MILAN — High-end Italian jewelers, aware there is no real antidote to the weak dollar's impact on their prices and the turbulent U.S. economy's effect on exports, have rolled up their sleeves to keep their businesses growing.
Many are adjusting to the adverse euro-dollar exchange rate by absorbing price increases, investing more in design, enhancing services to their points of sales and whittling away any superfluous spending. All their strategies are aimed at keeping a lid on prices, which in most cases will remain flat throughout the year.
"We mustn't be greedy, especially in the U.S., which has done a lot for Italian jewelry firms and given us lots of satisfaction," said Franco Pianegonda, owner of Pianegonda. "And we must continue to make high-end, special and artsy products that consumers crave."
Roberto Coin, owner of the namesake jewelry firm, believes established companies will ride out the current economic storm. "There is no strategy to fight the weak dollar, but I think that especially in difficult moments, one reaps the benefits of having a good reputation because if a jewelry store or a department store needs to drop a client, they'll take that into consideration," Coin said.
He pushed his creativity to craft what he calls "intelligent jewels," or pieces that look more expensive than they are. As examples, he cited a bracelet with a carat worth of diamonds randomly sprinkled all over versus the same piece with fewer diamonds but clustered together for a sparkly impact. The same held true for an elaborate necklace that looks heavier than it is.
"The consumer will be happy to pay 20 percent less but still have a great look," said Coin.
Pianegonda said he was forced to tweak his prices upward between 3 and 7 percent.
"Unfortunately, it's not only the exchange rate that is indenting our profits because these increases are across the board, from higher labor costs to raw materials," said Pianegonda, who said last year's swing in the euro-dollar exchange rate impacted profits by about $400,000.
That said, he just returned from a trip to the U.S. West Coast where he held a string of trunk shows and noted how retailers are more optimistic despite wary consumers.
Marco Valente, chairman and chief executive of the namesake firm that sits under the Gioielli d'Italia umbrella, believes the special appeal of a high-end jewel partly supersedes the impact of the soft dollar.
"We're obviously not jumping for joy about the situation, but historically speaking there's an interesting pattern to consider when the price of gold rises and it's that consumers buy more jewelry because they view the purchase as an investment, differently from a bag, for example," said Valente, who also produces John Galliano's jewels.
While companies are generally absorbing the unfavorable exchange rates that impact profits, they are also trying to boost sales by adding services such as trunk shows.
At Antonini, grappling with difficult market conditions is a multipart strategy. The firm, which will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year, cut back on the number of trade fairs, relegating its investments to Baselworld and the Las Vegas Couture show.
At Basel, Antonini presented a wider selection of 52 pieces, and Sergio Antonini, co-owner of the family-run firm, said he opted for trimming margins rather than raising prices.
Secondly, in the wake of an internal reshuffle that saw Sergio's brother, Carlo, who was designer and responsible for the U.S market, leave, Antonini signed up Viewpoint, a communications and distribution office to further penetrate the market and raise its U.S. profile.
Davide Staurino, co-owner of Staurino Fratelli, said the firm has been forced to slightly tweak its prices upward, but is trying hard to whittle any superfluous costs while optimizing internal resources.
"We try very hard to give our clients the most favorable price, but it's a great effort and the fact that the European Central Bank isn't cutting back the interest rates makes it harder for a country like Italy that lives on exports," Staurino said. "During difficult economic times, people ponder before investing in a piece of jewelry."
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast