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How ‘Big Luxury’ Stays on Top

Whether or not a deal goes through, LVMH’s $14.5 billion Tiffany takeover bid is another sign that the giants that dominate the luxury sector are becoming more powerful. Why is this happening? What risks do they face? And what can smaller players do to compete?
Louis Vuitton and Gucci shopfronts | Source: Shutterstock

This week, French conglomerate LVMH approached Tiffany & Co with an all-cash takeover bid, valuing the American jeweller at $14.5 billion. Such a deal could make a lot of sense.

Though some question its luxury credentials and growth potential, Tiffany is one of the world’s few sizeable targets in branded jewellery, a growing market where LVMH could stand to expand its presence. The move would also give LVMH more balanced exposure to the US, where President Donald Trump has pursued a protectionist agenda that has so far spared key luxury product categories, like handbags, but may yet result in fresh tariffs on European goods.

As for Tiffany, the company would surely benefit from LVMH’s expertise in brand development and retail experience, two areas where the jeweller has lagged the market, not to mention the French conglomerate’s ability to help boost Tiffany’s presence in high-end jewellery and watches.

A transaction could take significant time to negotiate or indeed fail to transpire. But whether or not a deal ultimately goes through, this week’s bid is the latest indicator of a bigger trend: luxury fashion is set for further consolidation; and LVMH and Kering, the two French giants that control many of the world’s top luxury brands, are becoming more and more powerful.

Why is this happening? What risks do they face? And what can smaller players do to compete?

Luxury fashion is set for further consolidation.

The Business of Fashion and McKinsey’s The State of Fashion 2019 report suggests that fashion is becoming a winner-takes-all business, describing the rise of “super winners” like LVMH and Kering, which increasingly dominate value creation in the luxury segment and have generated outstanding results in recent cycles. (In 2018, LVMH generated €10 billion in profit on recurring operations, up 21 percent over the previous year, while Kering made €3.9 billion in operating profit, up 46.6 percent).

Scale benefits are by no means unique to luxury, of course. Across industries, from automobiles to technology, the bigger you are the easier it is to stay on top. “It is natural that young industries, like modern luxury goods, consolidate,” explained Bernstein analyst Luca Solca.

While major automakers reap tremendous scale benefits in manufacturing, the heft of their portfolios gives “big luxury” players like LVMH and Kering a significant edge in distribution and media, where they enjoy greater leverage with multi-brand retailers, mall owners, real estate developers, magazines, influencers and other key players in the fashion ecosystem. Then, there’s the war for talent, where the biggest luxury groups have a major advantage in attracting and retaining top managers, who they can offer better compensation and career opportunities, and creative directors, who they can provide multi-million-dollar contracts and immense budgets to fuel their visions.

What’s more, in recent years the luxury landscape has become more complex, unpredictable and difficult to navigate for smaller players. Digital has changed the game, upending once dependable distribution channels and giving rise to new competitors, though online upstarts face rising digital customer acquisition costs and don’t often have the time and capital it takes build luxury brands. China, too, has added greater complexity to the equation.

And yet, in luxury fashion, a sector firmly rooted in exclusivity and the signalling of social status, the scale of LVMH and Kering can come with risks as well as benefits. After all, “big luxury” was built on aspirational customers and, from casinos to airports, the world has become a supermarket for major luxury brands.

In recent years, new waves of wealth creation in markets like China, in particular, have stoked demand for the mega-brands that populate the portfolios of LVMH and Kering. But the resulting ubiquity of their goods has eroded the perception of exclusivity that once surrounded major luxury labels. And this, along with rising prices and more garish designs, has alienated long-standing customers who no longer find Louis Vuitton or Gucci special enough to justify the cost.

For years, “big luxury” has shrewdly fought this risk by feeding its labels with fresh content to keep them culturally relevant and rigorously tiering their offering, confining certain iconic, core product categories to high-end price ranges, while positioning other items (such as wallets and lipsticks) at lower price points to address aspirational customers.

But as the conglomerates continue to grow, this delicate balancing act may prove harder to strike and though the numbers remain highly encouraging at present, consumer fatigue may, one day, start to weigh on their sales. Even in new markets, increasingly sophisticated city-dwellers are already shifting their spending away from luxury mega-brands and seeking out lesser known names as they craft and communicate their identities with greater subtlety.

This creates opportunity for smaller luxury players to compete on a range of dimensions like novelty, originality and genuine exclusivity. There’s also space for structural innovators like Moncler, whose "Genius" model is perhaps the luxury industry’s most compelling answer yet to the rise of the internet and the resulting demand for greater newness and immediacy.

So, while LVMH and Kering are accruing greater power, their supremacy has limits.



Tiffany & Co storefront | Source: Shutterstock

LVMH explores potential takeover of Tiffany in US luxury push. The French luxury group has approached Tiffany with a proposal, though there's no guarantee an agreement will be reached. If a deal does materialise, the takeover would be one of the French luxury group's biggest-ever acquisitions. For LVMH, a Tiffany acquisition would significantly bolster its position in jewellery, especially as Tiffany has a market capitalisation of $11.9 billion.

