Simona Halep, Borna Coric, Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova

PARIS — At a stop in Paris, Hublot chief executive officer Ricardo Guadalupe welcomed a small crowd of athletes and clients for a pre-French Open gathering. Virtual tennis games and Champagne were offered on a terrace overlooking the Eiffel Tower, with a clutch of top-ranking tennis players on hand to mingle with guests: Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, Karolína Plísková and Borna Coric.

Three women and one man, reflecting a new push by the house to champion women athletes, explained Guadalupe, speaking with WWD from a hedge-lined patio overlooking the Trocadero fountains. 

Defying his grueling travel schedule, the executive looked polished and relaxed, wearing a suit. He had been in Monaco the day before to inaugurate a store; next week he’s heading to Madrid to see Liverpool and Tottenham face off in the UEFA Champions league soccer finale — after a stop in Switzerland.

The label has forged a strategy based on tight relations with clients, hosting hundreds of events a year — more than one a day, in high seasons — with the aim of personally meeting as many clients as possible.

Accompanying Guadalupe to the soccer finale, the label has invited some 40 guests — clients from all over the world, he said, including Chinese, Brazilian and Mexican nationals, and some from the Middle East. When it came to choosing guests, he noted that they include clients of a retailer selling Hublot timepieces and are generally the type of consumers who purchase more than just one watch.

“Not just a Classic Fusion [model] for 5,900 euros — it’s a bit limited, because the package costs money, obviously…but we really want to thank people who truly invest in the brand and who are big fans — and have several Hublot watches,” he said. 

The label has built up its skills in the ‘experiential’ domain — a luxury industry buzzword that has reached all ranks of brands seeking to set themselves apart, as e-commerce crowds the field of choices for consumers. 

“It’s a football experience that remains an extraordinary experience because we bring moments alive with strong emotions that we don’t necessarily find in all sports,” said Guadalupe, ever the die-hard soccer fan. 

Hublot’s owner, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has stressed its ambitions to bulk up expertise in the area, including through its new acquisition, hospitality group Belmond. Asked if Hublot might provide insight to the rest of the group, as it seeks to bulk up on experiential expertise, Guadalupe chuckled.

“Each of the brands is relatively independent,” he said. Adding that influence from his label, from time to time, that goes “in the right direction,” would be a good thing, he quickly turned to the subject of collaborating with other brands. The watchmaker has worked with LVMH label Berluti—making Classic Fusion models with tanned leather dials — as well as the group’s Champagne brands, including Veuve Clicquot.

“So there is truly some cross marketing that takes place in some countries — it depends a bit on relations that are forged between people and brands,” he said.

The tennis event marked a different direction for Hublot, and symbolized a new emphasis for the brand on women, explained Guadalupe.

“Tennis is new for Hublot, we’re cracking open the door here — normally we say that Hublot has to be among the first in everything we do, but we’re not the first here because there are a lot of brands involved in tennis,” said the executive. 

“We’re trying to do it differently…we are aiming, through tennis, also to promote women, equality between men and women,” he said. 

While Guadalupe said he is a longtime tennis fan, and played the sport growing up, the executive is better known for his weakness for soccer.

“I haven’t made the announcement yet, but there is also women’s football,” he said, mentioning the upcoming women’s soccer World Cup, and hinting at future “friends of the brand,” without elaborating.

The Swiss-based label has already signed on two track-and-field stars, the British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith and Dutch runner Dafne Schippers, which he also cited as examples.

“Our approach is to go with women athletes, or women that succeed, in a given activity — sports obviously — not necessarily taking a top model and putting her in a photo. We’re trying to take an approach where we seek, through women, to convey values and give women a voice, through these athletes,” Guadalupe explained. 

“Of course we also want to increase our share of women’s watches — that’s also our objective,” he added.

Asked whether trade tensions between the U.S. and China are dampening Chinese appetite for Hublot watches, Guadalupe expressed cautious optimism. 

“Things are fine for the time being…for the moment we aren’t seeing it influencing Chinese consumption,” he said.

The label has grown swiftly in China, which accounts for around 13 percent of group sales, after entering the country a decade ago. The executive sees this proportion growing, noting that one out of two watches in the global high-end market are sold to Chinese consumers. Projects for that market include a special model only available on WeChat.

Hublot, which had a strong year in 2018, is targeting slightly more tempered sales growth this year, likely in the single digits, percentage-wise. 

Like many other watch brands, Hublot is looking to reduce its proportion of wholesale revenues compared to retail sales — from around 60 to 50 percent. Guadalupe has said he aims for around 120 stores in the medium term — between three and five years, from a current level of more than 40. 

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