upright with leather straps and its cutlery in drawers. Mr. Alléno already has plans to send it to hotels where he has connections, first in Dubai in September, then to Courchevel in the ski season and on to Marrakech. At each destination, he will make a personal appearance and demonstration.

Similarly, Prada has thought about how best to showcase its ready-to-wear line, in this case including its clothing in the sumptuous film The Great Gatsby, due out next summer. The highlight of Zeitgeist’s time in St. Tropez was in visiting one particular boutique. Christian Dior, while not be a brand one immediately associates with good food, featured an open courtyard that hosted a cafe dedicated to indulgent delights. Mr Alleno was also responsible for the food here. It was an impressive exercise in brand management… and excellent profiteroles.

Hermès sets the marketing bar haute

December 13, 2010 1 comment

Hermès leads the pack in luxury branding both on and offline.

Having recently pushed back against conglomerate LVMH‘s significant stock purchase of the company, Hermès has been pushing further with a marketing strategy that includes digital, retail environments and experiential.

Though the company may be family-run and known for it’s dedication to tradition, digitally the brand is very modern, with great banner ads appearing in The New York Times and The Economist websites. As well as a great Facebook presence, the official website has for years been an exemplar of how to market luxury wares online. One section of the website takes the user to a simple e-commerce section where a range of accessories for both men and women can be purchased, as well as the obligatory store locator, etc. The other half of the site offers a full immersion into the brand. Some permanent sections allow you to print off your own Kelly bag, to cut and make yourself. Recently, for the launch of a new fragrance inspired by India, the brand had a special film made playing on themes of Indian folklore and mythology, made as a play performed with shadow puppets, which some kind soul has since very kindly uploaded to YouTube, here.

In the offline world, aside from an entirely new brand being created for shoppers in China, in the UK the brand has begun advertising outdoors for the first time. While previously print ads and outdoor ads may have been seen for Hermès’ latest perfume, this is the first time Zeitgeist can ever remember seeing an ad for the brand itself adorning two bus stops in South Kensington. In the last week, the brand has also opened its first store on the famed Left Bank of Paris, built as much to accommodate locals as it is those keen Sino-shoppers. Built on the site of an old swimming pool, the site is by no means a facsimile of the Faubourg store, reflecting instead a more edgy identity. Scores of pictures of the new store can be found here.

Speaking of stores and Kelly bags, Selfridge’s, that bastion of capitalism located on London’s Oxford Street, recently unveiled a gigantic Kelly bag. Called the Kellydoscope, it stands at fifteen times the size of a regular bag. It’s a fun experiential installation by playful brand that could otherwise, given its heritage, risk seeming staid. To add to its hip quotient, Hermès over the summer opened a pop-up store in East London, promoting its scarves. The store, J’aime mon carré, has closed now but reopens Friday until December 23rd in the similarly gentrified-but-cool area of Notting Hill. If that weren’t enough, it has thrown in a skateboarding video too.

Fashion’s digital moves

November 17, 2010 3 comments

Both parts of Zeitgeist may be out of the office at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t kept our nose to the grindstone, our ear to the ground, our eye on the ball, our finger on the pulse and our foot wedged in the door.

Last week, Zeitgeist was fortunate enough to attend the International Herald Tribune’s Heritage Luxury conference at the InterCon on London’s Park Lane. While the Missoni clan waxed lyrical on the importance of keeping it in the family, after such luminaries as Paul Smith and Alber Elbaz had already spoken, the real highlight was seeing the legend that is Karl Lagerfeld, designer for Fendi and Chanel, as well as his own eponymous collection. Karl spoke on a variety of subjects. He even offered his take on the LVMH / Hermes debacle, which Zeitgeist wrote about recently, suggesting that Hermes keep their earnings private, as Chanel does, so as not to encourage hungry buyers by “putting the milk out”.

Host Suzy Menkes asked Karl to talk about Coco herself, which he did with no subjectivity, criticising her knee-jerk dislike of blue jeans and miniskirts, and failing to adapt. It is this same failure to adapt that is causing many businesses – or even entire industries, such as books and music – to suffer massive losses, with Chanel itself a “dowdy dowager”, as the Wall Street Journal once described it. Indeed, when the managing director of the reputable Brown’s stores asked Karl what how important he thought the digital world was for luxury brands, Karl was unequivocal, saying Chanel the brand ignoring digital would be like Chanel the lady ignoring miniskirts and blue jeans. He was also talked about the increasing binary pull of fashion, where inexpensive and expensive rule, with no middle ground. Businesses in that middle ground – think FCUK – will not fare well in the future he intimated. If one thinks of this from a branding perspective, it is perfectly understandable. Selling your product as the best you can get, or, conversely the best you can get at the cheapest price, is a robust selling point. Anything between becomes undefinable and wishy-washy; at exactly what point has quality been sacrificed for expediancy in x product? Chanel have done a fair job so far of embracing the digital world, with an engaging iPhone app as well as an e-commerce section on their site.

Of course, some brands – especially luxury ones – revel in their heritage, and so it was on Tuesday night when Zeitgeist attended the evening preview of Dior Illustrated at Somerset House. Illustrator Rene Gruau was still drawing adverts and couture dresses for the company long after other labels had switched to photography. Of course, it is when one can combine the worlds of heritage and keep the brand contemporary that is most impressive. So it was with Ralph Lauren’s 4D presentation, also last week, shown in New York and London, recorded by a friend of Zeitgeist’s. Enjoy.

Hermès Family Fortunes

October 25, 2010 2 comments

Hermes print ad horse 2006

Luxury group LVMH acquired what is to be a 17.1% stake in Hermès, it was announced at the weekend. Historically, the group has a tendency to purchase a minority stake before settling in for a full assault on the target acquisition. In order to leverage such a purchase, it is rumoured that LVMH is considering selling off the “MH” part, Moet and Hennessy, which Ogilvy client Diageo is understandably very keen for. Any rumours of takeover may just be that, of course.

But what of Hermès? Zeitgeist has paraphrased current IPA chairman Rory Sutherland before when he spoke of clothes today being about much more than mere “atoms”; these goods, especially in the realm of luxury, are sold on their intangible benefits, not on the assumption that they will merely keep you warm. Hermès, futhermore, really is a world unto itself, having been controlled by the Dumas family (offspring of Thierry Hermès) since its inception. The death of the brand’s patriach clearly left room for a potential hostile takeover.

LVMH must tred lightly however. One of the things that makes the Hermès brand so coveted by so many people around the world is that it is fiercely independent. Its heritage is bound up in the history of a single family, rather than a more homogenous consortium of initials. This family history has, without doubt, strong – though intangible – brand equity for its consumers, for obvious reasons. If it is to become subsumed into a phalanx of other brands however, the loss of this familial association might having a thoroughly tangible impact on the brand’s bottom line.

All about Yves

August 20, 2010 2 comments

The meaning of luxury, according to YSL creative director Stefano Pilati, has been somewhat lost of late, or at least transformed, as designer brands have jumped on the globalisation bandwagon, and now have to deal with the ramifications of the abundance / scarcity dichotomy.

“[I]t’s such a contradiction, because we want to be luxurious and have 300 shops all around the world, but you can’t be luxurious with 300 shops around the world.”

It’s an interesting comment, and one that certainly rings true. So many brands – in and out of the fashion world – designate themselves as being in the ‘luxury’ or ‘premium’ sector, it’s hard to know where the market starts and ends; it certainly helps dilute the meaning of words like ‘luxury’. However, with luxury groups aplenty recording impressive financial results of late, one would be hard pushed to see LVMH or PPR making any drastic redefinitions of what luxury is. You can read the rest of his comments to the fashion hipster’s bible, AnOther, here. Zeitgeist, for purely work-related reasons of course, is off to Paris at the weekend for the final days of the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at the Petit Palais. Can’t wait.

Putting the Art in mARkeTing

The Louis Vuitton brand has been featured several times in Zeitgeist articles, not least because almost all the comms for the brand are spearheaded by our francophone cousins at Ogilvy Paris; it’s also a fascinating brand in its own right.

This summer, the Louis Vuitton Art Academy was born, the first of a 3-year summer show in collaboration with several major art galleries in London; the Hayward Gallery, South London Gallery, Tate Britain and the Whitechapel Gallery and the Royal Academy. The idea behind it is to encourage young people to the world of the arts, according to Dazed Digital, “giving 30 young people aged between 13 and 25 the chance to get hands-on-dirty in the creative arts”. The project will allow the youngsters to become involved in the physical production of art, beginning specifically with portraiture.

Louis Vuitton is of course no stranger to flirtations with the arts. Takashi Murakami (whom Zeitgeist has met) and Richard Prince (whom Zeitgeist would love to meet) have both produced collaborations with Marc Jacobs, creative director at Vuitton. Head of LVMH Bernard Arnault is a very keen owner of art, and pieces from his personal collection can be found at the new London Vuitton Maison on Bond St., including a large piece by Gilbert and George in the menswear department. Last year it was announced that Vuitton will build a permanent institution dedicated to the arts, designed by the perpetually-busy Frank Gehry.

This may all be terribly fun for Monsieur Arnault, but what value do you think it adds to the brand? Answers on a postcard or in the comments box, please.

Louis Vuitton’s Brand Balancing Act

LV may have been around since 1854, but, as the saying goes, you’re only as good as your last picture. Just as many an actor has been condemned to Hollywood purgatory through making one poor choice, so it is with a brand. A brand’s equity is made or broken by its perception, i.e. what it’s done lately. Ogilvy’s own Louis Vuitton has been in the press a lot recently, for reasons both good and bad. Zeitgeist takes a look at Vuitton’s goings on, and what impact the machinations will have on it’s brand.

