Luxury & Fashion Biz News: May 25th, 2012 (Louboutin to do lipstick; new marketing films; and noting the British revival)
Christian Louboutin brand expands into makeup: “It was a bottle of bright red nail enamel which first inspired Christian Louboutin to coat the soles of his vertiginous stilettos. And now things have come full circle, as the footwear maestro has announced he will be launching his first cosmetics line next year . . . It is not yet known what will be included in the range but it is expected that Louboutin’s signature scarlet will be a prominent feature –- both in products and on packaging.”
It seems the fast money in brand expansion right now is speeding down the makeup/skincare superhighway. Tom Ford, Dolce & Gabbana and Burberry have recently seen success with newly launched (and growing) color cosmetics lines, and Armani just announced that perfumes and cosmetics are the second largest segment of their business, accounting for 26% of Armani’s overall sales in 2011.
*NOTE 1: Clothing is still Armani’s main business, accounting for 57% of sales.
“Part classic, part eccentric” — your wardrobe is big business for the Armani label
Marc Jacobs stated back in April that he’s presently working with Sephora (owned by LVMH, which also owns a major stake in the Marc Jacobs brand) to develop a Marc Jacobs line of makeup to go with his hit perfumes: “The range is still in the early stages of planning, but Jacobs told WWD that his first meeting with cosmetics giant Sephora, who will produce the line, went well.”
All of which likely means that the designer-competition got tired of sending their customers to the Chanel counter for lipstick and nail polish (and eye shadow and mascara and foundation and blush and liner and . . . well, you get the picture) — because why send a potential client base somewhere else when they’ll happily spend their cash with you?
*NOTE 2: An expansion into makeup is not, however, a sure thing for every popular brand. See: Rock & Republic which fell into bankruptcy in 2010, part of which was blamed on their costly expansion into color cosmetics.
Chanel is still the big name in town when it comes to designer-branded makeup and skincare, but with brands rushing to new markets (e.g. Brazil, Nigeria, India) to offset lagging sales in Europe and the United States (plus a disconcerting slowdown of growth in China — see: Europe’s Luxury Rally Founders As China, Greece Hurt LVMH), the playing field is a little more even for all its participants.
For example, when most of your customers are new money, purchasing decisions can be based less on brand loyalty and more on product satisfaction. Well, and marketing campaigns. Lots and lots of marketing campaigns. Hence, Brad Pitt for Chanel No. 5; so in that respect, I wouldn’t necessarily go all bearish on Chanel’s chances for sales superiority in the long run.
But I also wouldn’t count out Burberry’s (and Armani’s and Tom Ford’s and Dolce & Gabbana’s and Marc Jacob’s and Christian Louboutin’s) ability to bite into a color and skincare market that was once solely owned by the holy designer trinity of Chanel, Dior and YSL.
*AN ALTERNATE TAKE: Will Christian Louboutin Beauté dilute the brand name? — “Beauty is an emerging trend among fashion brands such as Chanel, Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs, but it may confuse consumers, sway from the original label image or get lost in a cluttered marketplace.”
When a brand expands into an area which might be only cursorily related to its business but isn’t its core specialty, it’s called “stretching” — and moving into color cosmetics is very much an exercise of stretching for Christian Louboutin. The brand is known for shoes (and to a much lesser extent, handbags), and while his use of bold colors has helped establish Louboutin a devoted fan base, it’s very much a legitimate question as to whether that’s enough to support an expansion into the unrelated field of beauty products.
Because a lipstick is not a six inch platform heel.
*Speaking of marketing, marketing and more marketing — Prada teamed up with director Roman Polanski for a marketing video that’s a deliberate step outside the usual merchandising clip:
Prada as fulfiller of neurotic fantasies
Though the choice of Roman Polanski to direct brings up uncomfortable questions about the fashion industry’s sometimes questionable treatment of young women (see: Marc Jacobs and Terry Richardson, among others), as the director fled the US in the late seventies to avoid a possible statutory rape conviction.
It’s not like there aren’t plenty of other directors that Prada could have easily hired, so any resulting controversy seems deliberately courted.
And speaking of courting controversy, Dior has done the exact opposite with its latest video campaign, breezing past previous Galliano-influenced “art film” wackiness to present a clean, sober and very Raf Simons-looking vision:
Dior wants you to know that Galliano is history and they’ve moved on
But as China’s hyped-up real estate bubble unravels and erases GDP growth in the process, as Spain struggles with toxic debt, as unrest in Greece scares away economically necessary tourism, as recent French elections have rattled the country’s wealthy investors and entrepreneurs, and the United States is mired in debt and obligations that sucker punch any economic recovery — are splashy, controversial fashion films enough to do the trick?
But jewelry brand CEOs are betting that the newly nervous wealthy class will stop buying handbags and shoes and put their money into fine jewelry, instead — items from brands that have historically held their value over time: Cartier, Boucheron, Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels.
