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It’s a strange and turbulent time for the world’s oldest continuously running fashion house. This week, Olivier Lapidus took up the creative reins at Lanvin, replacing the label’s previous designer Bouchra Jarrar, who lasted only 16 months in the position. Under Jarrar, business performance was underwhelming. In 2016, Lanvin’s revenues plummeted 23 percent to €162 million and the company posted its first loss in more than a decade. Sources say the losses are set to widen this year.
It’s all a far cry from the label’s peak in 2012, when the business generated revenues of €235 million under long-time designer Alber Elbaz. How did things go so wrong?
According to sources close to the business, the seeds of the problem go back several years. Shaw-Lan Wang took ownership of Lanvin in 2001, acquiring the label from L’Oréal primarily for its successful fragrance line. The same year, she hired Alber Elbaz, who had recently been fired from Yves Saint Laurent, and gave him a small stake in the company, thought to be around 10 percent.
It turned out to be a brilliant move. Elbaz managed to turn Lanvin into a star brand that became globally known for its woman-first ethos and impeccably chic cocktail dresses. Elbaz may have been a taskmaster in the design studio, but he also brought rare business management and team building capabilities to his role. And, he stayed on despite overtures from multiple luxury megabrands because he had shared ownership in the business. It seemed like the perfect partnership, but there were problems along the way.
As Wang didn’t have the resources to invest in the company’s expansion, she traded assets for cash: first, she sold the rights to license the brand in Japan to the conglomerate Itochu in 2002; then she sold its fragrance rights to Interparfums in 2007. But it wasn’t enough. In 2009, Lanvin was forced to bring in a minority investor, who took a 25 percent stake in the business in exchange for a capital injection thought to be in the tens of millions of euros. Following the deal, Thierry Andretta stepped in as managing director and the company began opening new stores. But they failed to perform.
At the same time, Elbaz was struggling to renew himself creatively and his collections became repetitive, making it challenging to retain customers who already owned several of the brand’s signature dresses. The company also failed to develop a strong accessories business — an essential growth lever. Indeed, Lanvin’s sales slump began under Elbaz, causing tension between Wang and the designer, who maintained that she was not investing enough in the business.
Wang, for her part, was a difficult owner. Despite having a 25-percent shareholder, she liked to make decisions unilaterally and was better known for micromanagement than the strength of her strategic vision. One source close to the company called her “a shopkeeper.”
In April 2013 Andretta resigned, citing “personal reasons” — allegedly his resignation was a result of a dispute with Wang over the strategic direction of the brand. (It was the second time in recent years that Lanvin’s managing director had resigned due to disagreements over strategy; in 2008, Paul Deneve also left the brand as a result of “diverging points of view” on the company's direction.) But in the wake of Andretta’s departure, instead of conducting a formal search for a new chief, Wang swiftly installed Michèle Huiban, previously Lanvin’s finance director and deputy general manager, who was seen to be subservient to the owner.
By October of 2015, the relationship between Wang and Elbaz had deteriorated so badly that, during a board meeting, the designer snapped. His contract was terminated and Elbaz was pushed out after 14 years at the brand. “I wish the house of Lanvin the future it deserves among the best French luxury brands, and hope that it finds the business vision it needs to engage in the right way forward,” said Elbaz in a personal statement confirming his ousting.
Again, there was no formal process to appoint a successor. Instead, Wang hand-picked Bouchra Jarrar on the recommendation of Huiban. Jarrar’s work is highly respected, but she is notoriously difficult and began her tenure at Lanvin by firing much of the existing design team, leaving only a couple of product developers. Ultimately, her strict, tailored style — a major departure from Elbaz's feminine silhouettes — failed to convince buyers and soon it became clear she was the wrong choice.
Lanvin’s board suggested the company not only find a new designer, but also hire a new co-chief executive, shifting Huiban’s focus to administration and finance. However, Wang paid little attention and appointed Olivier Lapidus, a friend of hers, to the post of creative director, triggering resignations from the board.
The arrival of Lapidus — a relatively unknown figure — was met with a lukewarm reaction from the industry amid whispers that Wang intends to turn the label into what one source described as “a French Michael Kors,” industry speak for pursuing an accessible luxury strategy.
To be sure, Lanvin still has a powerful brand DNA, but the combination of a weak designer, a weak management team and a demoralised group of employees means the company’s liquidity problems seem set to worsen. According to sources, the company has cash reserves, but probably not enough to last more than six-to-nine months, meaning Wang may again resort to selling assets or forging a licensing deal at the risk of further diluting the brand.
Turning around Lanvin will likely require both a new management team and a new designer with genuine fashion credibility, but this seems unlikely — unless, of course, Wang decides to sell. Certainly, Lanvin would still be an attractive target for a spectrum of potential acquirers, including private equity firms and the big luxury conglomerates, but Wang will need to reduce her expectations on price. Indeed Lanvin has contemplated a sale for the last two to three years, but according to sources, Wang’s expectations on price are out of touch with reality. Meanwhile, Lanvin’s value continues to decline and the risk of brand dilution continues to rise.
If Wang wants to save the business — and the value of her investment — she should sell now and hand over Lanvin to someone who is better positioned to manage it.
THE NEWS IN BRIEF
BUSINESS AND THE ECONOMY
Colette is set to close after 20 years. The Parisian concept store will shut its doors on December 20, with Saint Laurent in discussions to take over the Rue Saint-Honoré location. "Colette Roussaux has reached the time when she would like to take her time; and Colette cannot exist without Colette," the retailer said in a statement. Roussaux’s daughter, Sarah Andelman, is credited with leading the store’s blend of luxury and streetwear, stocking brands like OAMC and Off White alongside Chanel and Mary Katrantzou.
