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Monday, February 5, 2007

Newsflash: Launch of new LV store on Fifth Avenue to Celebrate its 150th Anniversary

Louis Vuitton celebrates 150 years of luxury
By Suzy Menkes International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Next week, a giant store, its façade scintillating with crystalline glass, will open on New York's Fifth Avenue — yet another reason for Louis Vuitton to celebrate its 150th birthday.

The milestone year was ushered in on the Champs-Elysées with a gigantic re-creation of the house's chocolate-brown traveling trunk with gold initials. For the Chinese New Year, the house beamed a greeting in Chinese characters by satellite around the world, emphasizing the global reach of a company that Louis Vuitton, the son of a carpenter, founded in 1854.

"We did not want to focus on one single event with a cake and candles, but to make people understand that after 150 years Vuitton is forever young, fresh and creative," says Yves Carcelle, chairman and C.E.O. of the leather-goods company and the man credited with leading its breakneck advance. Working with his boss, Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), Carcelle has made Vuitton the lifeblood — not to say the cash cow — of the luxury conglomerate. Its total revenue in 2003 was nudging €3 billion ($3.74 billion), a multiple of five over 15 years, each of which saw double-digit growth. Even more significant was the house's enormous increase in operating margin, to 45 percent in 2003, far ahead of competing brands.

In his glass-walled office at the Pont Neuf, with a view sweeping along the Seine, Carcelle was analyzing what makes Vuitton an iconic name in the luxury world.

"There are multiple facets," he says. "You can't reduce it to one word or raison d'être. There are eternal values, drawn from the past. The spirit of travel nourishes us. The roots are so strong. That is when the company's codes were set, when it was the elite who traveled.

"The birth of Vuitton also marked the start of modern life," he continues. "It is not by chance that Vuitton was born in the mid-19th century, when the nature of travel was revolutionized. We are also celebrating 150 years of modern times."

Louis Vuitton's first claim to fame was at a job packing crinolines for Empress Eugénie. He opened a Paris store in 1854 and his son Georges created the family business that captivated movie stars and maharajahs of the 1920's, creating hefty travel cases for stately steamer travel, then light bags for the jet set of the 1950's.

The introduction of the famous "monogram" toile came in 1896. It followed the graphic "Damier" block print that Carcelle describes as "eternally modern." Yet it is those identifiable LV initials that attract the Japanese clients to the new Avenue Montaigne store in Paris and or to the "bag bar" at the new store in Tokyo's Roppongi Hills.

Out of Vuitton's 10,000 employees, 3,600 work in 14 ateliers in France. Arnault, asked about the success of Vuitton, says: "It's the quality, because we do everything ourselves, from creativity through manufacture and distribution. We are the only luxury house to offer such quality at half the price of others."

LVMH has been a pioneer in China (since 1992), which is now Vuitton's third largest market, and in India — its first store there opened last year.

Yet the man with the vision to bring Vuitton to Japan was actually Henry Racamier, who married into the Vuitton family, took over the reins in 1977, engineered a merger with the Moët, Chandon and Hennessy liquor families, but ultimately lost the battle for control to Arnault in 1989.

In Carcelle, who came to Vuitton in 1990, Arnault found an executive in perfect synergy with the brand — and the incarnation of its frequent-traveler spirit. Carcelle was at one stage the overall LVMH fashion honcho, but his heart and his success story is with Vuitton.

"When you have a chance to direct a mythical mark, you remain viscerally attached to it," says Carcelle.

With his genial character, bonhomie and wit — and a reassuringly untidy desk with anthills of files — Carcelle is the human face of corporate fashion. He had the same higher education as Arnault and then worked in textiles at Descamps. But he tells a revealing story about his first job as a salesman of cleaning products: On the road, he would send a female colleague ahead to ask for specific items, thus softening up the store owner for his cold call.

Writ large, this is Vuitton's strategy, as new consumers who never knew they needed a Vuitton bag to go with a sari are brought into the fold. The Vuitton name was attached to the America's Cup yacht race (just as Silicon Valley billionaires were buying boats), to a monogrammed World Cup football (as David Beckham became a fashion icon), to Stephen Sprouse's "graffiti" designs (when "trash" fashion was cool), to Jennifer Lopez (plunging into celebrity endorsement) and to the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami's designs (following an Asiatic trend). To View these Ad campaigns, Click Here NOW!

In 1998, Marc Jacobs, a young and streetwise American designer, was picked to launch Vuitton fashion. Arnault describes Jacobs as "a perfect fit with Vuitton, like John Galliano at Dior." Gucci and Prada might have made fashion a promotional arm, but Vuitton found in Jacobs a designer who has an instinct for the moment, with clothes, jewelry, watches or purses.
Not everyone is so enthusiastic about Vuitton's success: Some accuse the company of turning a family business into a soulless corporate machine. One executive, who asked not to be identified, describes the monogram bags as "the biggest sleight of hand since snake oil," adding: "Can you imagine that this is all based on canvas toile with a plastic coating and a bit of leather trim?"

Yet clients are eager to embrace the bags and to absorb their aura of luxury in stores that Carcelle says are now less homogenous and increasingly tailor-made — the flagship store in Tokyo's Omotesando district being quite different from the New York store on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street.

Are there any obstacles to continued growth?

Sources at Printemps Pinault Redoute, LVMH's rival luxury group, suggest that Carcelle and Jacobs have both been approached to fill the shoes of the departing Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole from Gucci Group.

Friends of Jacobs's say he is restless, frustrated that his own New York-based label, owned by LVMH, is growing slowly. And a Manhattan source says that Lawrence Stroll, in the midst of building a luxury group, approached Arnault to buy out the Marc Jacobs label but was rebuffed.

Asked whether he would ever jump ship, Carcelle declined to comment. Asked whether he ever felt that he worked too hard to generate huge profits that then went to support less successful brands in the LVMH group, the executive had a firm reply: "I am a good soldier."

What of travel itself? The very myth that Vuitton has created of pleasurable voyages to distant places (the company even produces attractive city guides) is under threat from global fears and banalization. The glamour of travel, personified by an elegant Audrey Hepburn with Vuitton luggage, has been eclipsed by cheap-fare tourism.

Fresh from a trip to India, Carcelle spoke up for travel. "I love traveling personally," he says, "the chance to meet people and to discover a different culture. As soon as we open a country like India, I want to understand it in a personal and professional way. And I never think of danger when I travel. If you accept that, the terrorists have won."

The next land to conquer? South Africa. A Vuitton store is scheduled to open in Johannesburg late this year.

Source: International Herald Tribune. Article by Fashion Journalist, Suzy Menkes

To View the Louis Vuitton Ad Campaigns from 2000-2007 (featuring JLo, Uma Thurman, Scarlett Johansson, etc), Click Here NOW!

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