NEW YORK — It’s best known for its lighters, writing instruments and traditional men’s wear, but S.T. Dupont could soon be a globally recognized luxury lifestyle brand.

The storied label, which dates back to entrepreneur Simon Tissot Dupont’s discovery of a market for fine-leather diplomatic travel cases and document pouches when he founded the company in 1872, has had a historic knack for building its success by changing its image to reflect the times.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Dupont decided to focus on extremely high-end leather products for the few who could afford them, carving an early niche as a luxury brand. When leather quantities became scarce during World War II, Dupont recognized the smoking trend and introduced expensive lighters detailed with Chinese lacquer.

S.T. Dupont is changing once again. Charles M. Jayson — who is president and chief executive officer of Dickson North America, the U.S. subsidiary of Dickson Concepts International, and also vice chairman of S.T. Dupont in Paris — has been charged with rebranding the label to encompass a broad range of men’s ready-to-wear and sportswear. Dickson Poon personally acquired S.T. Dupont in 1987 and then took the company public in December 1996.

Some men’s products designed by its new creative director for ready-to-wear, Jason Basmajian, already are being introduced to European stores this fall, while a wider rtw launch is planned for January. Women’s handbags and accessories are tentatively slated to launch in fall 2004.

The $287 million brand (converted from 250 million euros at current exchange), is already well known in Europe and Asia for its luxury reputation in hard goods, but at the same time, its potential as a new lifestyle apparel brand has barely been tapped.

“In a world where luxury brands are overexposed, S.T. Dupont is not,” Jayson said.

The company’s goal is to dramatically increase its retail network during the next few years, with the aim of doubling its overall sales within five years.

S.T. Dupont has made several key executive hires over the past year to reflect the new direction. Benjamin Comar was recruited from Cartier to serve as chief operating officer in charge of product development, sales and marketing, reporting to William Christie, president of the brand. Tom Chu, who ran Prada’s retail operations in Hawaii, is now a country manager in charge of S.T. Dupont in Japan, one of the firm’s major growth areas. Jesse Lau was named general manager of S.T. Dupont in Hong Kong, coming from the ranks of Dickson Concepts’ retail operations there.The company also hired Basmajian, a prominent design director from Donna Karan’s men’s wear team in New York, to oversee the creative direction of the men’s sportswear and rtw, and Olivier Coquerel, a former designer for Dior, was named design director of leather and hard goods — covering lighters, writing instruments and all other hard goods.

Basmajian moved to Paris nine months ago and began working on the men’s wear concept. A capsule collection has been picked up by several stores in Europe, including Harvey Nichols in London, which also is owned by Dickson Concepts. A full rtw collection is expected to be shown in a more significant presentation in January to retailers, including stores from the U.S. for the first time, Jayson said.

“That was a major amount of activity in a year for bringing the right human resources into the company,” Jayson said. “This was important because what we are doing is redefining our culture, moving from simply a manufacturing-based company to a consumer-focused lifestyle business.”

Personnel is the just the beginning of the changes.

The company worked with global brand marketing groups and architects to redesign its image, from the font of the label to the appearance of its stores and in-store shops. The loopy, curly cursive script of S.T. Dupont has been toned down into fine, pointed calligraphy, the hint of a ribbon trailing its final “t.”

Working with the Landor Group, the company is also introducing an icon throughout its image campaigns, stores and merchandise that will symbolize the modernization of the brand, along with the introduction of versions in fashion colors such as violet and apple green, in addition to the traditional black and silver. A bold geometric “D,” the icon is a thick perfect square, with its western edge broken into a series of smaller squares. It can be seen on belt buckles, the face of a silver lighter, watch bands and zipper pulls, as well as reflected on new packaging and as an overlay on S.T. Dupont’s new ad campaigns. S.T. Dupont hired Badger, Kry and Partners, an agency that generally specializes in beauty products.

“It’s about motion without being too forceful, and about the elegant, chicness of a black background,” Jayson said. “The thing we believe in very much is that the connection between all the points touching this brand has to be seamless. True luxury today is found in the details.”Similarly, S.T. Dupont will temporarily close its Paris flagship at 58 Avenue Montaigne on Jan. 1 for a total refurbishment expected to be completed by spring, undertaken by Dineen Nealy Architects, the firm behind many of the Louis Vuitton and Tag Hauer stores.

The new look is similarly energized and modern, replacing a very French white facade with soft, modern lighting, and windows and screens that have been sandblasted and serrated to create new textures. That concept will subsequently be rolled out to approximately 52 S.T. Dupont freestanding stores, 190 in-store shops and 142 corners at department stores in 50 countries to highlight its new brand image, as well as the dramatic expansion of rtw.

While the company is sticking its toe into the women’s market at the same time, a more expansive offering could be developed in the near future. Smaller, more feminine styles of its signature writing instruments and lighters encased in Chinese lacquer have been developed in its Faverges factory in the French Alps and are already available, while handbags and more women’s accessories will likely be introduced next fall.

S.T. Dupont will also be targeting the U.S. in a more ambitious way, considering only about 3 percent of its global sales currently come from America, as compared with 45 percent of its business based in Europe and 40 percent in Asia.

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