By  on September 15, 2010

PARIS — The Christian Lacroix brand is tackling the Asian market anew, and with a surprising partner: Lagardère Active.

At a press conference here today, the media giant will unveil a partnership with Lacroix to develop its business via licensing in the fast-growing region, leveraging Lagardère’s expertise in building its Elle fashion franchise across some 120 categories.

“It’s a critical area for us to develop the business,” Lacroix chief executive officer Nicolas Topiol said in an exclusive interview Tuesday. “There is an appetite and a demand for our brand in that part of the world.”

Topiol said men’s wear would be the immediate priority for Lagardère in Asia, with intimate apparel, accessories, jewelry and shoes among future possibilities.

Downsized into a licensing operation last year following a Chapter 11 filing and a failed attempt to find a buyer, Christian Lacroix SNC plans to keep several pacts global — including fragrance, eyewear and home textiles — while pursuing regional opportunities in parallel.

Topiol noted the Lacroix brand, which Florida’s Falic Group acquired from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 2005, long had a presence in Asia until recently, including freestanding stores in Japan and Southeast Asia, along with shop-in-shops in South Korea and Hong Kong.

Lagardère Active Enterprises, the division charged with diversifying its media banners, is mainly focused on Elle and has built a branded business that generates about $700 million at retail, said ceo Fabrice Plaquevent.

Elle licenses span women’s, men’s and children’s categories, mainly in the U.S. and Asia. In the latter region, Elle counts about 250 freestanding stores, and Plaquevent noted that men’s wear is particularly robust in Mainland China.

Lacroix is the first external brand the multimedia player has taken on. Plaquevent noted Lagardère Active also finalized a pact to develop Lulu Castagnette, a French brand primarily known for its knitwear and teddy-bear logo.

Topiol said the aim is to keep the Lacroix brand “at a high level” in Asia, and with tight control clauses regarding design and image. Men’s suits, for example, are likely to be priced in line with, or slightly above, the European range of 700 to 1,200 euros, or about $900 to $1,540.

Meanwhile, Lacroix plans to unveil its new eyewear collection, licensed to Hong Kong-based Mondottica, later this month at the Silmo trade fair here, and home textiles with England’s Designers Guild in January.

A license for leather goods is in the works, which Topiol characterized as a way for the brand to reenter the women’s market, having shuttered its couture and ready-to-wear operations last year and severing ties with the founding couturier.

The Lacroix company maintained existing licensing partners for men’s wear, silk and bridal dresses. Market sources estimate Lacroix-branded products, led by men’s categories and excluding fragrances with Avon, generate revenues of about 50 million euros at retail, or $64.2 million at current exchange.

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