New York State bankruptcy court approves Barneys sale. Despite attempts by other buyers to save the famous department store, Authentic Brands Group and financial services firm B. Riley's acquisition of Barneys New York's intellectual property rights and assets is approved. The new owners plan to close its shops and and create a Barneys-branded line. As of Friday morning, the closing of the deal is still pending, but will likely result in massive liquidation sales.

Hong Kong enters its first recession in 10 years amid protests. A government statement reported the city's first year-on-year decline, with the retail and tourism sector being hit the hardest. The city's economy shrank 3.2 percent in July-September from the preceding period, while gross domestic product contracted 2.9 percent from a year earlier. The readings were the weakest for the Asian financial hub since the global financial crisis in 2008.

Nike files new patent infringement lawsuit against Skechers. The suit claims that Skechers' Skech-Air Jumpin' Dots and Mega shoes use footwear cushioning inventions that Nike developed. This is the fourth lawsuit Nike has filed against Skechers, including one that accused Skechers of copying the iconic Chuck Taylor shoes. Skechers has previously responded by posting a full-page ad in the New York Times that called Nike a "bully."

Roberto Cavalli wins court approval for sale to Dubai's Damac founder. Private equity firm Clessidra took over 90 percent of the label from its founder in 2015, but was unable to turn the brand around despite appointing a new chief executive and a new designer. Clessidra and the board of Cavalli chose the Dubai-based company, which was already partnered with Cavalli on a real estate project, among five other offers.

SMCP reports a rise in third-quarter sales. The group, whose brands include Sandro and Claudie Pierlot, remains optimistic about a growth in sales following a rise in third-quarter revenue by 10.8 percent to €274.5 million from last year. The French fashion company has confirmed its full-year outlook, which includes sales growth of between 9 percent and 11 percent at constant exchange rates.

Vestiaire Collective partners with Selfridges for first permanent store. The resale platform's segue into physical retail will help boost brand awareness, while the department store will be dipping a toe into the fast-growing $25 billion luxury resale market. Vestiaire Collective's new partnership will also give it access to brick-and-mortar retail expertise, which lies outside of the core competency of the tech-focused company.

Japan retail outlook is murky despite sales growth. Sales in September grew at the strongest pace since 2014, as consumers rushed to beat a hike in sales tax to 10 percent from 8 percent, which is taking effect October 1. Sales have jumped 9.1 percent from a year earlier, although some analysts worry the twice-delayed tax hike could tip Japan's economy into recession.


Estée Lauder storefront | Source: Shutterstock

Estée Lauder cuts profit forecast. The beauty company expects ongoing protests in Hong Kong, Brexit and slowing growth in China to negatively impact its full-year performance. Shares in one of the cosmetics world's biggest names fell 2.5 percent as the company said it expects 2020 adjusted profit between $5.85 and $5.93 per share, down from a prior range of $5.90 to $5.98. The company beat analysts' expectations for both revenue and adjusted profit in the quarter ending September 30.

L'Oréal beats sales forecasts as growth picks up in the third quarter. Sales were up 11 percent to €7.18 billion as the cosmetics giant retained momentum in the key Asian market, despite turmoil in Hong Kong. On a like-for-like basis, revenues rose 7.8 percent, accelerating from the 6.8 percent growth notched up a quarter earlier.


Miuccia Prada | Source: Gareth Cattermole/BFC/Getty Images

Miuccia Prada sells ownership of Milan stores to parent company. The Italian fashion brand will pay €66 million to a holding company controlled by the co-CEO and designer. The Milan stores, which include the first-ever location that has been open since 1913, have historically been operated by companies connected to the Prada family. The parent company reported €19.7 million of profit related to its franchise agreement for the Milan stores.

Riccardo Bellini to leave Margiela for Chloé. Following the news of his exit as chief executive of Maison Margiela, Bellini has been named CEO of Chloé, effective December 1, 2019. Bellini replaces Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye, who is stepping down November 30.

Paula Cademartori parts ways with OTB group. The Italian-Brazilian accessories brand is ending its three-year partnership with Renzo Rosso's group by mutual consent. Cademartori will retain full rights to her brand's trademark and hopes to take the next couple of seasons to recalibrate her business.


Google buys Fitbit for $2.1 billion. While the acquisition gives the tech giant access to Fitbit's 27 million active users, the deal could increase antitrust scrutiny. Google has a growing ecosystem of smartphones and laptops but has yet to build its own watch. The new acquisition places Google in direct competition with Apple Inc. and others in the smartwatch market.

Shopify loss widens on increased spending. Even with quarterly revenue growth at 45 percent, the third quarter was the slowest in Shopify's four years as a public company. To combat this slowdown, it announced the purchase of 6 River Systems Inc. last month in order to ramp up its $1 billion plan to set up a network of fulfillment centres in the US, positioning itself as a smaller rival to Inc.'s service.

Zalando announces plans to remove its plastic packaging. The online fashion retailer has already switched to 90 percent renewable energy at its buildings and has pledged to redesign its packaging by 2023. In its efforts to become more environmentally friendly, Zalando has also announced plans to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide and make its Zign private label more sustainable.

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