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Thierry Mugler Reinvents Again

Thierry Mugler has become a creative advisor to Palix, while head ready-to-wear designers Sébastien Peigné and Romain Kremer have left the house.

PARIS — It’s one for all at Thierry Mugler.

This story first appeared in the April 22, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The brand is looking to recruit a single, full-time creative director to oversee both its fragrance and fashion divisions, Joël Palix, president of Clarins Fragrance Group and director general of Thierry Mugler SAS, told WWD.

“We thought it was time to reorganize and to look for an artistic director for the brand — for the total brand — somebody who will be directly involved in all the fashion creations and who will nourish the inspiration for the fragrance,” he said in an interview at Thierry Mugler headquarters in the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine.

Thierry Mugler, who founded the label and has been artistic director of Thierry Mugler Parfums since 1992, has become a creative adviser to Palix. The designer — who goes by the name “Manfred” these days — will also focus on other projects, spending a large amount of time as a writer and director of theatrical shows. One is scheduled for the end of 2013 in Paris, and another is slated for next fall in Berlin.

“He represents the heritage of the brand and has done so much for us that we think he can still help us on some strategic choices,” said Palix.

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Sébastien Peigné and Romain Kremer, Thierry Mugler head designers for women’s and men’s wear, respectively, have left the house. Palix said they “did interesting work in reinterpreting the codes and style of Mr. Mugler’s heritage.”

As reported, Nicola Formichetti, the superstylist called in two years ago to juice up the Mugler fashion business, exited Thierry Mugler earlier this month and joined Diesel as artistic director.

“We are already talking to some candidates from the industry and people with a bit of an out-of-the-box profile,” continued Palix. “We’re going to take our time.”

He said the brand needs someone who can subtly balance heritage and modernity, understands luxury and has imagination, vision plus a sense of staging. Palix explained he and other top-level executives at family-owned Groupe Clarins — which owns Mugler — believe the label is at a turning point.

“We have had a huge increase in our perfume business; over the last three years, the brand grew by 50 percent,” he continued, adding it was driven by sales of Mugler’s top-ranked scents Angel and Alien. “At the same time, we have done what I would call a promising comeback in fashion. So we think now is the time to develop a strategy to build a global luxury brand that can be successful in fragrances, in accessories and in ready-to-wear with connections between all segments.”

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During this interim period, the Thierry Mugler studio will continue to develop the brand’s fashion, although the label will not show during the men’s wear collections in Paris this June. Mugler’s fragrance activity is to continue on as before.

Palix said this transition phase is to be used to give “thought to what should be a Mugler for today, in terms of values, portfolio of products and road map to build [a] global brand.”

For instance, Mugler’s two logos are being considered.

“What should we do in the future? These are very important questions that we need to address now,” said Palix. “There was a bit of disconnect between fragrance, which was born 20 years ago [and] fashion that was born in the Seventies, stopped in the mid-2000s and relaunched with Nicola Formichetti. The pieces of the puzzle must start to be brought together.”

Palix noted Mugler isn’t alone in merging its fashion and fragrance, that there’s a trend among luxury companies blending the two. Think Burberry recently taking control of its beauty activity, and Puig ultimately owning the entire Jean Paul Gaultier brand, for instance.

The first priority for Mugler’s new creative director will be fashion.

“This is where we need to show we can bring successful collections that are not only visible in the press — which is something that we have done successfully — but also commercially viable,” said Palix.

Second on the agenda will be accessories.

“Our first line of bags has been well received, so there is high potential there,” said Palix.

He doesn’t see a total about-face on Mugler fashion’s social-media strategy, which was key under Formichetti. Palix said the label’s fragrance business is already significantly involved in relational marketing.

“We have a tribe of followers and addicts that love our fragrances, so I don’t think social media will suddenly disappear from our communication strategy,” he said. “But I think on the fashion side, we will clearly [put] a stronger focus on the product.”

Ultimately, Palix would like Mugler’s fashion business to grow faster than its fragrance activity.

While he would not discuss numbers, industry sources estimate the label overall generates $800 million in retail sales annually, with 90 percent to 95 percent stemming from fragrance and the rest split between rtw and accessories. The sources believe that in the long-term, the breakdown could be 80 percent for fragrance and 10 percent each for fashion and accessories.

Geographically speaking, Mugler scents are popular everywhere except Asia and remain a small activity in Russia.

“I clearly think our fashion can help us [there],” said Palix. “It has been successful in Asia, in Russia and in the U.S., and clearly it’s a way to start communicating on the Mugler name and help the fragrance business.”