From Bloomberg News: “Van Cleef & Arpels, the jewelry house owned by (luxury conglomerate) Richemont, expects to win gem sales from Chinese consumers concerned with declining stock and property investments. Jewelry demand will hold amid economic uncertainty, Van Cleef & Arpels Chief Executive Officer Stanislas de Quercize said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Shanghai yesterday.”
Though the same article notes that auction prices for branded jewelry can fall below retail prices, and that wholesale prices fluctuate along with prices for precious metals and gemstones. Top-quality one carat diamonds, for example, are at 14% less than their price level in July of 2011.
In other words, fashion isn’t the kind of place to store the cash, though jewelry has historically been a very compact and efficient method of transporting wealth across borders (if not across generations) in times of unrest/conflict, which is why we hear statements like the one above from Stanislas de Quercize.
And, admittedly, recent sales of jewelry at auction have been setting records: Sotheby’s May Jewelry Sales Set New Record — “Sales at the two-day Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels Sale reached $108,377,219, making it the second highest achieving jewelry sale after last December’s Christie’s auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s collection, which totaled $137.2 million. On May 14, Sotheby’s also auctioned 60 pieces from the personal collection of 20th-century jewelry designer Suzanne Belperron. The two sales totaled $111,836,526, almost doubling the pre‐sale low estimate.”
*NOTE 3: Christie’s is gearing up for its annual rare jewelry, watches and wine auction in June, which could lend further support to the idea of jewelry holding its value if recent trends in bidding continue.
There’s also an auction of wine, art and jewelry happening right now in Hong Kong that will be a leading indicator of how the Chinese wealth class is reacting to news of economic uncertainty.
And just because it’s so goshdarned gorgeous, I’m embedding the Cartier mini-movie again:
Cuz you never know when you might need to flee the country with your Cartier
Tiffany, apparently, doesn’t play in the same league as the Cartiers and Bulgaris — Asian Luxury Demand for Tiffany is Waning
A Fashion Revival Made in England — “As luxury becomes more commonplace, it’s also more closely identified with the local. Just as fashion was once considered something done better in France and Italy, Britons had to bone up on their Romance languages before heading out for a meal. Now, however, British cuisine is no longer an oxymoron—it’s modish and often expensive. The emergence of the geography-teacher (made in the UK) labels confirms that a similar process is under way in fashion.”
I recently ordered a pair of jeans from a company that just re-established a small production facility in Cardigan, aiming to invigorate what was once a major clothing production town for the UK. Their story was appealing and their commitment to quality was attractive — not to mention that I’m just plain curious as to what a pair of handmade jeans from Cardigan will be like.
Hiut Denim — returning to Britain’s manufacturing roots
I haven’t received the jeans yet, as Hiut Denim (pronounced: High-Yutt) is still extremely small, with only a few workers fulfilling orders as they come in, but I was assured that they would be finished and shipped out to me this month.
Actual email from Hiut Denim: “Thanks for being so patient with us. Just to explain the wait, we had 2 months worth of orders in our first week, and ever since we have had a mountain to climb. A nice mountain, but still a mountain. Just to let you know that your jeans will be handmade the week starting May 8th by one of The Grand Masters . . . Even though we are running late, we still won’t rush. We said we would make the best jean that we can. And not the fastest.”
Awww. How could anyone resist that?
There’s also a one-man denim brand here in Christchurch, New Zealand that I intend to eventually explore: Ande Whall denim. The devastating Christchurch earthquakes from 2011 nearly wiped out Ande Whall’s business entirely, but he’s back up and running and I think it’s important that I support that, now that I’m a resident of NZ.
Funny enough, when I was talking with a clothing shop owner here in Auckland, he mentioned that they’re working on getting a store-branded jean made in collaboration with a niche denim manufacturer out of Los Angeles. I asked why they didn’t just partner up with Ande Whall, instead, but there was a resistance to the idea, as if a jean out of New Zealand wasn’t cool enough to get his customers to spend.
And maybe that’s true. I’m not sure the “buy local” attitude has yet hit New Zealand fashion the way it’s beginning to make inroads into the UK and the US consumer mindset; of course, a lot of that might have to do with the fact that the US and the UK have significantly larger and wealthier consumer demographics to work with from the start.
Because buying local *is* more expensive. It’s also more sustainable in the long run, and it keeps money circulating in the local economy while employing domestic workers, but those are the kinds of considerations that often come dead last when your average consumer is standing at the cash register.
*As long as we’re talking about the British: Hong Kong investment firms are snapping up financially troubled UK heritage labels and reviving them for a contemporary audience. Aquascutum and Gieves & Hawkes are the two latest examples, the reasoning being that the brand names and values are already well-established, so it’s just a matter of proper management, marketing and presentation in order to get consumers interested again.
Yeah, I know, it sounds so simple!
See also: The Heritage Business — “Having a heritage is an enormous asset to a brand; that heritage needs to resonate over the years, both by acknowledging where it’s come from but also by keeping itself relevant. In the end, a brand is a promise and in everything that it does it needs to stay true to that promise.”