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Re-Invention: How Fashion’s Megabrands Will Adapt to Post-Pandemic Customer Behaviour

A grand Paris store reopens. But when customers return, what will they expect?
The BoF Show

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Can historic brands adapt to shifting customer values?

Imran returns to Paris to find the luxury industry reinventing the way it connects with customers in a landscape forever altered by the pandemic. He visits La Samaritaine, the iconic French department store on the banks of the river Seine was acquired by LVMH and restored to its former Art Nouveau/ Art Deco glory following a $1 billion renovation.

Parisians are keen to visit this historic store again after it was closed for 16 years. But luxury tourists — including the all-important Chinese big spenders — are nowhere to be found. Eleonore de Boysson, President for EMEA at luxury travel retail group DFS (also part of LVMH) insists that the tourists will come back — eventually.

“It will be a couple of years before the tourists come back... It will be a little bit more difficult, but it doesn’t really matter because we are thinking in the long-term...I really believe that if we do something which is huge for the Parisians, if they really like this store and come back often, I believe that’s where tourists want to go.”

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Bruno Pavlosky, president of Fashion at Chanel, is also banking on business-as-usual / bricks and mortar. He tells Imran that while the brand is finding new ways to connect with global customers unable to travel, he is resolute in the decision not to sell fashion online. For Pavlosky, it’s not about rejecting digital innovation — it’s about choosing where and how to embrace it in keeping with the codes of an exceptional brand;

“We know our customer and when she needs something special, we can organise that. But not on... e-commerce. It’s a relationship... You know, perhaps if it was not working, we will ask the question ourselves. But it is working.”

Imran connects to Beijing and Angelica Cheung, the former editor-in-chief of Vogue China, who changed jobs mid-pandemic to become a Venture Partner at Sequoia Capital China. She offers a different perspective; that when Chinese tourists eventually return to Paris, it will be in search of something different from that which is now readily available at home;

“Chinese consumers have come around to accepting the price in China. They are comfortable with spending in China according to the prices here. That psychological barrier is already overcome… So when they start to travel...they’ll expect to see different products… Why would they go to the same brand — shopping in Paris, in Milan, in London — when they actually have everything here?”

For chief executive of luxury group Kering, François-Henri Pinault, the key challenge looking ahead is how to engage the under-40s generation of purpose-driven customers;

“The share of the young generations in the total business is increasing. So there is a very strong and structural rebalancing between people from 40 years old and above and people from 40 years and below. I do really believe they expect very different things than the previous generations in terms of commitment, in terms of sense of purpose. It’s not just about beautiful products that are relevant in the moment. It’s much more than that.”

The pandemic may not be over, but it has clearly underscored to luxury executives that fashion relies on more than product or shows; what counts most is human connection.

The BoF Show with Imran Amed”, an immersive video series streaming on Bloomberg Quicktake airs on Thursdays at 9pm New York time and is available for on-demand viewing. Watch the trailer, explore the first six episodes here and stay tuned for the biweekly episode launches.

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