TOKYO — Taking a different tack with the Japanese market, Fendi last week hosted the hottest hip-hop-flavored fashion party in town, with Japanese streetwear ringleader Nigo — not Karl Lagerfeld or Silvia Venturini Fendi — calling the creative shots for the night.
The immediate occasion was the global launch of a range of leather goods by Venturini Fendi called B. Mix. But the overarching goal was to start speaking to Japanese customers in a new way and keep fanning Fendi's global momentum as the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand surges toward $500 million in sales next year, with accelerating profitability.
Michael Burke, Fendi's chief executive officer, disclosed the financial results to WWD while discussing how the Rome-based fashion house is charting a new approach in Japan at a time when many European luxury brands are facing slower growth in a nation vital to the luxury sector.
"It's about a different way of seeing Western fashion," Burke said in an interview just before the event, which featured performances by Kanye West and the Teriyaki Boys in a giant tent in Tokyo's National Stadium, which Nigo chose as a wink to the Coliseum in Rome. "The formula used to be: Duplicate your Milanese runway and they'll be happy."
But in Burke's estimation, it's time to take notice of how Japanese consumers are changing: diversifying their spending and paying more attention to local fashion heroes. "The street is very vibrant here. They are inventing their own culture, their own way of living," he explained. "If we don't start doing something, they're going to start substituting old luxury with new luxury."
Burke noted foreign luxury brands have had a strong run in Japan since the Sixties, and many continue to thrive by importing their products and brand messages literally from Europe.
In his estimation, however, "that has seen its best days and the future is going to be a little different....I think we're going to have to be much more in tune with the customer....The solution is to stay relevant with these consumers rather than screaming one monolithic message."
And how. At last Thursday's event, trendy young Tokyoites came out in force, with many male — and some female — guests aping Nigo's quirky look: floppy knit toque, oversized plastic sunglasses and a cool, if studied, mélange of street and luxury labels.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"