Burberry sales rise as Marco Gobbetti takes over as CEO. First-quarter retail figures released Wednesday show revenue rose three percent to $613.2 million, exceeding analyst expectations. Increased sales in China and the UK boosted revenue, while Italy and the US saw a minor sales decline. Gobbetti took over from Christopher Bailey as chief executive this month; Bailey assumed the newly created role of president alongside his existing role as chief creative officer.
Abercrombie & Fitch ends acquisition talks. Shares dropped as much as 17 percent after the company announced that it would no longer be pursuing a potential sale. In a statement, chairman Arthur Martinez promised “sound, aggressive action to deliver enhanced performance and long-term shareholder value” to improve the struggling retailer’s performance. In May, shares in the company were buoyed by acquisition talks with American Eagle Outfitters and Express.
Coach Inc. completes its acquisition of Kate Spade. Kate Spade ceased trading on the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday as its shares were delisted after the $2.4 billion deal. The acquisition is part of a portfolio expansion by Coach Inc. to reach more millennial consumers, which also includes footwear brand Stuart Weitzman. Kate Spade will benefit from Coach Inc.’s international presence and experience in the accessible luxury sector, boosting its potential for global growth.
Charlotte Olympia signs strategic partnership with Onward Luxury Group. The deal will see manufacturer and distributor OLG acquire a controlling stake in Charlotte Olympia for an undisclosed sum. The brand's creative director and founder Charlotte Dellal, and president Bonnie Takhar, will continue in their current roles. The OLG partnership is part of a wider plan for Charlotte Olympia to accelerate growth in Europe and Asia. The luxury accessories brand currently has 11 standalone stores and stockists including Printemps, Harrods and Bergdorf Goodman.
Erdem is H&M’s latest designer collaborator. The Canadian-born, London-based designer has developed collections for both men and women, to go on sale globally in H&M stores and online on November 2. The collection is set to be a celebration of some of the designer's most well-known creative themes. Meanwhile, Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann has directed a teaser film for the collaboration, which was released on YouTube Thursday afternoon.
LVMH investment arm L. Catterton takes a minority stake in Equinox. The investment, which was for an undisclosed sum, will help the luxury fitness group expand its 80-plus locations worldwide. L. Catterton has been tapping the wellness opportunity in recent years with investments in companies such as Sweaty Betty and Pure Barre in 2015, and a majority stake in Italian bicycle maker Pinarello in December 2016.
Condé Nast’s 23 Stories expands into custom advertising campaigns. The branded content studio, which launched in 2015, has released a campaign for TV show “Empire” starring Golden Globe winner Taraji P. Henson. The images and video were shot by Steven Klein and directed by Condé Nast’s corporate creative director Raúl Martinez, and will debut in Vanity Fair’s August issue. The campaign represents a new service, which 23 Stories can offer in concert with branded content, events and experiences. “Brands are ... coming to us to create the whole of their creative campaigns,” says Dirk Standen, editor-in-chief of 23 Stories.
Joseph Altuzarra is showing in Paris next season. Altuzarra is the latest New York-based designer to shift his presentation to the French capital, following the departure of Proenza Schouler, Rodarte and Thom Browne, who together leave a significant gap in the New York Fashion Week schedule. Altuzarra, who was born and raised in Paris, describes the move as a milestone for the brand as it approaches its 10-year anniversary in 2018. Altuzarra’s sales have grown 350 percent since Kering took a minority stake in the business in 2013.
Tiffany & Co. hires Diesel CEO Alessandro Bogliolo. Prior to joining Diesel in 2013, Bogliolo spent 16 years at Bulgari and was chief executive when it sold to LVMH for more than $5.2 billion in 2011. As Tiffany & Co. CEO, he will lead a new chapter of leadership at the company alongside chief creative officer Reed Krakoff. Bogliolo will begin his new role at Tiffany on October 2, and succeeds Frederic Cumenal, who exited the business in February.
Chris Hemsworth is the new face of Boss Bottled. The actor will star in print and television campaigns shot by Nathaniel Goldberg and Nicolas Winding Refn respectively, debuting in September. The announcement comes as the brand undergoes a reinvention under Mark Langer, who was promoted to chief executive in 2016 after years of flagging sales. Langer has done away with the Boss Orange and Boss Green lines, focusing instead on apparel at a more affordable price point. Hemsworth is expected to help drive fresh excitement around the brand, especially in relation to Boss Bottled, which has remained unchanged for nearly 20 years.
Louis Vuitton launches smartwatch. The Tambour Horizon runs on Google’s Android operating system. The watch is available in three case styles, which can be customised with 60 strap options and a range of digital watch faces. The global market for smartwatches could reach $32.9 billion by 2020, registering a CAGR of 67.6 percent from 2014 to 2020, according to Allied Market Research. The Tambour Horizon comes more than two years after the Apple Watch. Tag Heuer, Bulgari and Montblanc have also launched smartwatches of their own.
Amazon’s Prime Day is its biggest shopping day ever. Sales from the e-commerce giant’s third annual Prime Day sale surpassed that of similar retail events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With sales 60 percent higher compared to 2016, Amazon Prime memberships also received a boost during the 30-hour event. Significant discounts to Amazon’s own Echo speakers made it one of the sale’s best-selling products.
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