By  on February 28, 2008

MILAN — Gucci remains the world's most coveted luxury brand, according to a recent market survey.

In an online poll of 25,000 consumers in 48 countries conducted by market research firm The Nielsen Group in November and published Wednesday, one in five respondents said they would choose to buy Gucci over any other luxury brand if money were no object.

Chanel and Calvin Klein tied for second place, followed by Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior and Versace.

Gucci, which is owned by French retail group PPR, shared first place with Giorgio Armani in the same survey two years ago.

"In the past two years, Gucci has managed to maintain and even increase its brand equity in a very competitive and fickle industry," Nielsen European president Patrick Dodd said. "They have achieved this by consistently embedding their core brand values in all their branded products, which range from perfume and sunglasses to accessories, jewelry, handbags and ready-to-wear fashion."

Gucci designer Frida Giannini's vision of luxury may not be everyone's cup of tea — her bohemian rock 'n' roll women's collection for fall confounded some critics in Milan, for example — but few can deny she knows what sells. Since Giannini took sole control of the design helm two years ago, business has boomed in Asia-Pacific, Russia and the Middle East, and has grown steadily in more mature markets.

Gucci chief executive officer Mark Lee told WWD earlier this month that the company planned a swath of store openings in emerging markets this year, including two in India, and others in Macau, Prague and Budapest.

Lee will be hoping to tempt the 41 percent of Indians and 37 percent of consumers in the United Arab Emirates who told Nielsen they would choose Gucci if money was no concern, and further tap almost a third of consumers in the UAE and Hong Kong who said they already buy Gucci merchandise.

"Shopping is a way of life in these countries, and luxury brands are an essential part of the population's wardrobe, even if it comes in the form of a key chain," Dodd said.

While Gucci topped the survey overall, consumer aspirations differed regionally. Ignoring one's bank balance, Chanel was the top pick among Chinese consumers; Christian Dior was number one for Russians; Louis Vuitton was the favorite of Hong Kong and Filipino shoppers; Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein and Yves Saint Laurent were most sought after by Latin American consumers, and Hermès was the brand of choice for the Japanese.At the other end of the scale, and notwithstanding the economic slowdown in the U.S., North American consumers were the least interested in luxury brands. More than a third of those surveyed said they would "not buy any," even if they had deep pockets.

Luxury sales are forecast to grow more than 20 percent in China and 9 percent in Russia this year, according to Merrill Lynch, and with demand accelerating in less saturated regions, notions of luxury are evolving.

"A luxury brand is simply something that consumers, especially in emerging markets, are willing to pay a significant premium for," Dodd said.

To wit, 35 percent of respondents said they would buy a mobile phone if it were cobranded with a luxury brand — a product extension that already has been rolled out by a number of leading fashion companies. For example, Dolce & Gabbana's cell phone has been a huge commercial success, and last year Prada sold more than 700,000 of its 600 euro, or $891 at current exchange, touch-screen handsets, which was produced by electronics giant LG Group. Industry experts predict that by 2011 more than 200 million cell phones a year will come from nontraditional brands, including fashion labels.

And the rush for new product extensions is unlikely to stop there.

One in three of those surveyed by Nielsen said they would buy a cobranded luxury designer laptop computer, one in four said they would buy a designer flat-screen TV and one in six even said they would like to buy designer-branded MP3 players and kitchen appliances.

"There seems to be a huge market potential for luxury brands to [invade] every corner of the home and office," Dodd said.

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