PARIS — Eight months after taking over Leonard Paris, until last July one of the last remaining independent French heritage houses, the new Japanese owner is starting to articulate its vision for the brand.
Osaka-based wholesale and distribution company Sankyo Seiko, Leonard’s partner in Japan for around 50 years, plans to rejuvenate the brand to attract a younger clientele, as well as expand retail, largely in Asia, which represents around 80 percent of Leonard’s sales.
The Tribouillard family, who founded the brand in 1958, are no longer involved.
Glimpses of the new owner’s strategy were visible on the runway on Friday with Leonard’s fall collection by creative director Georg Lux. But the real reset will come in September, with its spring 2024 collection, said Sankyo Seiko chief executive officer, and Leonard president and general manager Akira Inoue during an exclusive interview at Leonard’s historic Paris headquarters.
Summer collections represent the bulk of Leonard’s sales, he explained, and the design of the fall collection was already well underway at the time of the acquisition.
“We need to make the Paris collection more suitable for the Asian market,” Inoue said.
Part of the focus will be on lightweight materials, comfortable to wear in hot, humid weather, said Inoue, but there will also be changes image-wise.
“We need to make the brand younger, fresh,” Inoue said. “I really want new patterns and new colors that Leonard never used.”
Sankyo Seiko already manufactured the Leonard Sport line under license, and now the Paris-based design team and the new owner’s atelier in Osaka are working together. Leonard’s headquarters is home to a team of around 20 collaborators.
Manufacturing for the main Leonard Paris line will continue in Italy, Inoue said, and the company is exploring manufacturing small capsules in France. Leonard Sport will still be made at Sankyo Seiko’s printing and sewing facilities in Japan.
Leonard’s instantly recognizable vivid floral prints are difficult to produce or copy, a key differentiator, according to Inoue. “It’s very difficult to create the Leonard colors,” he said. “We are the only company that can do the Leonard printing in Asia.”
For the first time starting this month, Leonard Sport — launched 35 years ago — will be offered in the brand’s historic boutique in Paris.
Despite modernization plans, the label’s 60-plus years of archives are a key attraction, as are its presence on the Paris Fashion Week schedule and its membership of the Comité Colbert.
Elements of the archives traveled to Japan in October for a party hosted by the new owner, and Inoue sees exhibitions as something that could be in line with the explosion of innovative new retail spaces in Asia. “Asian people are very interested in these archives,” he said. Events will also be key — the brand organized a trunk show for its top customers in Japan last October, where Lux presented the spring collection, and another is in the works for April.
Another priority is revamping retail. “Leonard’s shop has not changed in many years,” Inoue said. “We need to do this ASAP.” If all goes according to plan, a new store design in Paris as well as two or three new flagships in Asia, notably Tokyo, should be unveiled within the year.
Inoue said he has been surprised by the strong performance of the historic Paris boutique, on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. “We have very loyal customers. The sales figures are much better than I expected.”
Sankyo Seiko operates 45 Leonard boutiques in Japan and five in Taiwan. Six in South Korea are run by a local company. A new store in Hong Kong, its second there, just opened, and another will be unveiled soon as the company prepares to launch the brand in mainland China.
It hopes to build on its experience with British brand Daks Simpson, which it acquired in 1991. “I was the person who developed the China market for Daks, from 1996,” said Inoue, who took over as Sankyo Seiko’s CEO in 2020. “It was very exciting and not so competitive, but very tricky.”
The Chinese mainland will be key for Leonard going forward, he said, and the company is in the process of seeking the right partner there.
“The ex-management [of Leonard] has failed many times to develop China,” Inoue said.
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are also in his sights. “My target is Asia, where there is still a high growth economy,” he continued.
Overall, Leonard is performing well, he said. “We’ve seen growth of between 20 and 25 percent since last July,” Inoue said. “I expect this year to see another 15 [to] 20 percent growth.”