Alber Elbaz CNI Luxury Conference Oman

MUSCAT — “What does luxury stand for now?”

That’s the question posed to a gathering of industry executives and designers at a seaside resort in Oman last week during the annual Condé Nast luxury conference, which was themed “Mindful Luxury.”

Alber Elbaz, who joined host Suzy Menkes during what he calls his sabbatical year, said, “We are confused. We are tired.” Referring to the frenetic pace of the industry, Elbaz added, “Is it Moscow Fashion Week or India? I’m asking myself why so many people in our industry are not as happy anymore. There is too much fear, not enough time and not enough love.”

Speaking exclusively to WWD during the event, Elbaz said the industry has become too afraid of making mistakes. “On one hand you have to be super commercial and on the other you have to be super creative and all about innovation and newness. So how can you be so artistic and so commercial all at the same time? To be commercial is very easy. To be creative is even easier. To be in the middle without being mediocre is the hardest thing.”

Alluding to his own experience, he said: “Fashion is no longer just a family business. It’s big conglomerates, big companies. People are afraid to make mistakes from every level because a mistake can be very costly. So people are not about taking chances because you have to be very secure and sure that what you do is the right thing. But who decides what’s right and what is wrong? What people wore last season is not what they will buy next. We need to build more bridges, open windows.

“We need to get back to a story, to have a feeling. Marketing has to come after, not before. What we are all about in our industry of luxury, what we used to own is the word intuition. The best things in history when it comes to creation happened when people believed in their intuition and they went for it. And they were not stopped by shareholders, but they did it. They went with what they really believed.”

A decidedly relaxed Elbaz added: “On my sabbatical, I wanted to fall in love with fashion again.”

Elie Saab in conversation with Suzy Menkes

Elie Saab in conversation with Suzy Menkes.  Yannis Vlamos / Indigital

Also speaking at the conference to a packed room was Elie Saab, revered across the region for his success on the international stage. The designer, who is known for his intricate evening gowns, said luxury will not go away. “I believe in haute couture. Women like to be unique when they have a special occasion. We have a big demand from young people.”

But he added that in order to elevate his company to truly bring a brand name, it was vital to offer more products. “Sunglasses, accessories, fragrance — to build a brand we need products. You can’t be a brand if you don’t have all of these items. It’s very important.”

Pierre Denis, Jimmy Choo chief executive officer, said in the luxury business, footwear is doing very well, with his company seeing growth of 11 percent annually. Why? “Better price point. Our average transaction is 500 pounds [about $600]. That’s the strength of shoes, an accessible price point. If you ask Millennials and even older consumers what areas of luxury do you want to continue to buy, shoes are coming top of the list.”

The company is also fast adapting to the changing needs of the consumer, he said. “‘Mindful luxury’ is about being mindful of our clients. Jimmy Choo is about creating lower heels.”

Last year the company relaunched its classic pointed toe stiletto, but at 8.5cm height. “We are going down,” he said referring to the lower heel height. “That’s our new fashion momentum, we are evolving Jimmy Choo. Second best seller is the Miami sneaker. We are doing 13 percent of our business with sneakers.”

Social media, which helped propel the industry, has had a transformative effect on how the brand communicates with clients. “The organization is changing. It’s the most important moment in luxury. In 2010 we produced 10 pictures, that was advertising. They were perfect, we all had to validate them and agree on them. Now we put out hundreds.”

He conceded that in the luxury footwear category, “competition has intensified massively. Ten years ago, we were talking about Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Manolo. Now we have some big newcomers.”

One such star, Paul Andrew, who’s seen success with his footwear brand, now serves at the helm of Salvatore Ferragamo’s women’s footwear, the first time in 60 years the house has had a dedicated footwear design director.

Paul Andrew

Paul Andrew  Yannis Vlamos /

Andrew said he’s focused on introducing the brand to a younger set of consumers. “What I’m doing is not a revolution, but more of an evolution. Salvatore was so ahead of the curve. He made shoes into objects of design, fashionable. I’m taking it back to his original idea.”
Andrew also said his mantra for design is focused on three key pillars: “High-tech, high-craft and high-touch.”

Rania Masri, general manager of Level Shoes, a game-changing 96,000-square-foot department store devoted to shoes in Dubai, said beyond just a luxurious retail environment, their aim was to create a sense of community around the love of footwear. “What’s dear to our heart is the community we have connected with. We have evolved since we launched in 2012 having listened to our community of shoe lovers and shoe obsessed.” Masri pointed to exclusive collaborations launched at Level in response to the community’s needs. Social media, she said, has been critical in helping them understand their customers. “It’s an integral part of our business.”

Suzy Menkes looks on as Rania Masri speaks about building communities

Suzy Menkes looks on as Rania Masri speaks about building communities.  Yannis Vlamos /

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