The last Friday of May heralded the reopening of London’s New Bond St. Louis Vuitton boutique, with the new moniker of ‘Maison’, presumably denoting it as a flagship store. Never one to miss a way to include Facebook, Vuitton recorded the event in a live stream over the social network, beaming around the world images of the oh-so tiring Alexa Chung as she hosted the broadcast. The brand has done this previously to great success for it’s Ready-to-wear collections from various shows, which inspire great community interaction. Concurrent with this was the launch of a brand presence on Foursquare, one of the first of any brand to have an account on the location-based social network. (Indeed, this democratisation of fashion could be an article in of itself; Ermenegildo Zegna are taking a leaf from Vuitton’s book with unprecedented access to what goes on in the runup to a runway show). Photos of designer Marc Jacobs, Gwyneth Paltrow et al. graced the front pages of several of the city’s dailies the next morning. Diagnosis: Very good

At the opening, in a separate story that appeared with very little fanfare on the Vogue website, a brief interview was conducted with Vuitton’s creative director Marc Jacobs, who said that when he began working on the brand, his initial thoughts might have taken it in a completely different direction, “When I arrived at Louis Vuitton 12 years ago, and I was figuring out how to create a new tier of Vuitton for a different customer, I thought it would be clever to hide that monogram, which was very stupid of me. That logo is part of what makes Vuitton so desirable. It allows people to become members of an aspirational club.” Zeitgeist has never heard Jacobs utter such an admission prior to this; it is surely an incredibly controversial thought. The problem is that the designer may have been quite right to have thought of removing the logo. Without it, they are almost certainly missing out on what he refers to as a “new tier”; the customer that loves the quality and craftmanship of Vuitton but does not need the validation of having “LV” emblazoned on every product, so instead chooses to shop at Bottega Veneta or somewhere similar. For how long can a brand remain aspirational when it begins to be seen everywhere, including in all the wrong types of places? Zeitgeist recently spotted two pieces of genuine Vuitton luggage sitting in the window of a McDonald’s. Diagnosis: Not good

Elsewhere in Vuitton’s world, the Advertising Standards Authority recently upheld three complaints on a series of advertisements that Ogilvy Paris had concocted, which had received positive press from the FT at its inception, and to which Zeitgeist has referred to previously. The ads, though beautifully photographed in an homage to that brilliant artist Vermeer, were withdrawn after complaints that the print ads gave the impression that the products were completely handmade from start to finish, and that at no point was machinery involved in the manufacturing process. In reality, this is not the case. Craftmanship by hand is indeed a significant part of the process, but the ASA deemed this insufficient. It is also unlikely that such young, beautiful people as depicted in the advertisements work in such immaculate clothing with only chiaroscuro lighting to work by, but there did not seem to be any complaints regarding these artistic licenses. Perhaps this is because such things should be taken with a pinch of salt, instead of at face value. Diagnosis: Not good

Louis Vuitton continues to contest in court in efforts to cut down on the re-selling of goods or the distribution of counterfeit products. The last victory came recently against eBay when the company was fined €200k in damages and €30k in legal costs made payable to Louis Vuitton. TelecomPaper reported “The court described as ‘parasitic’ eBay’s purchase of keywords such as ‘Wuittton’, ‘Viton’ and ‘Vitton’ so that online shoppers searching under these misspellings would be directed to links promoting eBay.” More recently, however, holding company LVMH lost it’s battle with Google over charges “that Google’s practice of selling keywords in advertising searches to the highest bidder damaged trademark law”, according to the BBC. Diagnosis: A tie

Lastly, having already made clear it’s association with a new part of the Journeys campaign – previously featuring such luminaries as Sean Connery, Keith Richards and Catherine Deneuve – that had Pelé, Zidane and Maradonna huddled around a table football game together, this week the company cemented the connection. Vogue recently reported that the World Cup would have an official home in a piece of luggage designed specifically for it by Vuitton. The luggage was revealed in Paris to great fanfare, by that [super]model of restraint, Naomi Campbell. Diagnosis: Very good

It’s been a period of mixed blessings for Louis Vuitton, some of which were completely out of their hands. It’s had some big wins with the new London store opening, as well as the excellent association it has created with the impending World Cup. Long-term, it will be fascinating to see if this is the beginning of a brand embracing to an increasing extent the entertainments and pastimes of the masses (prior to the World Cup, the only sport Vuitton had been involved in was the America’s Cup sailing race, crewed and supported by nought but multi-multi-millionaires), and how they will maintain an aspirational slant if they do so (presumably by continuing to charge £300+ for a shirt). Exciting times are ahead, no doubt…